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SSDs: A Guide To Using Flash In The Datacenter

With the price of SSDs rapidly declining, it's tempting to put them in every new server or storage system. Not so fast.

Silicon is the darling of the storage world: Out with spinning disks, in with flash chips. There is a lot to like about solid-state storage. It offers faster I/O, lower latency and power consumption, and instant-on from sleep states for lightning-fast access to cold data, all from smaller components easily adapted to a variety of form factors. Indeed, flash memory's miniscule use of space and power are a key enabler of mobile devices and the reason SSDs are displacing HDDs in most laptops.

But in datacenters, where storage requirements are measured in petabytes, not terabytes, flash must be used opportunistically. Despite the claims of some solid-state proponents, the all-flash datacenter is still years from becoming a reality, as described in InformationWeek's 2014 State of Storage report. But the price per bit differential between flash and disk is narrowing, albeit from a very wide gap, meaning it's rational and economical to use SSDs in more and more applications.

There are four major categories of flash product: server-side PCIe cards and SSDs, hybrid flash-HDD storage arrays, and all-flash systems using either SSDs or proprietary memory cards. The State of Storage survey found that 40% of respondents make use of SSDs in arrays, up 8 points since 2013.

However, all-flash arrays are still a niche, deployed by only 16%, with a mere 3% using them extensively. Thirty-nine percent of respondents use solid state in servers, up 10 points, with the vast majority (83%) opting for SSDs over PCIe adapters. But server deployments are still selective, with almost two-thirds of respondents using solid state in no more than 20% of their servers.

Read the rest of this story on Network Computing.

Kurt Marko is an InformationWeek and Network Computing contributor and IT industry veteran, pursuing his passion for communications after a varied career that has spanned virtually the entire high-tech food chain from chips to systems. Upon graduating from Stanford University ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/15/2014 | 9:27:02 PM
Re: Long Term
Of course you're right, and I agree that it won't be any time soon. But, as you mention, they are starting to show up in high-end laptops. I recently saw one with an 120GB SSD that runs Windows 7. The disappointing lack of progress in battery technology is likely to drive the development of this low power alternative.
User Rank: Strategist
2/15/2014 | 5:27:11 PM
Re: Long Term

@Gary..Yes, Long term SSDs will win out... But to reiterate what you said... When will that be?

I have started purchasing hybrid 500GB drives. There is a definite performance boost over the HDD but not as good as a full SSD. These are just starting to filter into laptops and PCs. The datacenter is the next step.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/14/2014 | 2:21:39 PM
Long Term
True, SSD's are still a lot more expensive per Gigabyte than hard drives. But, SSD's, are after all, semiconductors, so their prices can be expected to relentlessly track lower. Hard drives are mechanical devices, so they can only be expected to get marginally cheaper. In the end, SSD's should take it all, but who can say when?
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Ninja
2/14/2014 | 2:03:44 PM
Flash in the cloud: how much benefit?
This is a good, tough-minded approach to Flash. I suspect Flash drives in whatever form factor offer an opportunity to make the cloud a more practical adjunct to the enterprise data center. When a cloud application is dealing with data stored in Flash, response times to enterprise end users might more closely resemble those of on-premises apps. There would be tradeoffs. Not sure where the line would be drawn between those apps aided and those that become prohibitively expensive.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Ninja
2/14/2014 | 10:57:01 AM
Rich get richer
At some point, it seems like being able to afford at least an ALMOST all SSD data center become a competitive advantage. It will allow for the near-real-time predictive analytics that will let companies market much more effectively, for example.
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