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Compellent Technologies has developed a ‘killer app’ that allows solution providers to deliver solid-state disk (SSD) technology at a minimum cost, aiming squarely at SSD competitors like Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Texas Memory Systems.

SSD technology offers a middle ground between high-performance, high-priced but low density RAM and slower, cheaper but higher capacity hard disks.  Many organizations are currently adopting a tiered storage strategy, whereby mission-critical data that needs to be accessed quickly and often is stored on SSD, while lower-priority data and archived material is stored on inexpensive, slower drives.

Compellent’s technology, called Data Progression, automates tiered storage while requiring as few as two SSDs in their ‘Tier 0’ configuration, says Bruce Kornfeld, vice president of marketing, Compellent. Some competitors set SSD minimum hardware purchases at four or eight drives, he says, requiring a much higher upfront investment.

Korneld says Compellent’s technology uses 146GB STEC ZeusIOPS enterprise-class SSD drives that are plug-and-play, snapping right into disk drive slots to gain customers almost instant performance and capacity increases. This capability also eases integration headaches, especially for smaller and midsized businesses that don’t have huge IT staffs, he says.

The biggest differentiator, however—the killer app—is Compellent’s ability to manage customers’ data within the volume, says Kornfeld. Using patented technology, Compellent’s software analyzes volume activity and automatically moves less critical data to a more appropriate storage tier, he says.

A volume is basically an application, Kornfeld explains, and the number of volumes needed correspond to what resources various applications need.

“If you’re running [Microsoft] Exchange, for example, you could put that on one 2 Tb volume, whereas a larger application like an Oracle database would need numerous volumes,” he says.

Being able to manage data within the volume refers to Compellent’s ability to be very granular, he says, versus competitors whose technology must deal with volumes as a whole.

“Dell, EMC, HP and others can’t move specific data within the volume,” Kornfeld says. In essence, they force administrators to make a decision about moving whole volumes and applications, knowing that most of the data in those applications is outdated and isn’t being used, he says.

“Administrators have to make a decision about where to place whole volumes, and they don’t have many choices. It’s either put the whole volume on SSD or on SATA or fibre channel, for example,” he says.

Data Progression technology, however, analyzes data within volumes, allowing solution providers and administrators to cherry-pick which data lives in what tier, increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

“If there are messages and files in your users’ Exchange Inbox that have come in over the last few days, that should stay on Tier 0 SSD because it’s being used often and reopened, forwarded, replied to, etc.” he says. Users calendar entries or older e-mail messages, for instance can automatically be moved to lower priority drives, he says.

It’s this technology that allows Compellent to lower organizations’ minimum SSD investment to only two, Kornfeld says. Older architectures require between four or eight SSDs minimum, since there must be adequate space to store entire volumes.

“Our thinking was, if you’re not reading it, who cares where it lives? It’s just sitting there spinning, so let’s spin it as slow as possible to save money and performance,” he says.

The STEC drives Compellent uses also address some of the major weaknesses of SSD technology.

“One huge drawback to SSDs is, if not designed properly they can wear out under heavy write cycles,” Kornfeld says. STEC’s proprietary architecture solves that problem and has dramatically increased the drives’ longevity, he says.

For solution providers, Kornfeld says the technology will allow them to target both new and existing customers who aren’t satisfied with their existing tiered storage strategy, or who are ready to move to such a model.

“We’ve always known that this will be a killer app for us,” he says. “For our solution providers, we knew they could save their customers money and drive new business, even in a tough economy, with technology like this,” he says.