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Sun Microsystems to mix hard, flash memory drives

Chips will add speed and cut energy use

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / June 4, 2008

Computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. said it will introduce a line of servers and data storage products that use a combination of hard drives and flash memory drives to speed up performance. Sun's move comes nearly six months after EMC Corp. of Hopkinton became the first major storage vendor to add flash memory to its high-end storage arrays.

"This is the most exciting thing to happen in storage in 20 years," said John Fowler, Sun's executive vice president of systems, during a meeting with journalists in Boston yesterday. Although Sun is based in Santa Clara, Calif., the company unveiled its plans in Boston because Massachusetts is a major center for data storage technology, according to Graham Lovell, senior director of open storage and networking.

Flash memory drives use chips rather than mechanical hard drives to store information. Their use is popular in consumer devices like MP3 music players and digital cameras. The chips cost far more than the equivalent amount of hard drive storage, but flash memories are smaller, lighter, and require less electricity.

Sun and EMC say flash drives are ideal for business users who need to swap huge amounts of data in and out of computer systems. Flash chips read and write information thousands of times faster than hard drives, enabling enormous increases in processing speeds, resulting in improved efficiency and savings. In addition, Fowler said Sun's flash memory drives use only about two watts of power, compared to roughly 12 watts for a typical hard drive.

While EMC only makes storage gear, Sun is a major vendor of server and storage equipment. Sun plans to introduce servers that replace some of the standard hard drives with faster flash drives. Fowler said in addition to conserving electricity, the servers will deliver three times the data throughput of servers using only standard hard drives.

Sun is scheduled to introduce its new products in the second half of this year.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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