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Solid-state storage technology isn't just about speed

Solid-state storage technology can enhance performance and reduce costs across the entire IT environment.

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Everywhere you turn, there's a speed-related analogy for solid-state: "It's a turbo booster for your IT ecosystem" and "Solid-state storage is the Ferrari of the storage world." This makes sense because solid-state storage technology provides an obvious performance benefit over spinning media technology, resulting in improved application response times and reduced latencies. But sometimes focusing on the obvious can cause us to miss the bigger picture. Reduced latencies are just one of solid-state's potential benefits, and overemphasizing this benefit may prevent some organizations from reaping larger rewards.

So why do so many miss the big picture? A cursory glance of the technology reveals the obvious: it's really fast and a little pricy when compared to spinning media. In my conversations with IT leaders, I often hear that they want solid-state technology … but for a lower dollar-per-gigabyte price. That's fine, but storage performance has never been purchased that way. For years, short stroking -- trying to squeak a few more I/Os out of each platter by throwing away capacity -- was the rage. If price per capacity didn't make sense for spinning media, why do organizations rely on it to compare performance-centric solutions today? It's easier to do it that way. However, price per capacity is the wrong way to evaluate emerging solid-state storage technology, and it causes many individuals to overlook much of the disruptive power of solid-state.

Benefits of solid-state storage technology

I often hear IT professionals say their solid-state is fast, but that their current storage performance is good enough. It's a common response, as storage admins usually size their storage deployment to meet the needs of their applications.

That's the challenge of focusing on storage performance alone. Some organizations don't realize that by eliminating the storage bottleneck, solid-state technology can enhance the performance of the entire ecosystem and reduce costs across the IT environment. Here are a few examples of how solid-state storage technology can provide benefits outside of the storage system:

  • Fewer servers. Eliminating the storage bottleneck enables each server to achieve higher utilization, allowing each system and processing core to deliver more capability. In turn, the same amount of work can be completed with fewer systems.
  • Fewer application licenses. Many applications' prices are determined by the number of processing cores, so fewer server cores mean lower application costs. Licensing can be a big part of an IT budget; I've spoken with some companies that have easily paid for their solid-state storage with money saved by reducing their application licenses.
  • Reduced support and warranty costs. Fewer servers and applications translate into fewer licenses and warranties to manage. Fewer components to manage results in lower support costs and risk across the infrastructure.
  • Power and cooling efficiency. Power and cooling concerns are a binary issue; either it's a problem or it isn't. If your data center is in a location where power and cooling is a challenge, you should already be evaluating or using solid-state storage technologies.
  • Lower network and infrastructure costs. There are solid-state storage providers that can offer more than 100 TB of capacity with hundreds of thousands of IOPS in a 1U form factor. That level of storage efficiency can open up new and interesting possibilities. Advanced, high-performance workloads no longer need to be tethered to brick and mortar data centers. For example, seismic analysis for oil and gas exploration can be done on-site, even if that site is in the middle of the ocean. This freedom can speed data analysis and save the network and infrastructure costs of transmitting the data back and forth from the on-site location, which improves ROI.
  • Freed up manpower for more value-added opportunities. Storage and server hardware, application licenses, warranties and maintenance contracts all require management. IT personnel resources are some of the most valuable in the data center. As organizations look for ways to better utilize their data, freeing up IT personnel from maintenance duties to provide value-added services can offer organizations a significant ROI boost.

Back within the storage system, reducing latencies may not be as important as providing predictability for more traditional IT applications. As application demands fluctuate or organizations add more workloads to the existing infrastructure, the extra performance headroom provided by solid-state (especially if the system offers quality of service capabilities), can ensure that increased organization demands won't impact existing application performance.

The key takeaway is that the performance provided by solid-state storage technology is not limited to the storage system. If you were waiting for the ROI to improve before making an investment in solid-state storage, you may want to check your math. The value may already be there.

BIO: Scott Sinclair is a storage analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Austin, Texas.

This was last published in March 2015

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It may be because of the excessive emphasis on storage performance. However, businesses can also benefit from solid-state technology in regards to power and cooling.
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