A Fresh Look at the All-SSD Data Center

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Ten-point RFP Checklist for Enterprise Storage Technology Refresh Initiatives

In the early, heady days of enterprise-class solid-state disks (SSDs), the concept of an all-SSD data environment was kicked around for a few months and then largely discarded. Such an architecture would be too expensive, too risky and difficult to manage.

Lately, however, the notion is making something of a comeback as both economics and the rise of newly built cloud infrastructure starts to turn some long-held notions about storage and storage performance on their heads.

The latest shot across the HDD bow comes from Forrester, which is now calling on storage professionals to embrace all-SSD environments on the idea that a healthy dose of dedupe actually makes Flash the less-expensive option when power consumption, maintenance and other operating expenses are considered. The research firm says that the primary advantage to an all-SSD architecture is that it does away with data tiering and all the complicated data management tools needed to support it.

While long-term trends show steady reductions in the cost of storage across the board, the short term is looking increasingly dicey for traditional magnetic media. As we detailed earlier this month, the recent flooding in Thailand hit the HDD manufacturing base pretty hard, likely slowing production well into the new year and driving up costs as distributors and integrators hold back inventory to guard against future shortages. That puts HDD on a closer price parity with SSDs and could very well spur investment in SSDs as hardware refresh cycles mature in the coming months.

Already, venture capital is starting to flow to all-SSD solutions. SolidFire, a new firm touting SSDs for primary storage, recently took in $25 million to develop its all-SSD scale-out architecture aimed largely at cloud service providers. The company is peppered with former LeftHand executives who built their platform with multi-tenancy, deduplication and compression as a means to accommodate large server farms with minimal power consumption and complexity.

And while the more established storage firms aren't touting an all-SSD data center just yet, they are increasing their numbers of all-Flash arrays. EMC, for example, just came out with the VNX5500-F, a mid-level array that supports up to 50 TB across 250 drives. The company is targeting it at OLTP and other mission-critical applications with promises of five-9 availability and 80 percent lower cost per transaction per minute than hard disk solutions.

Clearly, today's legacy hard disk infrastructure isn't ready for the scrap heap just yet, so most organizations can look forward to mixed storage environments for a while longer. But Flash continues to show its resiliency in the face of complex enterprise workloads, making the prospect of an all-SSD facility not so outlandish anymore.