Pillar to Add Solid-State Storage to Axiom Systems

Will add solid-state drives in the form of SSD Bricks to its application-aware Axiom systems later this year

March 10, 2009

4 Min Read
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Pillar Data Systems has become the latest storage systems vendor to announce plans to add solid-state technology to its product line, disclosing today that it will add solid-state drives in the form of SSD Bricks to its application-aware Axiom systems later this year. Many other major storage vendors already have announced support for solid-state technology.

Pillar may be a bit late to the party, but it wanted to wait until SSD technology matured and the company could incorporate it into its systems in a way that would provide top performance at an economical cost per IOPS, says CEO Mike Workman. "It is eight times more efficient than spindles on a shelf basis. The quickest and easiest way to offer a reduction in IOPS per dollar is to put it in the storage pool," he says.

Workman acknowledges that SSDs are much more expensive than conventional hard disks, but argues that for some customers it is the price per IOPS that matters, not the price per gigabyte. Pillar is packaging 12 Intel X25-E Extreme SSDs, each with 64 GB, into a Brick that offers 768 GB of raw capacity. There can be up to four SSD Bricks per controller. The company says, on average, read-and-write speeds will be four to five times faster than Fibre Channel.

Pillar didn't disclose pricing for the drives, but said it will when they become available in June. Nor did it reveal specific IOPS numbers, although the company says a single drive can provide Read IOPS that are 100 times faster than a 450 GB Fibre Channel drive and Write IOPS that are 10 times faster. SSDs also cut power and cooling requirements by 85 percent compared to Fibre Channel, the company says.

The key to making effective use of SSDs is to place them in the storage pool, Workman says, and use the company's "Quality of Service" software, which lets IT managers and storage administrators assign priorities to data so applications that need the lowest latency can use the fastest storage to hold its information. Administrators can assign priorities using a single drop-down menu, says Workman. "It is easy to promote some LUNs temporarily to the SSDs, say, at the end of the month or quarter, and move the data from disk to SSD, and then move it back when you don't need the performance." The QoS software lets the system offer five levels of service. SSDs would generally replace Fibre Channel drives to offer premium service.Pillar didn't jump on the SSD bandwagon last year like many other storage vendors. "We waited until we were sure that the 'wear-out' characteristics were adequate for the enterprise. You will be able to write to the SSD in the Axiom system for more than five years without hitting a wear-out level," Workman says. "We also wanted to add RAID 5 and put in a hot spare so we could offer that extra level of protection. In many respects, that is what is required to make people comfortable with this new technology." Pillar claims the Intel drives have a life expectancy of 10 years.

There is a debate among users and storage vendors over the best place to use solid-state technology, with some arguing that it belongs in cache and others that it belongs in the storage array. Workman says the Axiom systems will be able to use it as cache, Level 2 cache, or as a component of the storage pool. "It should be used anywhere that maximizes the dollars spent. But fundamentally, we see it as a natural enhancement to spinning disks for premium service."

The announcement also represents one of the first wins for Intel's Flash product in enterprise storage systems. Most other vendors offering SSDs are using products from STEC. "It is a good win for Intel," says George Crump, head of consulting firm Storage-Switzerland and a Byte and Switch blogger. "For Pillar, there isn't a big risk putting your money on Intel."

For users, the price for SSDs is still so high that they must analyze the application performance benefits before they can calculate the payback, Crump says. Certain applications, like databases or revenue-generating transactions, can provide a quick return if performance is substantially improved. But storage administrators also need to be careful that they don't just shift the bottleneck to another part of the infrastructure, he warns.

Crump says 12 SSDs in a single Brick could provide so many IOPS that the data center infrastructure might not be able to take full advantage of the available performance: "SSDs can be a real benefit. But they may be so fast that you are not getting maximum bang for your buck. So companies should do a detailed analysis before they commit their dollars."0

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