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9 Ways Flash Cuts Your Computing Costs

  • I assume you know that flash is disrupting computing. In 2012, the total cost of ownership of flash-based storage systems dropped below the TCO for traditional storage and in 2014, the total cost of acquisition for the actual software and hardware costs for a flash-based storage system dropped below the acquisition cost of a hard drive-based system. These savings can be achieved whether you’re managing a hyperscale data center or building an internal cloud for a startup. 

    But what you might not know is how flash lowers your costs. There are basically nine ways flash lowers your costs; three are related to capital costs, four are associated with operational expenses, and two are related to business productivity. No two customers are alike. Some customers leverage flash for pure speed, while others are focused more significantly on costs. The following pages give you an idea of what to expect. With flash, less always gets you more.

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  • Storage

    In general, hard drives still cost less an on a dollar-per-GB basis. With flash, however, you need far fewer solid-state drives because of a combination of improvements in IOPS per GB as well as an increase in capacity density with respect to GB-per-drive footprint. 

    Building a system that can support a 50 TB database, for instance, takes around 288 300 GB hard-disk drives  in 12 enclosures. An equivalent system with flash can be built with 24 3.84 TB SSDs in four enclosures.

    Large-capacity SSDs can also remove the need for use of a SAN in some cases. Typically, a customer will use a SAN for either sharing files, or because the storage capacity point per server is larger than the server can hold. If the SAN is tied to capacity needs, new large-capacity SSDs allow you to put 100 TB of capacity in a single server that holds 26 drives.

    Author note: These calculations assume 288 300GB drives in 12 enclosures versus 24 3.84TB drives in four enclosures, 5 drive RAID 6 arrays, 100% reads at 4k transfer size; 75k IOPS per SSD and 300 IOPS per HDD.  


  • Servers

    Better throughput and better processor utilization requires fewer servers. For example, Catho, the largest job website in Latin America, reduced the number of servers it maintains from 14 to four, a 72% reduction by replacing HDDs with flash-based PCIe application accelerators. Technically, Catho could have put its 14-server workload onto one server, but it wanted to bake in resiliency. The new system also accelerated query responses by 36 to 77%. With less equipment, Catho got more performance. 

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  • Software

    Fewer servers also equates to fewer enterprise software licenses. Jimmy May, our SQL Server solutions architect and a former Microsoft employee, notes that the MSPR for SQL Server Enterprise Edition license (EE) is $6,736.50 or $10,104.50 per processor core. Multiply that by the number of cores in a modern server and you’re talking about saving tens of thousands of dollars every time you can take out a server thanks to the higher efficiency and utilization made possible through flash.

    Rhapsody recovered the cost of its flash upgrade through savings on Oracle licenses. Some enterprise companies already see the writing on the wall and are reexamining licensing policies so they aren’t fighting against the flash tide.

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  • Energy

    Hard drives are actually somewhat astounding from an engineering perspective. They are, however, mechanical devices and mechanical devices will invariably be at a disadvantage when it comes to performance and energy consumption. That’s why hard drives have been stuck at 15K for 15 years. SSDs transfer electrons, which takes far less energy and time.

    The motors at the heart of HDDs also generate heat, which generates demand for more air conditioning. The motors must continue spinning and consuming power even when no data is being requested. If the user chooses to spin the HDDs down to save power, access to the data is severely limited and as a result, this approach usually isn't considered an option.

    If you go back to the 50 TB database example, the HDD-based system might require a power budget of 8,800 watts -- 4,000 watts to run the storage system and 4,800 for cooling. A similar system could be built with SSDs with a power budget 1,250 watts -- 568 watts for systems and 682 for cooling -- an 85% savings. 

    Carbon regulations in many regions could potentially lead to legal penalties or require additional capital in the purchase of carbon credits to offset excess power usage.

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  • Infrastructure

    If you reduce the total number of servers and storage systems, it stands to reason that you will also need fewer AC systems, racks and real estate. Some companies that sell electrical equipment for data centers, in fact, have said that the savings achieved through real estate density surpass what customers save in energy. 

    Whether these are capital or operational costs depends on how you build your data centers. Either way, your fixed costs for equipment go farther.

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  • Maintenance and reliability

    By reducing the amount of hardware and infrastructure required, you reduce the demand on maintenance. Just as important, flash devices have a longer mean time between failure (MBTF), extending the life of your purchases.

    In a white paper earlier this year, IDC noted that SSDs in notebooks can potentially save companies $178 per year in maintenance and IT and $164 in recovered downtime and employee productivity per notebook. 

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  • Fewer errors

    In addition to MTBF benefits, SSDs typically will have an uncorrectable bit error rate that is 10x better than HDDs, with HDDs at 10-16 and SSDs at 10-17. This means that the chances of the SSD losing a piece of data that can’t be recovered by the drive is 10x less likely to happen than the typical enterprise HDD.

    It should also be noted that hardware consolidation afforded by large capacity reduces device count. This allows for a lower solution MTBF, even in a case where the SSD and HDD have the same device MTBF.


  • New revenue streams

    Fast Data revolves around recovering transactions that are essentially being lost in large part because of data center latency. Companies are using the Internet of Things to transform industrial machinery and other products into services. You’re also seeing bioinformatics companies looking for cloud alternatives with more speed so they can fine-tune applications for personalized medicine. Time is literally now money. Technically, you’re not saving money, but you’re making your investments in computing -- or your payments to flash-optimized cloud providers -- go far farther.

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  • Productivity

    Yes, productivity can be an amorphous concept, but here are a few bullet points to consider when implementing flash-based systems:

    • Zappos boosted page-loading time by 25%.
    • Intelliflo, which provides services to the financial services, industry, reduced the number of web requests that take more than one second by 42% and improved overall customer-facing web pages by 50%.
    • Major Hollywood studios are studying ways to pre-cache high-definition content to cut down on bandwidth costs and overload.

     (Image: geralt/Pixabay)