Just How Expensive is Flash?

For most people there are two common associations with SSDs: expense and performance. The performance side is hard to argue – SSDs can be 100X faster than spinning disk on many workloads. But what about cost?

By historical standards, solid state storage is now amazingly inexpensive. The myth that flash is expensive is propagated by enterprise storage vendors selling flash modules for $25-$50/GB or more. The performance benefits of flash allows customers to justify the ridiculous price, but also limits their use of flash to only the most critical, most performance sensitive applications.

The reality of the situation is that flash chip prices have been on a dramatic decline over the last 5 years, dropping in price by 50% or more a year as demand increases and process sizes shrink. Spot prices for MLC flash are now around $1-$1.25/GB, and high-capacity MLC SSDs can now be had for under $2/GB. Of course, most enterprise storage vendors aren’t using MLC. The limitations of their architecture often don’t allow it. However an architecture designed from the ground up around SSDs, balancing use of SLC and MLC technologies, is a different story.

In comparison to Enterprise SATA drives which sell for $0.15/GB, $1/GB for flash may still seem expensive. For applications where capacity is the only concern, that’s certainly true, and will continue to be the case for many years. However for primary storage applications, those that require even a modest number of IOPS, a comparison to SATA drives does not make much sense.  A better comparison with flash would be 10K & 15K SAS drives, or even complex tiered solutions that use SSD, SAS, and SATA.  With 15K SAS drives at $1/GB or more, flash is not far from closing the gap.

For SolidFire however, the really exciting part is what happens when you combine the falling price of solid state storage with efficiency technology that dramatically increases effective capacity and requires a fraction of the power, cooling, and space of spinning disk. Suddenly spinning rust doesn’t look so cheap after all, does it?

-Dave Wright, Founder & CEO

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