Solid-state storage finds its niche


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New storage tier
The emergence of SSD as a viable enterprise storage option leads analysts like IDC's Janukowicz to speak of a new storage tier, Tier 0. Tier 0 would sit above primary enterprise storage (Tier 1) and be used for those apps requiring the fastest possible performance and the lowest latency. It's very early in the evolution of enterprise SSD; few products for mainstream corporate storage are shipping and few of the early adopters are willing to speak publicly. Still, some uses for Tier 0 are becoming apparent.

"Right now, SSD is too expensive for corporate data, but it looks like it will be great for meta data, which is read frequently," says Mike Karp, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, Boulder, CO. Similarly, it would be good for database indexes.

Flash also looks promising for media, where applications are written once but read many times. Another recommended use puts flash in the server for the boot OS, which would be much faster. Yet another alternative to SSD is to use memory as a caching appliance (see "SSD performance alternative," below).


SSD performance alternative
If you want high performance

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and don't care about data storage (persistence), you can look at a DRAM caching appliance, such as the one provided by Gear6 in Mountain View, CA. The Gear6 appliance sits next to primary storage and promises to deliver 250,000 IOPS for $400,000 ($1.6/IOPS) for hundreds of servers in parallel, reducing the need to buy extra hard disk drive spindles but providing no actual storage. By contrast, Texas Memory Systems Inc.'s RamSan-500, which provides data storage and caching, costs $3/IOPS (100,000 IOPS for $300,000).

Flash SSD is showing up in blade servers. This summer IBM Corp. announced it was adding a 4GB USB flash drive to its BladeCenter HS21 in an effort to remove components, such as a hard disk, that are more likely to fail and result in downtime. By using SSD, IBM reports a reduction in power consumption by as much as 18 watts per blade. In addition to conserving power, the flash drives boost performance with an average seek time of 0.1 milliseconds vs. 15 milliseconds for a conventional hard disk.


This was first published in November 2007

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