SSDs in the Enterprise, Sure. But Where, and How?

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Five SSD Predictions for 2012

The real impact of solid-state drives will be felt the second half of this year.

There was never any question that solid-state storage technology would find a robust market at the enterprise level. But the question many CIOs face is not whether to use SSDs, but how.

The recent EMC World event showed off the increasing number of applications that utilize solid-state solutions. From EMC's customizable PCIe Thunder card to GreenBytes three-level cell (TLC) Flash array, the technology is making its way into all manner of cache and tiered configurations with all the requisite scaling, compression, deduplication and other functions that have long characterized mechanical storage architectures.

This is primarily the reason why top research firms are so bullish on SSDs. IDC, for example, has pegged the annual growth rate at 51.5 percent for the next three years. The second half of this year is expected to be a turning point in SSD circles as costs are widely expected to drop below the crucial $1 per GB mark. Not only will that further boost deployment in enterprise environments, but should kick adoption in client devices as well, especially the white-hot ultrabook market.

So, yes, the SSD can do wonderful things in the enterprise. But how are we to ensure that they are put to the best use? According to solutions architect Ruben Spruijt, of Dutch firm PQR, the top configurations are caching, tiering and hybrid environments that incorporate both Flash and spinning media. Keep in mind, however, that there are pros and cons to all three setups, with varying levels of performance based on system architecture. For instance, a highly deduped VDI architecture will do well with a dedupe-aware Flash cache, while a fully random access environment with millions of small files probably won't.

Many enterprises are taking a long look at hybrid technologies, which combine the raw capacity of a magnetic disk with the high throughput of solid state - a union that is increasingly appealing to those working in highly virtualized environments. Nexsan, for example, is touting its NST5000 system as an ideal complement to VMware environments in that it provides a 10-fold increase in performance at less cost than all-SSD solutions. The system utilizes the FASTier cache platform that optimizes data flow across Flash, DRAM and spinning media, along with a set of solid-state controllers that accommodate both block and file data.

Storage has always been the laggard of the enterprise. As server technology leaps ahead with each new processor generation and networks push the envelope in Ethernet and Fibre Channel platforms, storage itself has had to deal with the heat and mechanical limitations of multiple moving parts.

It seems those days are quickly coming to an end, however. Solid state will most certainly be able to keep up with anything the rest of the infrastructure can throw at it, but with that development comes the realization that top speeds are not required of all data applications.

In the future, the top storage challenge will not be finding enough capacity or pushing data as fast as possible but in knowing where and how to deploy the appropriate level of storage - and then designing the rest of the architecture to know where to find it with minimal human supervision.

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