Storage administrators wary of SSD deployment

Don't expect hard drives to disappear from enterprise storage just yet. Users say they will take a wait-and-see approach before implementing any new storage medium, and vendors are split whether to put the SSDs in servers or disk arrays.

Although IDC forecasts the market for solid-state disks (SSD) will grow 70% between 2007 and 2012, storage administrators and vendors remain split over how SSDs will be used in storage networks. . .as well as when.

According to the IDC report by analyst Jeff Janukowicz and released this week, most of the SSD growth for the next two years will come from the inclusion of memory in mobile devices and ruggedized PCs in military and industrial applications. After studying factory revenue reports from manufacturers, IDC concluded that the deployment of SSDs in enterprise computing will pick up by 2010. IDC also forecasts that enterprise computing applications will account for most of the SSD revenue by 2011, up from 12% in 2007.

EMC CEO Joe Tucci and other storage executives have predicted that solid-state media will take over the storage world due to the lack of moving parts in SSDs and their low-power draw. But don't expect hard drives to disappear from enterprise storage just yet. The benefits SSDs will bring to enterprise storage will be "less than people expect," said Andrew Reichman, analyst with Forrester Research. "I wouldn't go giving back my hard drives anytime soon."

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IDC's revenue ramp predictions may come true, but whether organizations will actually benefit from the SSDs they install is another matter, Reichman said. "I don't think the analytics tools are there to properly identify which LUNs to put on solid-state drives," he said.

Storage shops taking wait-and-see atitude on SSDs

Adoption of a new type of storage will take years in most enterprise shops for several reasons, including the steep premium they will pay for flash over hard drives. "If SSDs become more prevalent and market conditions start to drive them into the price range of current drives, then we would buy them," said Michael Passe, storage architect for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "I don't see that happening for three to five years at least." Even some shops willing to pay may hold off while they take care of more pressing needs.

"I've seen the need for this for a long time, and even today with the cost of flash, I have some internal customers that would pony up the money to get the performance," said Tom Becchetti, storage engineer for a large medical manufacturing company. "But I've been having enough going on with generally available code on some of my NetApp filers," he said.

Still, there are early adopters looking to move ahead with SSDs. "I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to do an array-based deployment at this time if the opportunity arose," wrote Rich DeBrino, CIO at Advances in Technology, in an email to SearchStorage.com. "SSD is here to stay and I am 100% behind the idea of getting rid of moving parts. When's the last time your USB flash disk stopped working? Less moving parts [equals] less failures, period."

Storage vendors have different SSD strategies

Over the past few months, storage vendors have been disclosing their SSD strategies. EMC started shipping SSDs in its Symmetrix enterprise storage systems back in January. Emulex devoted a good deal of time during its May Analyst Day to discussing SSDs, and is now at work developing a Fibre Channel-SATA bridge for OEM customers specifically to support SSDs. Systems vendors can hook up SSDs with Emulex's current Fibre Channel-SATA bridge, but the second version will yield more IOPS from array-mounted flash devices, according to Bryan Cowger, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for Emulex's Embedded Storage Products (ESP) group. The new version is due out in 2009.

Pillar Data Systems' CEO Mike Workman said his company's Axiom arrays can support any type of nonvolatile, direct-access media within its storage bricks, including SSDs. But Pillar seems to agree with Hewlett-Packard's contention that SSDs provide more of a benefit attached to servers rather than installed in arrays. "Either way, it's faster than just disk," he said. "But it's 100 times faster if it's direct-attached."

Chuck Hollis, EMC's vice president of technology alliances, responded to that idea in a recent blog. "I think I've seen this movie before ... and I know how it ends," he wrote. "Let's not get into a detailed discussion about how latency and bandwidth over an internal server bus is 'better' than over an external storage connection. That argument didn't work [in the context of DAS vs. SAN] in 1995, and I don't think it'll work in 2008."

But Joel Hagberg, vice president of business development at Fujitsu Computer Products of America, claims a bigger obstacle than network latency lies in flash's path. He said that while flash offers vastly superior random-read performance over hard drives, it's actually at a disadvantage when it comes to write performance, especially sequential write performance. "A typical NAND flash disk will write one-tenth as fast as it reads and about one-fifth as fast as a disk drive," he said.

 

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