Feature

Solid State: New frontier for storage

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The use of Tier 0
With solid-state storage at a higher cost vs. high-end disk drives, users are selectively deploying solid-state storage to increase app performance. As a general rule of thumb, solid-state storage is used in environments where disk drives are the limiting factor.

Mission-critical apps like transaction processing and database systems linked directly to a firm's success are prime examples of where solid-state storage is used today. Exchange Server databases and SQL databases are other candidates for solid-state storage. "To increase both performance and the number of users per Exchange server, we're currently evaluating solid-state drives in our 10Gigabit Ethernet Nimbus [Data Systems Inc.] array," says Aaron Martin, IT manager at Loro Piana, a luxury goods manufacturer in New York City. Martin also plans to host virtual server boot images and virtual server working directories on solid-state storage.


Migrating data between tiers
As solid-state media becomes more common in storage arrays, automatic data migration between the solid-state tier and other tiers will become more important. Although hierarchical storage management and information lifecycle management have championed automatic data migration between tiers for years, it continues to be a niche app; approximately 20% of enterprise customers move data between tiers automatically,

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according to a Storage survey. The large majority of firms using solid-state storage today are moving data between Tier 0 and other tiers manually. "For Tier 0 to be effective, data needs to be moved to the proper tier and the management software needs to support this," explains Clod Barrera, distinguished engineer and chief technical strategist for the System Storage product line at IBM Corp. "By the time we'll ship Tier 0 in our DS8000 arrays, the policy manager in TotalStorage Productivity Manager will support Tier 0," he adds. Likewise, EMC's Symmetrix Management Console supports configuring schedules and policies to move data between tiers, including data movements to and from Tier 0.

As SSD and hard disk prices converge, the need for high-end disk drives will become increasingly questionable. The size of a solid-state Tier 0 is likely to grow and the high-end disk drive Tier 1 is likely to shrink reciprocally; it's very possible that solid-state drives will eventually replace high-end disk drives. "Storage systems will consist of two main tiers: a high-performance solid-state tier and a large capacity, lower performance, low-cost SATA or SATA equivalent tier," says Rick Gillett, VP of data systems architecture at F5 Networks Inc.

Solid-state storage also consumes significantly less power for the same number of operations. "Generally speaking, solid-state storage can perform about 1,000 operations per watt compared to five operations per watt in high-end disk drives," says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN.


Solid-state drives vs. High-end disk drives
Cost In terms of $/gigabytes, disk drives are about a factor 20 less expensive than solid-state drives. In terms of I/Os per gigabyte, solid-state drives are more cost-effective.

Performance Solid-state drives outperform disk drives on all fronts, with a significantly higher number of I/Os and throughput, and lower latency. NAND flash-based, solid-state drives have a considerably lower write performance vs. enterprise disk drives.

Power consumption Measured by operations per watt, solid-state drives consume considerably less power: roughly 1,000 operations per watt vs. five operations per watt for an enterprise disk drive.

Reliability Solid-state drives are less proven than high-end disk drives, and they wear out faster than disk drives.

This was first published in July 2008

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