Quite a number of storage suppliers have started offering storage systems that are based upon solid state devices, such as Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) or flash memory when non-volatile storage is a requirement.
IBM's recent IBM XIV Storage System announcement caused me to stroll down memory lane and think about issues IT has with storage and why suppliers are flogging solid state storage now.
The bottom line is that solid state storage, when used correctly, solid state storage can address some of the issues that have created IT's strained relationship with storage over the years.
IT's love/hate relationship with storage
Since the early days of computing, the IT department has had a love/hate relationship with storage. Workloads need to be able to rapidly access and update data, but storage devices have a history of being costly, consuming a great deal of power, producing quite a bit of heat (which in turn leads to high cooling costs), offering only a limited capacity and have been thought of as an application bottleneck.
Let's focus on storage performance for a moment. Depending upon the underlying technology, storage has long had an issue with latency, that is how long it takes the storage device to get to needed data.
Throughput, or how quickly the data can be gotten off of the device and into the memory of the desktop or server system is the next performance issue.
Many different storage mechanisms have been tried
Over the years, many different types of storage technology has been used. The list includes paper tape, magnetic tape, bubble memory, and many different types of rotating media.
System memory has been based upon magnetic cores and then various types of solid state devices.
Computer memory is relatively fast, but is costly. So, items currently being processed are placed in system memory. Everything else is placed somewhere else.
IT had to balance performance to cost
Various types of tape have been deployed because this storage mechanism offers the potential to support vast amounts of data. Storage latency can be quite a challenge when tape after tape need to be scanned to find the data needed at this moment.
Rotating media offered much less capacity, but offered improved levels of both latency and throughput. Historically was more costly than tape, but less costly that system memory.
Solid state memory offers very low latency and very high throughput, but has been considered too costly to replace rotating media unless application performance was so critical that organizations were willing to pay the price. The newest generations of solid state storage have brought the cost down dramatically in recent years.
Solid state storage, A new trend?
Increasingly storage suppliers, such as IBM, are offering flash or DRAM-based storage to increase storage throughput as well as to reduce or eliminate storage latency, power consumption, and heat production.
As first this type of storage media was used to create in-system high performance memory caches that would accelerate access to more traditional rotating media.
Now we're seeing announcement after announcement in which suppliers are deploying solid state memory as part of storage servers. Sometimes, this solid state storage is used as a cache in the storage server. Other times, this type of storage is used to replace rotating media.
Solid state storage devices, such as flash drives, have seen the same type of capacity improvements and cost reduction as other types of memory. This means that devices that offer near system memory performance and near rotating media costs are now available.
Who is at the solid state party?
Quite a number of suppliers are now offering solid state storage devices for portable, desktop and server computers. Here's a partial list of enterprise storage suppliers that have announced storage systems based upon solid state devices: Dell Equallogic, EMC, Fusion-IO, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, IBM, Kaminario, and Oracle/Sun.
The Kusnetzky Group is recommending its clients to consider where and how these new storage devices could be added to their IT infrastructure. Some suppliers are offering raw storage devices that would require the organization go to some effort to both integrate and tune the storage for optimal performance.
Other suppliers, such as IBM, are offering a more integrated offering that includes management software, intelligent software than can move data to storage devices tht offer the best performance and lowest costs.
The promise of sharply improved performance and reduced costs for power and heat production make these devices very attractive. The fact that these devices often are smaller than competitive products that sport rotating disks is an additional benefit.