The Right Mix of SSD Technology

Solid-state storage technology hit the enterprise like a freight train two years ago, providing a robust, albeit expensive, solution for high-speed/high-availability applications like Web serving and transaction processing.

Few people expected the technology to sit still for very long, but the speed at which SSDs have diversified into more general purpose enterprise functions is impressive nonetheless. On both the drive level and in wider storage infrastructure, SSDs are proving themselves to be more than capable of performing many of the roles once reserved for hard disk technology, and at increasingly reasonable price points.

To be sure, not all of this advancement is due to developments in SSD technology itself, although breakthroughs in both single-level and multi-level cell architectures are happening at a regular clip. Rather, SSD integration into existing storage systems and technologies has helped drive solutions to many work-a-day storage problems.

The hybrid drive is a perfect example. By combining the speed of solid-state with the capacity of hard disk, enterprises gain a remarkably flexible device suitable to a wide range of applications. OCZ Technology Group recently upped the ante at the hybrid table with the RevoDrive solution, which couples a 100 GB SSD with 1 TB in HD storage. It also features a PCIe interface that delivers up to 910 MBps and 120,000 IOPS.

PCIe is an ideal interface for SSDs by virtue of its high bandwidth and broad adoption in existing enterprise hardware infrastructure. The downside, though, is that PCIe lacks the extensibility needed for a true storage network. To counter that, Virtensys and Micron have teamed up to provide a high-speed, scalable, virtual PCIe infrastructure that can provide shared access across multiple SSDs. The solution utilizes Virtensys’ PCIe Sharing platform to create a virtual array for Micron P300 and P320h SSDs. Depending on the configuration, the system can provide pooled SSD storage for up to 16 servers, with full partitioning for hypervisors, local data store and other functions.

Then again, why worry about networking at all when you can load substantial amounts of solid-state storage on the server itself? System integrators are starting to warm up to this idea, as evidenced by Pogo Linux’s new line of application acceleration servers based on LSI flash modules. The devices are aimed at high read/write application workloads like online transaction processing and data warehousing and can be designed around several LSI systems, including the MegaRAID Fast Path I/O acceleration software, the CacheCade caching software and the WarpDrive acceleration card. Further customization is available through hybrid storage volumes, various SSD RAID configurations and acceleration options.

Traditional storage arrays are not immune to the SSD bug either. Startup Pure Storage thinks it has a winner with the all-SSD FlashArray, a 4U device consisting of two NVRAM units and 22 256 GB MLC drives for a total capacity of 5.5 TB. The controller holds two 6-core Xeons and 48 GB of cache, with connectivity via four 6 G SAS links, four 8G Fibre Channel ports and even a 40 Gb QDR Infiniband connection to network additional controllers. Pricing hasn’t been announced, although the company says it hopes to come out at or close to equivalent HDD arrays.

Despite these advances, it would be a mistake to look at SSDs as the sole future of enterprise storage. Rather, the technology represents the growing diversity of options available to meet rapidly broadening storage needs. Deployment, then, should be based on finding the right mix of technologies to suit those needs ? not a mad rush to simply push out the latest state-of-the-art.

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