The rise of the ultra-dense array


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Heading off trouble
So if heat, cooling and weight go down while performance goes up, what's the problem? The issue is that we'll have to use more and more spindles to keep performance up as the density of each disk platter increases. I expect smaller, cooler 2.5-inch drives will soon be the standard in enterprise arrays, but performance and space demands will mean that the number of "spindles" per array will double or triple in short order. Soon, all of your power and weight savings will go right out the window. In fact, power consumption and heat dissipation for these new ultra-dense storage arrays will begin to increase rapidly, with cost driven more by the number of spindles than the amount of capacity.

These little disk drive platters will always lag behind the capacity of larger 3.5-inch units. As density increases, we'll look to ever-smaller form factors to offset the performance hit. What about enterprise arrays with 1.8-inch disks or even Microdrives? We're looking at a future where high-performance arrays use vast numbers of tiny disks while weight and power consumption continue to rise. Even though each little disk is smaller and lighter, we'll be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.

As the mice of the disk industry invade the data center, the density increases are creating elephants--massive drives with capacities measured in terabytes. These big disks are much more environmentally efficient than 2.5-inch drives--today's

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500GB disk is lighter (two pounds per terabyte) and uses less power per gigabyte than the latest 2.5-inch mechanism. But they're much slower, too.

The real problem is figuring out how to use the larger, slower, more efficient disks. We need to strike a balance between performance and capacity. Why is data growing so rapidly? Does all of this new data truly need the performance we're demanding?

Determining realistic data requirements is a vexing problem, and will be the most important topic in storage management for the foreseeable future. We have to figure out how to reach an agreement with the rest of the business on metrics and policies, but this discussion is bigger than the performance issues outlined in this article. Compliance, data protection and availability also have their own metrics and policies, and we'll have to overcome the different technological issues associated with these facets of storage.

This was first published in June 2006

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