Repackaging SSD for the Enterprise

Repackaging SSD technology so that it is a flexible storage alternative for any hardware platform is an approach that more vendors are likely to adopt.

June 12, 2009

4 Min Read
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Although usage of solid state disks is on the uptake, SSDs have yet to hit their stride with mainstream enterprises. But vendors are taking fresh approaches on how they present and package the product.

"A key value proposition for enterprises is that they have the flexibility to use solid state disk on any computing platform they want it on, coupled with system management software that equips them with automated, best of class SSD provisioning," says Charlie Andrews, Director of Dynamic Infrastructure Marketing Solutions for IBM.

IBM announced on May 21 that it would be delivering new solid state offerings across its hardware platforms using Smart Data Management software that allows customers to migrate, monitor and dynamically place data on SSDs. It followed this with an announcement on June 3 that its System Storage XP12S with SSD has set new performance benchmarks in IOPS/watt, which will contribute to data center green energy savings. SSDs and SDM software are available on IBM Power Systems servers; on System x, which includes the BladeCenter family of x86 servers; and on DS8000 storage systems, which are frequently attached to System z mainframes. "Our goal was to make SSD available to every server platform, so that enterprises could put SSD anywhere it made sense," Andrews says.

Repackaging SSD so that it is a flexible storage alternative for any hardware platform is likely to be adopted by vendors besides IBM as they look at repackaging options that can make SSD a more readily insert-able technology for enterprises that can answer any SSD need, wherever it turns up.

"IBM is following Sun's initial efforts to provide broad support over the enterprise product line," says Gregory Wong, principal analyst with industry researcher Forward Insights. "SSDs are clearly a differentiating factor, and others such as HP are expected to follow suit."

Andrews believes that SSD platform flexibility will give enterprises more options to monitor performance and then determine where SSD can make a productive difference in computing performance and even cost.

"As in the past, much enterprise investment in SSDs will continue to be driven by performance, so that if an enterprise requires high throughput and I/O rates, SSD can compete favorably when compared to traditional hard drives that are only 80 percent utilized so as to optimize performance," says Andrews. "The cost benefit in these cases is found when you divide total cost by the number of gigabytes of useable disk." A strategy that stripes data across hard drives, using only a fraction of the usable disk, can easily underperform solid state disk in both computing power and cost, he says.

The question, of course, is how many enterprises will be evaluating cost in those terms -- and making decisions to use SSD.

"There is a reason SSDs remained an unimportant niche over the past two or three decades," says Arun Taneja, principal analyst with the Taneja Group. "They were too expensive and they required a Ph.D. to make them work. Both factors kept the revenues for that market in the sub-$50 million range. Flash memory changed the cost side thanks to its liberal usage in the consumer side, and innovation in write-leveling and other technologies that made them last longer.

"That has been what has happened in the last three years or so. Effectively, they became viable for broader usage across the enterprise," Taneja says. "But they were still missing a critical piece of the puzzle -- how to decide what data should be staged on SSDs and what data should go on hard drives. Until very recently, one needed to decide what to put on the SSD and it would stay there, even if other data could use that I/O performance of the SSD. That static placement has been an issue. The solution for this is auto-migration, which every storage player adding SSDs to their product line is now adding, if they haven't done it already. It is a crucial technology to take the SSDs mainstream."

Andrews concurs. "The smart software we're delivering can now monitor SSDs and determine where the hot data is," he says. "Automated analysis determines which data should be on SSD and which data should be on HDD, and the data is migrated transparently."

What about IBM's past statements that flash SSD is not an enterprise-strength technology, and that at some time it will be supplanted with other technologies like phase change memory?

"We have no change of view on that," Andrews says. "Flash still has significant restrictions with respect to durability and write performance. But with the right applications and management software, flash SSD can be productive in enterprises. We also know from experience that when you get down to how enterprises use memory, that many technologies continue to flourish with later innovation that comes along to make them more viable."

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