Solid State Still Costs a Premium, So Be Careful How You Use It

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

The Collapsing Digital Storage Universe

How long it will be before we reach a crisis brought on by our insatiable appetite for storage?

Good news on the solid-state storage front: Prices are dropping despite production interruptions in Japan. The bad news, however, is that costs are still a significant burden for enterprises desperate to deploy Flash in their rapidly expanding high-speed virtual environments.

Industry watcher DRAMeXchange reports that soft demand due to fears of a weakening economy is making suppliers nervous. Many of them are already sitting on huge SSD stockpiles due to fear that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami will hamper supply later this year. As those devices hit the channel, expect to see SSD costs drop to about $1.50 per GB by the end of the year, with some SD cards going for half that, according to storage consultant Robin Harris.

While that's still many orders of magnitude more than traditional hard drive costs, many CIOs are paying the premium for high-throughput storage hoping it will produce tangible benefits to overall data environments. The problem is that supporting technologies, primarily Flash controllers and optimization technologies, often fail to extend solid state's benefits to the wider world.

Storage providers are hoping to overcome this obstacle with new high-throughput network and management configurations. OCZ, for example, just released the newest version of its Virtualized Controller Architecture (VCA) that employs virtual logical units along with TRIM and SCSI unmap support to both simplify management and boost aggregate performance of multiple SSD layers. The system also features full power-fail protection that preserves data integrity by completing transactions during an outage. As well, there is support for OCZ's SuperScale storage controller, which grants access to DMA and other management functions without burdening host CPUs.

Meanwhile, startup FlashSoft is out with new software that improves local cache performance, allowing enterprises to make more efficient use on-board Flash memory. The company describes it as "tier minus zero" in that it provides high-speed cache without pushing data across the SAN. At the same time, an advanced data management module reserves only the 10 percent of active data a typical application needs for the local cache, cutting down on overall Flash storage requirements. The company says it can trim latency by half a millisecond and boost application performance 10-fold.

Of course, not all solid-state storage is the same. In many cases, poor performance can be attributed to a mismatch between the I/O workload and the underlying storage, according to Storage Switzerland's George Crump. For instance, heavy write workloads would be better off with a local DRAM solution, while a standard Flash-based storage system would be more at ease with more reads. A balanced workload, of course, will need a top-notch controller, perhaps tied to a RAM module.

The thing to keep in mind is that solid-state technology is not a cure-all. As prices remain stubbornly high, deployment and configuration considerations will be crucial to their effectiveness in overall data management strategies.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 7, 2011 11:50 AM Larry E. Larry E.  says:

Seems like a good unified solution for heavy writes and reads is to combine DRAM and SSD onto a PCIe card - like Marvell's DragonFly product:

In fact, by having DRAM focus on the writes, it could be a much cheaper solution since the attached SSD just needs to be cheaper MLC.

Jul 8, 2011 11:03 AM Bobby Bobby  says: in response to Larry E.

Great stuff.

Jul 15, 2011 2:15 AM Gareth Gareth  says:

This is an interesting discussion of workarounds for the deficiencies of Flash and it rightly points out that DRAM SSD solutions have far superior write performance for applications like online transaction processing. I'd like to point out as well that DRAM performance doesn't deteriorate over time like that of Flash. You can write and rewrite to DRAM again and again with no performance loss and no need for SCSI TRIM and UNMAP commands. You don't have to worry about inherent life limitations either. DRAM has none.

DRAM's volatility can be addressed effectively with UPS's and backup disk storage to protect mission critical data against any power outages or other failures. Kaminario's SSD appliance product is purpose built to take full advantage of DRAM's superior performance. For more information go to:


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