Flash Forward: The Future of the Data Center – Solid State Drive

compuverde

stefan bernbo

Solid State Drive

- Stefan Bernbo, founder and CEO of Compuverde, says:

The start of 2014 marked a shift in the world of data centers from traditional hard drive disk (HDD) to solid state drive (SSD) -based storage systems. Data centers across the globe will finally have the incentive needed to ditch older HDD-based infrastructures with newer, more efficient SSD ones. But why were data centers left using HDDs for so long? In a word: Price.

Less than a decade ago, SSDs were a new, foreign idea. Upon their release, SSDs went for over $40/GB; however, prices have decreased over the years to as low as $.75/GB, causing many organizations to rethink their stance on SSD implementation. Furthermore, when compared to HDDs, SSDs offer less expensive maintenance, greater reliability and overall better performance, making them attractive alternatives to HDDs.

Improving on the Past

Tape storage can seem like an ancient relic. However, it used to be the primary method of storage until disk storage came along and quickly replaced it. Disk storage was cheaper and more efficient, which led to its rapid implementation and dominance over tape storage. However, when flash was first introduced, spinning disks remained the standard storage architecture of choice.  Regardless of its better performance, flash storage has been prohibitively expensive and HDDs offered better storage capacity per dollar. It was simply more economical remain with HDDs.

Over the years, the price of flash storage has steadily dropped. As the price lowered, the benefits of flash, like throughput and latency, also greatly improved. Moreover, flash storage is much more energy efficient than HDDs; some SSDs manage to use 1/16th the energy of spinning disk systems. Even though flash drives can wear out faster than spinning disk systems, the recent improvements have made flash practical option for high-volume environments such as data centers.

The New Data Center

As of now, it is well within the realm of possibility a data center could be all flash. In the near future, it will be a certainty. Industries whose profit margins rely on delivering speed and availability to customers are beginning to realize that flash storage is more than just a tempting option; it is a necessity. Telcos and service providers – businesses sensitive to latency and downtime – are particularly intrigued by an all-flash data center.

However, as attractive as an all-flash data center may be, other industries are holding off until the price of SSDs drop further. Take, for example, a file hosting service that delivers free web storage to customers. It would likely be more concerned with massive quantities of cheap storage rather than performance. The trade off today is between capacity and price. However, when the price of flash catches up to the price of spinning disks, there will no longer be a reason to stay with HDDs. Spinning disks replaced tape storage with higher power and better value; so too will flash replace spinning disks.

The Role of Software-Defined Storage

Software-defined storage is another data center trend rising in popularity, much like flash. It may be too early to say the trends are connected, but one cannot deny that a software-defined approach to storage infrastructure provides organizations the flexibility they need to adopt an all-flash data center.

Software-defined storage takes features typically found in hardware and moves them to the software layer while doing away with redundancies typically found in the hardware layer. Hardware will inevitably fail, despite improvements in design. In typical storage setups without RAID cards, the failure of a disk usually prompts an error that will impact the end-user’s experience. RAID cards are often implemented to solve this issue, but they can be pricey. With the proper software-defined approach, these problems can be absorbed and made invisible to the end-user. Furthermore, software-defined storage is hardware-agnostic, so it can run on any hardware setup.

Implementing a software-defined approach to storage architecture allows an organization to take advantage of a single name space, that spans across all storage nodes. Organizations can also run applications in the storage nodes as well, turning them into “compustorage” nodes. In this case, the storage hardware itself wouldn’t need to be large or expensive, but could still achieve high-performance and speed. Instead of building a massive and pricey installation, organizations can begin with a small number of inexpensive servers and then, if needed, scale linearly to retain their high-performance data center.

Benefits to an All-Flash Approach

Other benefits of an all-flash data center running software-defined storage technology include:

  • Performance Gains – Improvements in performance are gained thanks to the ability to use the faster flash technology throughout the data center.
  • Lower power consumption – SSDs reduce running costs, generating far less heat than a spinning disk and requiring less energy for cooling.
  • Increased Capacity – More applications can be run on the same hardware, due to hardware performance gains.
  • Energy Efficient – SSDs deliver a smaller footprint in the data center. Since SSDs are much smaller than spinning disks, they require less space to house.

Planning for the Future

Not long ago, spinning disks were the storage technology of the future, replacing tape storage with cheaper prices and better performance. Now it seems that the cycle will repeat itself, with flash storage replacing spinning disks for those very same reasons spinning disks replaced tape storage as the medium of choice. For organizations looking to implement and optimize an all-flash data center, a software-defined storage approach is worth consideration as a way to achieve the level of performance that all-flash can provide.

About the Author:

Stefan Bernbo is the founder and CEO of Compuverde. For 20 years, Stefan has designed and built numerous enterprise scale data storage solutions designed to be cost effective for storing huge data sets. From 2004 to 2010 Stefan worked within this field for Storegate, the wide-reaching Internet based storage solution for consumer and business markets, with the highest possible availability and scalability requirements. Previously, Stefan has worked with system and software architecture on several projects with Swedish giant Ericsson, the world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and services to mobile and fixed network operators.

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