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Monday, October 29, 2012

SSD storage technology - Finally some new technology

Courtesy - Beth Cohen is a senior cloud architect

Until recently, the massive changes to IT infrastructure brought on by widespread cloud architecture adoption have barely touched the relatively mature multi-billion dollar storage industry. The old adage that storage is cheap, but management of storage is expensive is as valid as it was 10 years ago. That is about to be turned on its head as prices on solid state drive technology continues to plummet (SSD) and the demand for massive amounts of highly scalable cloud storage surges.

The traditional storage market has settled into several distinct streams. On the high end is the EMC approach which is to build very complex storage systems with multiple redundant hardware plus many configuration options and features. This very expensive approach works for enterprises that really need fast reliable storage and have the budget to justify the investment. At the low end of the spectrum, there are lots of options for small storage pools -- half a petabyte or so – which are generally sold through channels. The prices for these systems have remained relatively stable at the $1 million for a petabyte range.

For companies that want massive amounts (15 petabytes or more) of cheap storage or a horizontally scalable cloud type architecture, the options have been limited to a few vendors or for the technologically adventurous, a roll your own system. All this is happening despite the fact that there are now three hard disk manufacturers left, a de facto monopoly, and most users treat hard drives as interchangeable commodities with excessively high failure rates that require massive amounts of duplication. Any vendor that can demonstrate a system that reduces the need for three data copies to maintain integrity by improving the failure rate from the current 10-15% a year, would deliver a big win for everyone.

As the cloud storage business grows the traditional vertically scalable storage is less and less viable. There are several companies that are already working on building horizontally scalable storage, Scality and CloudBytes are two that come to mind. There are also several Open Source projects like OpenStack Swift that are taking on the large data store architecture problem as well. Not all the cloud storage vendors are using a pooled block of storage approach. ScaleIO turns all the disks in the servers into a pool of storage. This radically different approach is dependent on the right use case and could have network bottleneck issues. The newer horizontally scaled cloudy architectures, such as Mezeo and OpenStack Swift have finally opened up the possibility of building attractively priced massive data pools.

The biggest innovation of late is the incorporation of SSD technology. Amazon is already offering an all SSD cloud storage service and a number of new storage vendors, such as SolidFire are building SSD only storage systems from the ground up. SolidFire isn’t the first vendor with an SSD offering, Nimbus Data began selling all-SSD systems more than a year ago. EMC jumped in with a Symmetrix with all SSDs this summer, and others are expected to follow shortly. Texas Memory Systems, Avere, Violin Memory and Alacritech, have all-SSD systems designed to speed SAN and NAS performance for internal storage solutions. Most storage vendors now give customers the option of installing some SSD alongside hard drives in their systems. In the long run, this is just an interim step as SSD prices will continue to fall over the next few years. The future is a move to all SSD units coming to a data center near you.

It is good to see innovation coming back in the storage industry after years of slack. Expect to see more hardware innovation as SSD technology becomes the standard for fast reliable cloud storage and new systems take advantage of more reliable hard disk hardware and continued rise in data densities. My crystal ball says that we might see a repeat of the massive changes that occurred in the 1990’s as smaller disks rapidly swept away all the incumbent vendors who were focused on their established large customers. Watch your back EMC…

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