Data Centers optimize

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...

31 comments
bmxcrs
bmxcrs

I just read it off as rambling. With the game right now w the Drive Manufacture doubling the price because if WD's issues. If they came out w a price of $100 , I think it would rock the world. Opportunity is knocking. If it take a few minutes to install windows w ssd. It would be nothing to backup a system. That would help if they have a larger failure rate. But could someone correct me if im wrong. Does it only take a few minutes to install win7?

tony
tony

One thing I really hate is when an article includes acronyms and then the author doesn't bother to define said acronyms beforehand. For completeness, I believe the author ought to do his readers a service by redefining acronyms whether or not they are common place or not. For those wondering what I'm rambling on about, it is about VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure/Interface. You can't assume that since this is a technical site that all your readers are going to be up to speed with all acronyms out in the wild!

milt mallory
milt mallory

We've been growing SSD use slowly for over a year in our servers. We can do this because we still use discrete servers with small data footprints (~56G). But it will be another year before we make any large scale installments.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

I had a guy get a 64MB and a 128MB SSD from Amazon. I forget the brand as this was a couple of years ago, but it was a top name. I put the 64GB in one laptop and the 128 in another and installed Win 7 on both along with apps. About 4 months later, he brought the laptop with the 128GB SSD to me. It was only showing up as a 4GB drive and I could access nothing on it. It had died. There was nothing I could do with it. He ended up returning it to Amazon for a refund and I put the original drive back in. So, they need to get more reliable and they also need to do something about the write limitations as Windows does a lot of writing. That being said, we had a row of blade servers that had 32GB SSDs in them and they were still running after two years or so when I left the company. They had regular 2.5-inch hard drive storage arrays attached where the VMs were located.

dg.itpro
dg.itpro

As others have mentioned, reliability is a big area of concern for many, including myself. Like HDD's I would like to see some predictive failure support. It has to be unsettling to know that your SSD can just go out without any type of warning what so ever. That being said, SSD are definitely going to be the future in the enterprise.

hrosita
hrosita

Wether one uses SSD or HDD, backups are a must so the fact that a SSD drive fails suddenly does not matter to me. If the 256 MG drive get close to $100 I intend to get one for my desktop. Then I can use the SSD for the operating system and paging an the other drive for data.

mpietersz
mpietersz

The Dell link that I posted was from 2009. SSDs have been in the enterprise for many years now.

kitekrazy
kitekrazy

"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" That's the clincher for me to hold off. Some drives will make noise when they are starting to fail along with having S.M.A.R.T. enabled.

mpietersz
mpietersz

We should probably focus on enterprise class SSDs rather than SSDs that are used for laptops.

Fishscales
Fishscales

I believe SSDs still have a way to go in reliability. Over the past 8 or 9 months I've replaced laptop HDDs with SSDs (about 60 - 70 units) and recently I had 2 failures. As you would with expect with SSD they were catastrophic failures. System does not recognize the drive so nothing can be recovered. I won't mention the laptop manufacturer but, I need to explain that the drives are stressed because they are encrypted and the HDDs have a very high failure rate.

KingDWS
KingDWS

The way this market demands the latest and greatest even if the claim to fame seems to be go faster stripes if SSD's were that good spin disks would be getting harder to find by now. This isn't the first time we have seen "superior" hardware flounder around and fail to launch. I don't think SSD's are quite ready for prime time and definitely not in a server environment. They are great every where but reliability or durability. They really are great right up to the point where they instantly drop dead and kill your data. The chips still only have so many read-write cycles in them before they crap out. When you see SSD's incorporating some of the latest transistor technology which is a self repairing design then they would be worth having and in fact could finally and truly be superior to conventional platter type disks. Personally I won't bother with swapping things over until they are.

bmxcrs
bmxcrs

Been repairing computers for 27 years. Drives are more dependable now but still not a big difference in speed. I use to repair 15" drivers back in the day. First one was Western Dynex. Im not even sure i spelled that right it's been so long. My first big add was "is your floppy sloppy - we repair for $50.) If and when SSD takes off it should make a change like we haven't seen in a long time. From what i see coming in for repair, 256g is plenty big enough space for over 90% of the people. We have three backup systems for customers and really never see over 70 gig of data. And most have alot less. Anything more, they need to get there Data on to an external or DVD. When the dollor amout comes down on SSD the speed isue will the internet and at the right price. Im more interested on what the SSD will do for an older computers. My guess is that most older computers will have killer speed for the 90% that just Email , Internet and some pics. My first SDD purchase will be on are old slow compuetr thats is needed to do Advance head cleaning on Inkjet printers. Yes win98. I still get Win95 installs. Now im shaking my head again.

