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Disk capacity has been the sexy specification the majority of us have latched onto, but it’s time to start thinking about performance and power consumption.

Back when he was at Xiotech (now XIO), Rob Peglar used to present a PowerPoint deck that included a slide depicting a butcher processing a large pile of ground beef. The unappealing image provided a memorable hook for Peglar’s point: for years, we’ve bought storage in a similar fashion, using the simple metric of dollars per pound.

Interviewing disk drive makers a few years ago, I learned a different but related truth about disk. Many disk drive industry insiders observed that their biggest sales accrued based on “larger,” rather than “faster” or “smarter.” Customers saw bigger capacity as the improvement that meant the most. A 1 TB drive was better than a nimbler 250 GB drive, and a 2 TB drive yielded more sales than a fancy 500 GB flash/hard disk hybrid unit.

Bigger is better made a certain kind of sense, of course. Knowing virtually nothing about data itself -- the contents of a given file, its business value, its criticality or its usage characteristics -- data storage administrators concerned themselves mainly with the simple problem of where they would find the elbow room to store it. And as the economy grew more challenging, vendors rewarded buyers with products that could store a lot of anonymous data to a much greater extent than they regarded (or even paid attention to) improvements

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in drive smarts or transfer speeds.

Peglar thought that was shortsighted, a kind of race to the bottom in the disk drive market. His former employer reached the same conclusion, deciding to discontinue its capacity line in favor of products that served a different metric altogether: IOPS per watt. XIO’s storage blade, the Intelligent Storage Element or Hybrid ISE (hybrid because of its use of flash solid-state storage to augment lower capacity, faster performing SAS disk to yield a nominal 200,000 IOPS), isn’t aimed at the casual consumer looking for mass file storage, but at planners with other needs and metrics in mind. Specifically, the company is seeking to serve applications with the extreme performance they require with the lowest possible power consumption. I see this strategy as important.

This was first published in January 2012

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