Flash/solid-state disk (SSD) drives are changing the way enterprise storage vendors are developing their products, says Gary Watson, CTO of disk-based data storage systems provider Nexsan, which just came out with its NST-Series of unified storage systems. The release follows LSI’s ongoing transition from spinning disks to solid state with its latest Nytro products, which are focused on bringing flash into the server. And in February, EMC announced that its PCIe/flash-based server cache technology, VFCache, is now available.
If an enterprise is using high-performance disks, it tends to find SSDs more cost-effective to implement than 15,000-rpm hard drives, claims Watson, "because it takes far fewer SSDs to provide a given number of transactions per second." This is a new trend for 2012, he says. "Prices were more expensive last year, and [there were] more technology limitations. This year, prices, capacities and technology have improved so people are finding SSD is a better choice" because they can run far fewer of them.
Moore's Law is definitely in effect when it comes to solid-state storage, and as the technology and market mature, the storage world is moving toward a place where SSDs are not just silicon disks but full solid-state systems, says Kurt Marko, a regular contributor to Network Computing and InformationWeek, as well as the author of a recent storage report, Research: State of Storage 2012. The vast majority of enterprises currently using or planning to use SSDs are using them for databases (61% of the 166 respondents who noted they are using or evaluating SSDs), followed by usage for improving overall server performance (57%) and automated tiered storage (34%). Other notable reasons included technical applications (29%), reducing power consumption (27%), video/multimedia editing (21%) and other transaction-heavy software (26%).
SSDs are replacing disks in high-throughput, high-IOPS systems, which are already very expensive, says Marko. To get the throughput the applications need, enterprises typically need 10 to 12 SSDs in parallel, which provides an order or two of magnitude in improved performance. The price/performance is driving that adoption, he says.
The new Nexsan series uses SSDs in an automated tiering scheme for high-performance data sets, says John Webster, a senior partner at Evaluator Group. While Nexsan isn’t do anything all that different from what a number of other vendors are doing, it has "an established base in using high-capacity drives to create ... a more efficient storage environment."
Watson says the way Nexsan approached the SSD market with the NST series was to provide a hybrid product. An all-SSD array was "too much of a point product for people," he explains, adding that most of Nexsan's customers are looking for a comprehensive storage model. The hybrid approach provides inexpensive storage per terabyte, he says. "That’s more satisfying to most customers than having point products."