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Hot storage technologies for 2010

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Solid-state storage

Flash memory has been around for decades, but it's only been in the last 18 months or so that the persistent solid-state storage medium has made its way into enterprise data storage products.

EMC introduced solid-state drives (SSDs) into its Symmetrix array in January 2008; following that, most major IT vendors, including HP, IBM Corp., Hitachi Data Systems and NetApp Inc., made some form of solid-state storage available in server and storage products. Smaller players like Compellent Technologies Inc. and emerging companies like Atrato Inc. have also incorporated solid state with software that automatically migrates data between flash- and disk drive-based tiers of storage.

Even with that level of activity, there's still substantial work to be done to integrate solid-state storage into the rest of the IT environment, particularly with SSDs, which typically consist of flash memory fronted by a disk interface. Other implementations, such as Fusion-io's PCIe cards, offer an alternative to the disk interface and reside in servers rather than disk arrays.

MySpace is familiar with the pros and cons of solid-state storage. The social networking site recently replaced all of the Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) hard drives in one of the massive server farms that serves its Web portals with solid-state devices from Fusion-io.

Although solid-state storage is generally thought of in terms of

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high performance, Richard Buckingham, vice president of technical operations at MySpace, said the big benefits were savings in power, cooling and server hardware. "Instead of eight $6,000 servers, we can go with one $2,000 box and the cost of the Fusion-io devices doesn't even make up the difference," he said. "The ROI is immediate."

Buckingham remains open to SSD as well as the PCIe cards, but said the technology hasn't yet proven to be mature enough in his internal tests for production deployments. "It seems like it would be a simple step to pull out one hard drive and put in another that's faster, but under our real-life workload we found that SSDs just didn't perform as well behind a drive interface," he said.

Buckingham also said MySpace won't be replacing its Fibre Channel storage-area network (SAN) infrastructure with solid state anytime soon. "SSDs have a bright future, and flash will almost certainly take over in the future," he said. "But the SAN infrastructure is something we've invested a lot of time and money in and won't be tearing out and replacing for a very long time," he said.

Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, agrees that SSDs have some way to go before they become a fully integrated part of enterprise storage systems, and that much of that integration work will take place in 2010.

This was first published in December 2009

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