jhoward
jhoward

The difference in write performance is challenging across different SSDs (in terms of cost). The SSDs that are even close to 10k/15k RPM drives for write intensive applications such as large scale network monitoring databases, CDR databases etc. tend to be too pricey at the moment. I can't wait for this to turn around because the density that is possible with SSDs in the data center is staggering. The power and cooling issues that can really kill large storage arrays somewhat go away when you consider the orders of magnitude less space, power and cooling SSDs require to conventional 3.5" disks and even 2.5" disks. I have already had a few SSDs die on me fairly early in their lifetime and it was an eye opener to just how similar they can be to traditional disks in that respect.

yattwood
yattwood

In something that should warm the cockles of every Oracle DBA's heart....the Oracle Appliance puts the Redo Logs (the most active component of an Oracle database) on SSD disks within the Appliance; the rest of the the disks are non-SSD, but as prices fall, there will probably be a future offering with all SSD.....

mclghlne
mclghlne

My biggest concern is the current lack of TRIM support for MLC SSDs in a hardware RAID configuration. Don't want to put our Oracle DB or VM environment on storage that will significantly degrade in performance over time as writes accumulate.

tommy
tommy

I've had laptops and workstations with SSD's installed for just over a year now, with no problems at all. Famous last words, obviously ;o) I've got a couple of server based systems that would benefit from SSD technology, but the amount of storage I would need - about 5 TB - is just too expensive to warrant the upgrade at the moment.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Sadly, 256 gb is not enough. With the average game install nearing 20 gigs, that's only 12 games before your drive is full. That doesn't allow space of OS, movies or music.

Isaidright!
Isaidright!

Desktops are next, why not server rooms. Failure - that is what backups are for

Gumm
Gumm

What a wonderful non-article.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

I actually have SSD in all my systems: home pc, laptop and office pc. In servers we still have 15krpm disk, but SSD is the thing of the future. No mechanical parts! 90% of regular hard drives fail because a problem in the disks or actuator, etc (failures in mechanical parts) not in the electronics. Electronics is more reliable and with proper backups and raid mirrors, your data will be safe. price needs to drop a lot yet. BTW, mtbf for SSD is higher compared with the regular mechanical hdds.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

it took about 20 minutes or so (I think). Then there is the configuring and downloading and installing the updates, installing security software and all the apps...., so, considerably longer.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You can only fit one drive in most of them. There's no space for two drives in a RAID-1 configuration.

mpietersz
mpietersz

Given that Oracle are already putting up to 5TB of SSDs into their Exadata machines I think the question of if SSDs are ready for the data center is pretty much answered. HP also offer SSDs in their servers as do Dell. They are cheaper than using very large arrays of mechanical disk for extreme performance I/O. You need to include power consumption, cooling and rack space cost when comparing the cost of SSDs and this needs to be done on I/O and not on GB. This is quite an old article but it makes an interesting comment on reliability even though SAS drives were never that great. "In addition to improved performance over hard drives, enterprise class SSDs have higher reliability ratings.Enterprise class SSDs are rated at 2 million hours MTBF (meantime between failure) versus enterprise class 10K&15KRPM SAS hard drives at 1.6 million hours MTBF" http://www.dell.com/downloads/global/products/pedge/en/server-poweredge-11g-ssd-en.pdf

Slayer_
Slayer_

Make a product that could theoretically operate forever... no way.

jred
jred

:) Use the SSD for your OS and most frequently played games (don't try to tell me you play 15+ games every day). You put your data (music, movies, etc) and "extra" games on the slower, spinning HDD.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm still concerned about the reliability. Perhaps for a system drive, but not for a data drive that gets written and read more frequently. From a workplace viewpoint, I see them as more viable. I assume these can be used in RAID configurations with hot swap and automatic failover, rendering the failure of an individual drive much less of an issue. The price still needs to come down, although I assume there are price breaks when buying in volume instead of one or two at a time.

xangpow
xangpow

I love the idea of faster drive but if the highest you can get me is 256gb, Im sorry im sticking with HDD.

FuzzyBunnySlippers
FuzzyBunnySlippers

...but, as for the updates/security software... that number is inflated based on your internet connection speed, not time-to-disk. I'm guessing you knew that, but for me, that is the time-cost of the initial system. Every subsequent 'build out" suffers only a fraction of that time, as I note the updates, and create a more efficient method for those factors/installations/patches. (PXE installs suffer very little past a good build serve).

Slayer_
Slayer_

But for a personal computer, it's not enough.