by Paul Rudo on 05/06/12 at 8:44 pm
The one constant in the world of technology is, ironically, the fact that change is both inevitable and required. Nowhere is that statement truer than in the world of modern data storage. Spinning disk drives have been the de facto industry standard for decades, despite some impressive statistics for their solid-state storage counterparts, but all of that may be starting to change.
If you’ve looked into SSDs recently, you already know about the benefits they can offer, but the one serious drawback, which SSD vendors haven’t been able to overcome, is price. Now, however, inventive companies are figuring out ways to create all-flash arrays that can actually save you money over the long run.
Overcoming the SSD Barrier
Solid state storage has been around for a while yet it’s just now beginning to catch on in a big way, which is a little surprising considering the benefits that SSDs have to offer over traditional spinning-disk storage. These benefits include:
· Significantly faster read times
· Slightly faster write times
· No need to defragment
· A lack of moving parts
· Longer device lifespan
· More power efficiency
· Silent operation
With a list like that, one would obviously wonder why SSDs haven’t already taken over the storage game, but the answer is as simple as it is succinct: price. Solid state storage has been considerably more expensive per GB than HDDs. In fact, a recent IBM survey showed that while half of the IT professionals surveyed are planning to use or are already using SSD technology, the vast majority of those who aren’t list price as the main reason why not.
But a closer look at the benefits of SSD may offer some insight into why the technology is really no longer prohibitively expensive. Factors like the lack of moving parts lead to a substantially longer lifespan, allowing for longer depreciation schedules and resulting in a less expensive product. Additionally, the amount of energy saved using solid state storage over spinning disk storage can wind up being a significant amount over the lifetime of the unit.
These two cost savers often get overlooked as they don’t always affect the sticker price of the storage solution, and apt IT managers and CIOs would be wise to include accurate depreciation and energy values when choosing a storage solution, but a real shift in the concept of SSD cost will require savings that are a little more tangible.
The Future of SSD
Even with all the long-term cost reducers, the upfront costs of an SSD solution may still be more than some are willing to pay, but that’s beginning to change as well. Advances in SSD technology at the chip level and HDD supply chain issues in Thailand both play a part in this cost reduction, but the latest big leap comes from innovative companies tackling the problem from a completely different angle.
One such company is Pure Storage, which has decided to create all-flash arrays using industry standard SSD packaging. This solution takes advantage of NAND flash memory chips and all the benefits they can bring to an SSD array, while maintaining the economic sensibility that comes from truly understanding how the memory industry operates.
Pure Storage chose the SSD form factor to be able to take advantage of existing integrated memory controllers, reducing the operational cost of building a new one from scratch every few months. The units also maintain the ability to be hot-swapped, reducing the chance that a customer may accidentally fry their system while trying to swap DIMMs while the array is active. The company then married that innovation with a piece of resilient proprietary software to complete the package.
The end result is a storage array with cutting-edge performance delivered at a cost that is actually below that of traditional spinning-disk solutions.
Innovations like these are starting to gain momentum within the storage industry and it could signal a major change in how storage is purchased and used. Spinning-disk solutions, which have been the standard for far too long, may be on their way out as they lose the one benefit they really had over SSDs. The genesis of all-flash arrays, especially those that are cost-competitive against the currently popular storage arrays, may be just what the industry has been waiting for. There is no doubt that IT professionals are desperate to get the speed, performance and reliability benefits that a solid state solution can offer. It’s truly an interesting and important time for the storage technology industry.