Solid-state drives find novel niches at some enterprises
Solid-state drives eventually will change the IT and physical architectures of most storage systems
Manufacturers are taking a variety of approaches to solid-state drives. Some use them as replacements for standard hard drives, while others use them as the cache layer for large storage arrays. "Different vendors have different implementation strategies," said Matt Bryson, a senior research analyst at Avian Securities.
One thing to consider is that SSDs will, over time, change the architecture of most storage systems. "The architectures do make a difference," Bryson said. “As [SSD] controllers get better, you end up with a bunch of bottlenecks if the array is architected for disks.”
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Factors such as the speed of the controller, network conduit and switches can slow performance. SSDs could also prompt changes in the physical infrastructure because they do not need to be protected from heat and vibration as much as hard drives do.
"As you move further down the road, I think you'll see storage increasingly configured for SSDs," Bryson said.
NetApp, a vendor of network-attached storage products, has taken a different approach to SSDs. At the moment, the company doesn't offer them in storage arrays but instead uses them as part of a caching mechanism for storage systems, said Val Bercovici, senior director of NetApp's Office of the Chief Technology Officer.
The company has deployed SSDs as part of its controllers, which connect servers to storage disks. The controllers act as the front end for supplying frequently accessed data to the server, which improves response time. The company uses SSDs instead of hard drives to "enhance the cache on the controllers," Bercovici said.
The feature will be available as an option in the company’s FAS2000 line of storage arrays this summer. Users can have as many as eight boards of 500G per controller.
"If you can provide a much larger amount of cache within the controller, then you don't need a very fast disk drive on the back end to store the data permanently," he said. "You get the performance benefits out of the caching tier and get all the capacity efficiencies at the storage tier."
Other vendors are also using SSDs in novel ways. Last summer, EMC released its CLARiiON CX4 Series networked storage systems, the first to use SSDs for some portion of the possible 960 drives. The company claims that SSDs can be 30 times faster than traditional drives and are 98 percent more energy efficient in input/output operations per second. EMC recommends using SSDs for Tier 0 data, or the data that is accessed most often and must be delivered with the utmost speed.
Before Oracle made moves to buy the company, Sun Microsystems introduced the Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage System series. Both the Sun Storage 7210, with a potential capacity of 48T, and the Sun Storage 7410, with a potential capacity of 500T, support SSDs. Like NetApp, Sun is using SSDs for read and write caches.
Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.