SNW highlights SSDs, more

Manufacturers focus on performance and IOPS over capacity

At Storage Networking World a couple of weeks ago, the focus was on solid state drives and cloud technologies.

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Here’s our recap of some of the presenters and exhibitors at SNW in the solid state drive space, compliments of Jim Bagley, senior analyst for Storage Strategies NOW.

Whiptail Technologies is a company that we have been closely covering. The company demonstrated an all-SSD NAS appliance that has tremendous performance at cost levels enhanced by using in-line de-duplication for primary storage. Why is this important? Suddenly, SSD memories become less expensive on both a $\IOP and a $/GB than high-performance, short-stroked Serial Attached SCSI or Fibre Channel hard disk drives. The only disappointment was a 2x drop in IOPs (to a mere 60,000) on the read side. I am assured (and confident) that this is a being addressed at the silicon level. Whiptail is shipping a 1U network attached storage appliance with 1.5TB to 6TB capacities at prices competitive to high performance hard disk appliances of similar capacity.

Avere Systems CEO Ron Bianchini gave one of the best presentations regarding the need for non-rotating media. We have come to assume that everything is faster, less expensive and much better than 10 years ago. But Bianchini points out that, while drives have increased capacity by 100x in the last 10 years, the access time, despite 15,000 RPM, short-stroking and all the other spinning media strategies, the ability to access data in a given amount of time has dramatically decreased.

This is because the access density has decreased in hard disks by a substantial factor. Yes, we can store a terabyte on a single drive, but to get to 20% of that data now takes an eon, as opposed to a few minutes in the drives of the last decade. Avere has developed a hybrid SSD/hard disk appliance that has delivered astonishing IOPS at a fraction of the cost/price/power consumption when compared to hard disk-only systems.

Dataram is a long-term (40 years) supplier of memory products. The company has a unique SAN appliance called XCELA that provides an in-line supercharger to any block-based system. Built with an array of SSDs, the controller supports highly intelligent, user-controlled policies. The XCELA system has 128G DRAM cache and 360GB (net of 100% mirror) flash that drops into any storage-area network with Fibre Channel fabric between the controller and the hard disk array. As data is written through the device to the hard disk, data can be retained in the appliance (based on policy) or moved from hard disk based on access frequency.

Fusion-io's visually unique exhibit was tremendously entertaining. 512 high definition video feeds to a massive display demonstrated the media-rich capability of the server-side flash implementation provided by PCI-Express connectivity. Fusion's phase-next, in terms of virtualization and PCI-Express switch support, remains obscure. While coining the term "SMLC" (single multiple level cell) may be good marketing, 120% over-provisioning of silicon capacity is not, in our opinion, a sustainable strategy.

Intel's contribution to the SSD world is complemented by the continued compatible innovation at the processor core. "Jasper Forest" provides a storage controller platform with all of the Nehalem features that scales from single to multiple cores and includes RAID and multiple memory paths into a single block of silicon. The Intel XE25 SSD is the value leader in the field at about $10 to $15 per gigabyte. Intel has taken some hits due to secondary write performance, but the savvy implementers know that Intel will make good on any non-starters and continue to improve the breed.

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