Data Centers

Why the time is almost ripe for Solid State Disks in the data center

Scott Lowe considers Gartner's prediction that Solid State Disks (SSDs) will be popular in 2012. Prices are coming down and performance is good, but how reliable are they for the data center?

When it comes to measuring the three key performance areas in a computer system, storage is the one area that has not kept pace with its counterparts. While Moore's law has remained tried and true for processors and memory speeds have skyrocketed, data storage performance has been propelled only in one of the two areas of performance measurement: capacity. When you look at typical use, storage performance, on the other hand, hasn't come very far in the past ten years. We're still using 7.2K, 10K, and 15K RPM disks for the vast majority of our data needs.

You might be wondering why I haven't included Solid State Disks (SSDs) in the previous paragraph. The reason is simple: Until recently, I don't believe that SSD was fully ready for prime time use. Between extremely high per MB costs and questions about the lifespan of a disk, many organizations simply couldn't make the leap to this newest of technologies.

However, SSDs will erase the performance gap that has plagued traditional magnetic media. In fact, when you're looking at performance alone, SSDs are actually less expensive than spinning disks.

SSD prices are coming down faster than traditional storage prices

According to the above article, the costs for SSDs are plummeting. It will take a long time for SSDs and HDDs to reach price parity, if it ever happens, but there will come a point when the price becomes palatable for more and more organizations, even though SSDs have yet to match HDDs in capacity. Consumer SSDs will become extremely popular in 2012, according to Gartner. Personally, last year, I purchased a MacBook Air with a 256GB SSD and it's an incredibly fast machine! More and more laptops are coming equipped with SSDs as a standard option. As costs continue to drop, making the technology more accessible, more and more consumers will demand SSDs. Although consumer grade devices aren't usually found in enterprise data centers, expect to see enterprise SSD pricing take a similar turn.

New technologies require new storage

Over time, I believe that more and more companies will join the VDI bandwagon as a way to address the burgeoning need to support employee-owned equipment through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs. VDI initiatives create unique challenges for organizations. While there is still a need to have a lot of capacity, storage performance becomes a critically important driver in VDI. Yes, storage performance has always been important in server virtualization projects, but with VDI, the user is seeing the service directly, which means that any performance issues are much more difficult to hide.

SSD reliability

The jury is still out on whether or not SSDs are more or less reliable than their spinning counterparts. That said, when an SSD fails, it's often a bad day. How many of you have put your soon-to-fail hard drive in the freezer for a few minutes after which you were able to copy off all of your data before the drive fully failed? I've done it and it's been a lifesaver! When an SSD fails, it often does so with no warning. As such, even though many will claim that SSDs are more reliable than HDDs, it's just as important to use traditional protection mechanisms, such as RAID and backups.

Summary

Now, back to the original question: Is the time right for SSDs? Almost, in my opinion. I believe that the prices need to come down a bit more and the question of reliability needs to be definitively answered before enterprises take the plunge. That said, for those of you undertaking VDI initiatives or that have massive storage performance needs, SSDs should absolutely be considered in your solution, but make sure there is redundancy.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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