Start-up builds solid-state flash drives for enterprise

Start-up builds solid-state flash drives for enterprise

Pliant targets high-end storage market dubbed "tier zero" by EMC

Start-up Pliant Technology is building solid state flash drives for enterprises, joining an emerging market that EMC has dubbed "tier zero" and is designed for high-performance applications such as data mining and online transaction processing.

Pliant was founded two years ago and is planning beta trials for its Enterprise Flash Drive storage devices this year, followed by release in the fourth quarter. The vendor secured US$8 million in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Pliant announced Tuesday.

EMC introduced a flash-based solid state disk product one month ago, calling it "tier zero" in its Symmetrix line of storage arrays.

The success of flash-based thumb drives has led to innovations that are lowering the cost of flash-based storage, making it suitable for enterprise use, Pliant officials say. Traditional hard drives won't be disappearing any time soon, but "in the next few years I think we'll make significant inroads into the very high-performance end" of the storage market, says Pliant CEO Amyl Ahola, the former CEO of TeraStor and vice president at Seagate and Control Data.

Tier-zero (or enterprise flash as Pliant calls it) is in the early adoption stage and is the highest-performance, highest-availability, and highest-cost type of storage on the market today, says Deni Connor, head of analyst firm Storage Strategies Now. Customer-facing applications, financial services or any transaction-intensive environment could benefit, she says.

"It's going to be expensive, but for a company that needs to be able to respond quickly to customer requests, or find data quickly it's worth it for them," Connor says.

Pliant will not sell its technology directly to enterprises. Rather, it will license its Enterprise Flash Drive devices through OEM agreements.

Pliant's founders and management team have plenty of experience in the hard drive industry. Founders Mike Chenery, Doug Prins and Aaron Olbrich all have experience at Fujitsu, while Olbrich -- Pliant's CTO -- also worked for IBM.

Jim McCoy, Pliant's chairman, co-founded both Maxtor and Quantum.

While the cost-per-gigabyte of hard drives has improved dramatically over the years, McCoy argues that hard drive performance itself is flatlining. At the same time, demands for performance in enterprises are increasing, so IT executives use three or four times more hard drive space than they need for capacity in order to get a higher rate of input/output operations per second, he says.

"Now when they overprovision at three or four times, they're paying not only for extra hard drives but for power consumption on those hard drives," McCoy notes.

Pliant is combining commodity chips along with proprietary controllers that will let enterprises obtain high rates of input/output operations per second, bandwidth and reliability levels, while avoiding overprovisioning of storage, according to Ahola.

Enterprises taking advantage of this storage would likely use it in combination with hard drives, which cost less and would be used for data that's not as frequently accessed, Pliant executives say. Pliant did not release pricing details for its upcoming product.

"The banking and financial industries are really pushing [for flash-based storage] because they have some of the most highly I/O bound applications almost anywhere," Ahola says. "Those I/O-intensive applications are the ones screaming for solutions like this."

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