Storage Feels the Need for Speed


The shift in storage technology away from greater capacity toward faster data delivery continues unabated as enterprises struggle to keep up with the advances in throughput taking place on the wider network.

The past month has seen several intriguing developments on the drive and even the processor level designed to keep storage from being the weak link in the data delivery chain.

SSDs have traditionally held a speed advantage over their mechanical brothers, but it looks like that gap is about to get wider. A company called SandForce has unveiled a new processor and related firmware for the higher-capacity multilayer cell (MLC) SSD technology. The SF-1000 lowers costs compared to the more common single-layer cell (SLC) technology and bumps throughput up to 250 MBps, giving a functional performance level of 30,000 IOPS using 4k random writes. It also provides for more optimized writes, extending the life of flash technology.

Traditional storage media are also seeing gains, such as Hitachi's new C10K300 Ultrastar hard drive. The device uses a dual-port SAS interface to bump throughput to 6 Gbps -- putting it a full step ahead of upcoming 6 G SATA technology. The device also delivers seek times as low as 3.9 milliseconds and uses halogen-reduced components that are easier on the environment after disposal. The 2.5-inch drive is available in 147 and 300 GB configurations.

Newer RAID systems are taking advantage of high-speed interconnects to overcome data bottlenecks. iStarUSA has built its latest array, the mAGE316U40-PCIE-EXP, around a 16-port PCI-Express slot that delivers a maximum bus speed of 20 Gbps, or about eight times that of a conventional eSATA design. And since each storage chassis gets its own HBA, performance is maintained even as capacity is increased.

Still on the drawing board, though, is a potentially revolutionary technology that IBM is calling "racetrack." This article on canada.com describes it as data stored on a wire that is pushed by "spriralling magnetics." The technique is said to overcome the cost concerns of SSDs and the failure issues surrounding hard disks, while offering a 100-fold increase in speed at a fraction of the cost. The company is eyeing the technology for everything from servers and PCs to MP3 players and camcorders, and quite possibly for cheaper online storage solutions as well.

For years, the mantra of the storage industry was "more for less" -- more capacity for less money. Now that the cost per GB has dropped so low, speed has become the primary differentiator between systems. And as online networking and cloud computing become more prevalent, it's become incumbent on all data center technologies to keep up the pace.