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Although they won’t see the exponential growth they recorded in 2009, solid state drives (SSDs) will once again outpace the overall storage market, and will offer a much bigger opportunity to the channel, according to a new report from IDC.

Last year’s enterprise shipments soared 250 percent to more than 200,000 units, while this year’s shipments should grow another 85 percent, says IDC’s Jeff Janukowicz, research manager, hard disk drive components and solid state drives. While the enterprise market represented less than 2 percent of the overall SSD market — 11.1 million units — in 2009, it did account for $409 million in revenues, more than a third of the total revenue for the year — $1.1 billion.

Unit shipments are still relatively tepid, he says, but the huge growth moved enterprise SSDs from a niche market. And this growth is attracting a lot of vendors, with more than 100 SSD vendors being tracked by IDC.

“It is challenging for SSD vendors to stand out from the crowd,” says Janukowicz. “The first generation of products is quickly being surpassed in performance by the second generation, offering significantly better performance.”

Last month Seagate, which dominates the enterprise HDD market (60 percent market share) announced its formal entry into SSD market with the Pulsar line.

“This is our first push into the enterprise space,” said Seagate executive vice president Dave Mosley. “Actually it’s the first enterprise SSD drive to be brought out by an enterprise class HD vendor.”

The performance benefits of SSDs or flash memory are impressive, says Woody Hutsell, President of Texas Memory Systems. At the end of October the company set new SPC-1 records for flash storage performance and value. The company submitted a record setting SPC-1 result for its RamSan-620 Flash Solid State Disk (SSD), producing 254,994.21 SPC-1 IOPS with average response time of 0.72 milliseconds from a 2U rack-mount chassis. The company says the cost of $1.13 per SPC-1 IOPS is better than any competing RAID or flash solution.

The SPC-1 benchmark for storage subsystems simulates the demands placed upon storage in a typical server-class computer system. The RamSan-620 is a general-purpose storage solution, with each unit able to support two to eight Fibre Channel or InfiniBand ports.

Jason Caulkins, chief technologist at Dataram Corp., says the channel value proposition for SSD technology as an alternative to hard drives is about helping companies improve application performance, leverage existing IT investments and cut costs.

“Solid-state storage appliances offer customers significant benefits due to their ability to seamlessly integrate into existing SANs, dynamically cache I/O-intensive data, dramatically accelerate application performance and provide an immediate return on investment, said Caulkins. For instance, application performance can be improved by as much as 30x, and total cost of ownership can be cut by more than 50 percent on average, he says.

HDDs aren’t going to disappear, says Janukowicz. “We’re seeing growth in both markets. People need to store more data regardless of the economy; the need for capacity is still outstanding.”

However, this growing demand is starting to help SSD vendors, he adds. “As capacity requirements increase, so do performance requirements and that’s where we’re starting to see some of the SSD vendors make some traction.”