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SSD technology making inroads with SMBs

A recent survey found businesses moving toward SSD technology. Why? The technology offers higher performance than spinning disk.

Despite relatively high costs, there is interest in solid state drive (SSD) technology, according to a survey of more than 500 businesses conducted earlier this year.

The survey, conducted by Kroll Ontrack, indicated that nearly 70 percent of respondents use solid-state or flash technology, or at least have plans to implement the technology in the near future.  

About 75 percent of respondents indicated they believed SSD technology delivered higher performance than spinning disk drives. They also reported a perception that solid-state is a safer medium to protect against data-loss and that it consumes less power and is therefore more environmentally friendly.

Some of those issues were on the mind of Les Barnes, a senior vice president of information technology at Bank of Fayetteville in Fayetteville, Ark., when he faced a SQL Server performance problem.

“Our two biggest applications are check imaging and our system that manages merchant processing. They were both SQL Server-based and both had developed an annoying habit of ‘pausing’ frequently, causing consternation for users and slowing the flow of work,” said Barnes.

Barnes said he suspected part of the problem was related to slow I/O response as a consequence of disk access time. So about 14 months ago, he installed Dell Inc.’s EqualLogic storage products, including the PS6000XVS, a hybrid storage array that includes both 15K SAS drives and SSDs. He said the implementation of SSD technology was an element in a broader effort to implement tiered storage, since the XVS system incorporated both SAS drives and higher speed SSDs.

He said the problem disappeared as soon as the applications had access to the SSDs. Now, he says, with the SSDs in place, database latency “has dropped from the low single digits to less than a millisecond.”

According to analysts, Barnes is far from alone in finding solace for storage troubles in solid-state storage adoption. 

“Vendors from the smallest startups to the largest IT vendors are getting in the game,” said David Hill, an analyst at Mesabi Group LLC. “Solutions are being touted at the array level, the network level, at the host level or even as DAS.”

The reason is simple, according to Hill. SSD technology promises to eliminate poor application performance that can arise because of I/O bottlenecks, such as the performance gap between server speeds and HDD speed, or as an unintended consequence of a high level of server virtualization. 

Hill said there’s still a question of how much of a monetary value can be tied to that performance improvement. If increased revenues (and consequently profits) exceed the added cost and management of SSDs, then SSDs would be a good fit.

He said SSDs may also be able to offer other improvements, such as being able to speed backup jobs that need to be done within a particular time window.

“That could result in extra cost, but the business may be able to justify it. In addition, there may be some cost tradeoffs. Underutilized HDDs that SSDs render unnecessary for performance purposes may be repurposed for other tasks and thus defer the need to purchase more disk storage for a time,” said Hill.

Over a period of years, Hill says SSDs will displace most if not all high-performance SAS and FC drives, but not capacity-oriented SATA drives.

“If there is a performance issue, then SSDs can be evaluated as a solution,” regardless of company size, he said. For instance, a large enterprise may not have application performance issues, but an SMB company may be dependent upon an application that cries out for greater performance, he said.

“The problem, and not the size of the company, is the determinant,” Hill said. On the other hand, the smaller companies may not have the resources to evaluate all the SSD solutions properly when compared to companies that have a larger IT staff, he added.

Mark Peters, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said there is no defining characteristic of the typical user or use case with SSD technology.

“Some SMBs may literally put everything on solid-state in the server, while others are specing a limited amount of ‘turbo boost’ in their storage subsystems,” he said.

He also said the economics of using SSDs “are not as scary as many think” because organizations have had to use more spinning disk resources to achieve performance goals that may be within easy reach of lower-capacity SSDs.

“It’s still a small market when measured in revenue and TB penetration terms, but its impact is about IOPS and performance rather than capacity,” he said. “I’d go so far as to say that every storage systems vendor has an offering, and often multiple ones. And the use case range is essentially as a storage tier (persistent data) or for solid state to be used as a cache.”

Peters said the adoption of SSD technology is poised to grow dramatically among a range of industries and organizations.

“Usage is not limited to one company size, type or industry, as solid-state is simply democratic, horizontally-applicable fast storage,” he said.

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