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Rise of solid state storage raises fabric concerns

The use of solid state-based storage systems is rapidly increasing. So far, solid state technology has been deployed to accelerate applications in specific environments. Successes have been demonstrated for increasing the number of transactions a system can perform, the number of virtual machines per physical server (commonly referred to as virtual machine density), and the amount of virtual desktops supported by a storage system.

The continuing advance of all-solid state storage systems is leading to strategies where primary storage — defined as the most active storage of information for applications — will be all solid state. Planning for all-solid state primary storage requires the fabric infrastructure to be considered as a critical element in delivering the maximum value from solid state technology.

Solid state storage systems have much lower latency than systems design for spinning disks. The latency is measured in microseconds and the systems can sustain a much greater number of operations per second. Solid state technology is really a memory technology and using low-level disk-based access protocols may not be optimum. Faster or more streamlined protocols may reduce overhead and contribute to improvement in reducing latency.

So, what fabric interconnect is best? Most arguments about deploying new fabrics or making an infrastructure change have been based on cost. If the fabric interconnect technology requires additional hardware components to reduce latency, maybe the fabric technology with the lowest overhead or latency is the most economical. Economic valuation needs to be based on the increase in the efficiency of the system. Solid state systems can store and retrieve information faster, allowing applications to generate more transactions per second and deliver more value from the investment in servers and other hardware. The fabric choice to support solid state systems is a much bigger economic potential than the cost of the fabric or administration alone.

Low latency interfaces used today such as Fibre Channel or InfiniBand might deliver the greatest value when economic measures are used. Or, maybe another fabric or variation could evolve and create a disruption in the storage infrastructure. The economic value could make a compelling reason to make a transition.

Infrastructure for storage has always been a slow transition and that trend is expected to continue. But the efficiency and economic value delivered from solid state storage may accelerate a change of some type. The fabric decision will be based on how to enable applications to do more work and provide faster access to information. Initially, primary storage will be the focus for a fabric that can maximize value. Secondary storage may not be as demanding, but a common fabric may be preferred over a specialized fabric. Vendors will promote what they have now as a practical matter but will also look for the competitive advantage in delivering the economic value with future offerings. It just may take some time to evolve.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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It will be interesting to see how this evolves.  We have 16Gb Fibre Channel and 40Gb Ethnernet around the corner and for most applications they will suffice for a good few years.  Also it will be along while until mainstream applications go all solid state for a number of reasons and hybrid solutions will predominate.  The one certainty is that we will generate more data, we will want access to it faster and we will need bigger pipes.  The good news about the storage industry is there is always a challenge to rise to.