Storage

12:52 PM
George Crump
George Crump
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Drive Form-Factor SSDs Make A Comeback

Looking to improve server-side performance in your enterprise? Recent advances suggest it might be time to give drive form-factor SSDs another look.

In the enterprise, solid-state storage has become the go-to option for eliminating storage performance problems. One of the most obvious and common places to install solid-state storage is in the server itself. This puts the performance boost as close to the problem as possible and eliminates potential bottlenecks such as the storage network.

The early choice for server-side SSD, as for shared storage, was to use drive form-factor SSDs. These SSDs look like hard disk drives (HDDs) but contain solid-state memory instead of rotating media. They installed into a conventional HDD expansion bay, so support and installation was easy.

Drive form-factor SSDs gave way in large part to PCIe SSDs, which are PCIe boards with flash modules installed. PCIe SSD provided a performance advantage over drive form-factor SSD thanks to their direct connectivity to the PCIe bus and avoidance of the storage protocol stack. But PCIe SSDs have their own challenges. First, because they avoid the storage protocol stack, they require a customized driver and you can't boot from them. This means not all platforms are supported by every vendor, requiring at least two types of drives in the server -- typically HDD to boot and PCIe SSD for performance.

Second, PCIe SSDs have a redundancy problem. Most servers don't have an abundance of free PCIe slots. Even if it is supported, installing multiple cards can be a challenge. Without multiple cards it's difficult to develop mirroring or RAID capability -- and for most servers, hot-swapping PCIe cards is out of the question.

[ Server-side storage memory can offer a cost-effective solution to VDI projects. Here's how: How Server-Side Storage Memory Impacts VDI Costs. ]

Drive form-factor SSDs don't have these challenges. A good number of drive bays are usually available, and these drives can leverage the redundancy options built into the RAID controller they connect to. As discussed in this webinar, the comeback of drive form-factor SSD is being driven by improvements in performance and smaller form factors, which leads to greater density.

6-GB (and soon 12-GB) SAS and SATA protocols can overcome much of the performance bottleneck. As discussed here, even 6-GB SATA is achieving 600+ MB performance per drive. With the appropriate RAID controller capable of driving a server full of these drives, 200k+ IOPS is very achievable. In addition, SSD manufacturers have been making great strides in performance and durability.

Improvements in storage protocol performance, RAID controller processing power and in the devices themselves should encourage enterprises looking for server-side SSD to give drive form-factor technology a fresh look. Add in their easy availability, and these devices make a compelling case for companies looking to improve server-side performance.

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SMARTStorageSystems
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SMARTStorageSystems,
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3/27/2013 | 4:12:23 PM
re: Drive Form-Factor SSDs Make A Comeback
Great article, George! Drive form-factor SSDs are definitely making a solid strike against PCIe SSDs, which is why we are heavily invested in making a difference here. WeGre thrilled to partner with IBM to offer our Optimus SSDs as a superior alternative to PCIe SSDs. We look forward to an interesting webinar on the state of server side SSDs with yourself, our President, John Scaramuzzo, and IBM. G SMART Storage Systems Team
mrotkis605
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mrotkis605,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2013 | 6:39:16 PM
re: Drive Form-Factor SSDs Make A Comeback
While I agree on the form factor and RAS challenges with standard PCIe SSD, I can't help but think that you've completely overlooked specific unique innovation on the part of Dell (whom I work for) with respect to ExpressFlash. PCIe SSD that is front serviceable in a 2.5" hot swap HDD carrier form factor, with 2-4 drives/server (depending on form factor) and even available in blades.

If the argument that you are making with respect to the return to SAS/SATA SSD in standard form factors is overcoming the limitations of PCIe SSD, then I would think that you would champion for what has been done with ExpressFlash. Finally, great strides are being made with respect to software layers and integration with a complete storage ecosystem with things like FluidCache.
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