The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter

Michael Vizard, Journalist | 6/13/2013 | 7 comments

Michael Vizard
With the rise of affordable Flash memory options in the datacenter, the fundamental economics of storage are rapidly transforming.

Rather than relying solely on hard disk drives that are challenging to manage, many IT organizations are making a rapid transition to solid state disk (SSD) technology. While still more expensive than hard disk drives, SSD has come down in price when combined with a raft of additional benefits, making SSDs too compelling to ignore.

The first major benefit is that IT organizations can use smaller, more energy-efficient processors in their servers because SSDs eliminate a lot of latency. This not only reduces the cost of the servers, it saves energy and reduces footprints. Just as importantly, fewer servers usually results in lower application licensing fees, because most software licensing schemes are based on the number of servers employed.

Add to that the fact that SSDs are less likely to have mechanical problems resulting in the need for fewer spares and lower maintenance costs, and they become a pretty compelling alternative to magnetics disks.

"Like most things in IT you need to follow the money," James Baker, senior contributing analyst with The Clipper Group, an IT consulting firm, told me. "You need to take a more holistic approach to assessing costs."

Beyond hardware issues, SSDs make life a lot easier for developers. Rather than trying to optimize the placement of data on magnetic spinning disks, developers can write applications without having to worry about any constraints relating to data latency. That might allow them to develop applications that were never before possible, and at the very least the environment becomes a lot more forgiving of the quality of the code being run.

While well-known providers of hard disk drives such as Seagate have been aggressively investing in Flash memory technologies, Scott Horn, vice president of marketing at Seagate, says it would be shortsighted to completely write off high performance disk drives any time soon.

Not only will hard disk drive pricing continue to fall, Horn says Flash memory pricing is about as low as it's going to go for the foreseeable future because the industry is starting to reach some capacity constraints.

Horn predicts that not only will we soon see shortages of Flash memory, the cost of hard disk shortage systems will fall given advances such as new 5 millimeter technology and the fact that storage system vendors have a lot of leeway in terms of the margins they have historically enjoyed.

"Flash memory pricing may even go up with Flash memory increasing goes on allocation," says Horn.

It's too early to say with absolute certainty that Flash memory will completely replace high performance magnetic systems in the enterprise. But it is clear that so-called "hot data" associated with mission-critical applications is moving that way. Cold data, meanwhile, will increasing wind up on inexpensive SAS drives. What's not clear is where all the "warm data" that resides between those two extremes will ultimately wind up, which is why storage vendors are introducing more sophisticated automated tiering systems.

Dell, for example, just introduced the Dell Compellent Flash Optimized Solution, which supports automated tiering across hard drives and two classes of SSDs.

According to Bob Fine, product director for Dell Storage, the Dell Compellent Flash Optimized Solution is the only system that not only tiers data across SSD and hard disk drives, it will tier data across different classes of SSDs. That means the system will automatically tier write data on single-level cell (SLC) class SSDs, while using less expensive multi-level cell (MLC) class SSDs for read-only data.

Fine says that when it comes to automated tiering of data, the Dell Compellent Flash Optimized Solution is the only instance of that kind of storage management tool that imposes no restrictions in terms of where data can be placed in the system.

"When it comes to putting the right data at the right place at the right time we excel," says Fine.

Of course, taking advantage of those kinds of systems will require IT organizations to acquire new storage systems. But when you think about all the time and effort administrators now go through to manually optimize the placement of data, it's a relatively small price to pay to free someone up to add more value elsewhere inside the IT organization.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
MDMConsult   The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter   7/3/2013 9:09:11 AM
Re: Tiering by Dell
SSDs do have a reliability reputation. Today they are where disk drives were 15 years ago. The cost is lesser, and significant improvements are being made to the market. We should be on the lookout for reliability technologies that are new being brought to the market in the coming years to test these factors.
tekedge   The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter   6/17/2013 10:56:10 AM
The New Economics
Very informative . thanks.Heartenng to know we will have cheaper options for data storage , and technology is moving fast in this regard!
Technocrat   The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter   6/15/2013 11:08:25 PM
Re: SSD technology will go cheap in future
Really encouraging to learn Dell is making great strides in optimizing the potential of SSD's for storage.  Will be nice to see how this plays out.
rdv   The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter   6/15/2013 6:15:54 PM
SSD technology will go cheap in future
SSD technology will go cheap and more reliable (already reliable) in future.

With the usage of NAND based SSD and also the improving manufacturing technology of 3D stacking of the chips a lot of memory can be packed into a small die areas.  A term "memory cubes" is what used to these stacked dies of memory.  Since the memory are repeatitive when it comes to manufacturing, the price is likely go down in near future.

  On another note, a good comparison of the SLC and MLC SSD memory and their reliability is captured in this PDF.
rdv   The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter   6/15/2013 6:03:49 PM
Tiering by Dell
Mike: Thanks for the post.

"the Dell Compellent Flash Optimized Solution is the only system that not only tiers data across SSD and hard disk drives, it will tier data across different classes of SSDs."

   Does it not retard the bit-rate (killing the advantage of using the high-speed SSD) by have a interface when tiering the data on different storage device?

   Does the solution from dell put all the data related to a particular application on only one kind of storage, I mean there is no requirement like De-fragmentation of data between different storages?
rdv   The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter   6/15/2013 5:41:48 PM
Re: solid state disk (SSD) technology a viable storage alternative
Pedro:  "Of course, it may not completely replace hard disk storage,..."

  I agree you here, given the cost of the memory HDD is far more cheap than SSD.  Also the present configurations of Laptop have 256GB of SSD Vs. 1TB of HDD and that too at more than double the price.

  For the people who want lighter and slimmer devices, who want faster boot-up time and faster applications' loading time, they will have to shell-out money on SSD memory.
Pedro Gonzales   The New Economics of Primary Storage in the Datacenter   6/14/2013 11:26:55 AM
solid state disk (SSD) technology a viable storage alternative
great article.  I know from a user perspective, solid state disk (SSD) technologies have revolutionize personal storage, they are used for pretty much anything and their storage capacity keeps increasing. You point out many advantages in this  technology, advantages that could very well make a difference in improving efficiency for the enterprise.  Of course, it may not completely replace hard disk storage, may be its not suppose to, but its good to know that there are other choices available. 

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