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Status report: Solid-state storage

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Hard drives struggle to keep pace

Hard drive technology over the past several years has seen significant advances in areal density, continuing the ever-falling per-GB cost curve. But hard disk drive I/O throughput hasn’t kept up with the much faster servers and networks over the same period of time. Applications are becoming increasingly I/O bound as the demand for data access increases. In some cases, storage managers must deploy extra, unneeded capacity to get the aggregate I/O throughput required to meet the application’s demands. This unused capacity dramatically alters the economics of high-capacity drives.

Nevertheless, solid-state is no panacea. “Solid-state offers a lot of advantages, but it’s not always the solution,” Datapipe’s Coker advises. “There’s still no substitute for good system design. Application owners need to be prepared to work with their storage provider to properly tune and provision the right combination of SSD and HDD. Moreover, we’ve found that SSDs tend to get slower over time. You can work to manage them and reformat them, but at some point you have to be prepared to just replace them. It’s different from managing HDDs.”

Solid-state storage, though more expensive than HDDs on a per-GB basis, may be substantially cheaper on a per-I/O basis. IT managers should consider the cost per I/O in their economic analysis. Add this to the lower power and cooling requirements, and the TCO will likely make sense for application

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acceleration. IT managers shouldn’t expect SSD to follow the HDD cost curve. It’s fundamentally a memory product, so it will follow the memory cost curve. As eMLC advances technologically, it may make solid-state even more attractive and broaden its applicability in the data center and cloud.

BIO: Phil Goodwin is a storage consultant and freelance writer.

This was first published in October 2011

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