More On-Server SSDs: Is This the End of Storage Networking?


SSDs are marching into the enterprise, but perhaps even more significantly, they are extending their presence directly onto some of the most popular server platforms, offering local storage in the same form factors as mechanical drives but with less heat generation and lower overall power consumption.

Although it's still too early to tell, the trend could prove to be a harbinger of a major shift in server/storage architectures -- one that significantly reduces or even eliminates the costly and complex storage networking infrastructures that have been the mainstay of most data centers since the advent of the storage array.

IBM made its first major move toward local SSD storage with a new set of drives for both the Power and System x servers. The Power6 line will see 69 GB 2.5- and 3.5-inch SSDs using the SAS interface, while new System x systems will have a number of optional 50 GB SATA drives available. While the capacities are relatively light, the company says that the SSDs can improve transaction performance on databases like the DB2 by as much as 800 percent, while cutting energy consumption some 80 percent.

But while those sound like impressive numbers, there are a lot of ways to calculate the true value of enterprise-class SSDs. ITWire's Alex Zaharov-Ruett points out that those percentages only apply to IBM's non-SSD platforms, and even then, the improved performance comes at a very steep upfront cost -- anywhere from $50 to $145 per GB. In today's economy, how many enterprises will be able to shell out that kind of dough for a future performance benefit?

Still, competitive pressures being what they are, many enterprises are no doubt looking to deploy SSDs for fear of being caught behind the technological curve. In that vein, it's important to note that SSDs have only just scratched the surface in overall enterprise storage deployments. Gartner estimates that about 843,000 enterprise-class SSDs shipped in 2008, compared to nearly 46 million hard drives. The firm estimates that SSD costs will be 10 to 20 times that of conventional storage at least through 2012.

And while speed is SSD's claim to fame, it's not likely that server-based SSDs will begin to seriously disrupt the data center storage market until the capacities come up a little more. But with top vendors like IBM and EMC out to protect their traditional storage systems as much as possible, any movement on that front will likely have to come from the outside -- say from a company like Dolphin Interconnect Solutions. While the company doesn't have an on-server system, it offers the next best thing: a PCIe-based direct-attached SSD system that scales up to 4 TB. The single-rack StorExpress unit is designed for clustered database, Web service and industrial applications and can deliver up to 2.8 GBps of sustained bandwidth, without having to jump through the usual SAS or SATA hoops. You can even cluster multiple StorExpresses for use across multiple servers.

While the idea of unlimited local storage is intriguing, the fact is that enterprise storage needs have grown so diverse over the years that one technology will never be able to satisfy all applications. SSDs are likely to become the high-performance tier in a broad infrastructure that will include remote and local disk- and tape-based systems handling everything from application and data loads to backup and archiving. Having the latest technology is fine, but it shouldn't get in the way of building the most robust and fully functional storage infrastructure possible.