Solid-state drives move into the enterprise

SSDs offer advantages in speed, lower power consumption

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have been around for decades, so they aren't new technology. However, largely because of price considerations, they’ve mostly been relegated to very high-performance, mission-critical applications. But there are signs that status may be changing, and that SSDs will become more widespread throughout the enterprise.

Price is still a barrier. But other needs are pushing organizations to look more closely at SSDs.

The real buzz around SSDs is their speed advantage, and enterprises can use that to help with some of the real binds they find themselves in today, said Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis, a semiconductor research company.

“There are still fairly unanimous objections to the cost per gigabyte of SSDs,” he said. “But when the need for speed overcomes that they find other advantages to SSDs such as lower power consumption, less need for cooling, a more efficient use of rack space and so on.”

In a proof of concept study it ran two years ago to see if SSDs could effectively replace hard disk drives (HDDs) in datacenter disk arrays, chip maker Intel discovered a number of things that argued for that:

  • Tests that compared SSDs with data HDDs in disk arrays showed that SSDs generated I/O performance improvements over a broad range of read/write ratios, block sizes and RAID levels.
  • An analysis of storage subsystem total cost of ownership (TCO) showed that using SSDs to replace high-performance HDDs in arrays could increase I/O performance up to eight-fold for comparable storage TCO.
  • Using SSDs as operating system disks reduced the time required for common support tasks such as installs and reboots by up to 73 percent.
  • SSDs consumed up to 93 percent less power than HDDs.

Online auction site eBay, in one of the largest deployment of SSDs to date, recently ran a pilot to replace fast HDDs with 100Tbytes of SDD storage to try and overcome slow I/O performance. That was hampering its virtualized server and storage infrastructure.

In a recent article in ComputerWorld, an eBay executive reported performance improvements that mostly confirmed Intel’s findings. As far as overall costs were concerned, he said, the SSDs eBay used matched that of the previous HDD arrays despite the upfront price of SSDs being an order of magnitude greater.

“The typical problem that a company like eBay has is with duplication of databases to handle the next stage of growth,” Handy said. “That leans towards the bold use of SSDs. It has a thousand systems and close to maximum performance on those, so it’s not easy to scale otherwise.”

SSDs are unlikely to be a replacement for all HDD arrays in the enterprise. For example, for archival storage SSDs would be an expensive overreach. But they are increasingly seen as a complement to HDDs as an answer for high-performance computing needs, an expanding requirement for data centers, providing the answer for the so-called Tier 0 of enterprise storage.

Whether it goes deeper into the enterprise storage infrastructure depends on if data center managers’ fears can be overcome, not just about the cost but also about reliability. Most SSDs now have the ability to show how worn out they are, Handy said, so managers can allow for that in their ongoing appraisal of storage performance and needs. And people are becoming more conversant about the cost comparisons surrounding SSDs.

“Even if they do focus on the cost argument, there’s still a play for SSDs there,” Handy said. “SANs, for example, are also used to support very high speed transactions. Well, you can replace tens of HDDs with a single SSD.”

The enterprise SSD market is still immature, but it probably won’t stay that way for long. Objective Analysis is predicting it will be at least a $4 billion market by 2015.

About this Report

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