SSDs: New King of the Data Center?

SSDs are making inroads into data centers.

Flash storage is more common on mobile devices than data-center hardware, but that could soon change.

The industry has seen increasing sales of solid-state drives (SSDs) as a replacement for traditional hard drives, according to IHS iSuppli Research. Nearly all of these have been sold for ultrabooks, laptops and other mobile devices that can benefit from a combination of low energy use and high-powered performance.

But businesses have lagged the consumer market in adoption of SSDs, largely due to the format’s comparatively small size, high cost and the concerns of datacenter managers about long-term stability and comparatively high failure rates.

That’s changing quickly, according to market researchers IDC and Gartner.

Datacenter- and enterprise-storage managers are buying SSDs in greater numbers for both server-attached storage and mainstream storage infrastructure, according to an IDC study published in April.

That rise hinges on the boost in flash storage’s performance compared to hard drives. “Traditional disk technology has not kept pace with CPU technology, resulting in a significant performance gap between storage and computing,” according to Dan Iacono, analyst in IDC’s storage systems practice. “This shortfall in performance presents a huge opportunity for solid state storage to fill the void in terms of both input/output operations per second (IOPS) and latency.”

But that doesn’t mean SSDs will oust hard drives and replace them directly in existing systems, according to Gartner. Instead, SSD is making its way into the datacenter within hybrid drives that use spinning disks for longer-term storage and for operations without a strict latency requirement, paired to flash storage that expands capacity and boosts performance.

SSDs can add a new tier in layers of storage differentiated by performance, according to an April Gartner study. Rather than a huge leap in cost and performance by moving data from a hard drive to DRAM memory for in-memory database applications, SSDs allow datacenter managers to use SSDs rather than DRAM for demanding applications while relying on in-memory implementations only for the most performance-sensitive workloads.

That performance comes at a price lower than DRAM, but a lot higher than disk. Datacenter-quality hard drives average about five cents per gigabyte, compared to $1/gigabyte for SSDs. High-end HDDs increase costs to about 33 cents for HDDs and $1.87 for SSDs, the report said.

In addition to a host of introductions of SSD drives and all-flash arrays, vendors including IBM have begun evangelizing the idea of using flash not only in the datacenter, but everywhere.

“We believe flash storage is now reaching a tipping point where for most or all of your storage requirements, flash is a viable and affordable alternative to spinning disk,” according to Stephen Leonard, VP worldwide sales for IBM’s systems and technology group, speaking at IBM’s Edge 2013 conference earlier this week (and as quoted by ITWorld Canada).

Modern data centers “were not designed or built for this world” in which they’re required to absorb and process huge volumes of unstructured data, all while delivering enough performance to support increasingly virtualized corporate infrastructures.

IBM’s most recent contribution to the push of SSD into the datacenter was the announcement last month of its FlashSystem line of SSD-enabled storage products. The company also plans on investing $1 billion in R&D to push flash into a wider range of its products.

 

Image: rickyd/Shutterstock.com

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