eBay Bets On Flash

Flash memory first invaded the enterprise as a growing number of laptops began using solid state drives (SSDs), which offer speed and reliability advantages over conventional hard drives. 

But flash memory now is migrating into the datacenter as well. eBay, the world?s largest online marketplace, recently deployed more than 100 terabytes of Nimbus S-Class flash memory to drive its VMware server and storage infrastructure. It?s one of the largest deployments of flash storage to date.

eBay?s motivation, according to the company?s QA Systems Administration manager Michael Craft, was to achieve performance and speed gains that weren?t possible with hard drives. ?The scope and scale of the eBay platform requires technology solutions that help us innovate faster and deliver outstanding results to our users,? he notes. An added bonus is the ability to use 78 percent less energy and 50 percent less rack space than disk-based systems. eBay started with one Nimbus system and has expanded to 12 in less than a year.

Despite eBay?s success with flash memory, industry analysts are still at odds over the viability of SSDs in the enterprise. Some believe that the lithography used to manufacture chips isn?t increasing fast enough to make the technology viable over the long-term. Smaller chips could result in voltage and corruption problems. 

However, market research firm Objective Analysis predicts that the use of SSDs will grow from 150,000 units in 2010 to 4.1 million units in 2015. In fact, it projects an annual growth rate of approximately 90 percent for the foreseeable future, particularly as prices drop and more systems come equipped with SSDs.

Objective Analysis says that a single SSD can replace up to 10 hard drives. The most common use of the technology, it reports, is in datacenters with high performance Fibre Channel drives used for relational databases and for streaming video. In all, it lists 22 enterprise applications that are suited for SSDs, including virtualization.

Jim Handy, chief analyst with Objective Analysis describes the eBay implementation as a ?testimonial to the merits of flash in large-scale environments.?