Businesses weigh benefits of solid state storage

Whether you are using DRAM-based or Flash-based storage, just how much speed you need?

As solid state storage drive technologies mature and claw their way into enterprise IT systems, businesses will face cost-vs.-benefit decisions over whether the time is right to adopt the new technology.

For many companies, the time to adopt solid state drives will be when the extra speed and performance of solid state over traditional hard disk drives have an impact on a company's bottom line by bringing in more revenue.

That was the message Tuesday from George Crump, principal analyst with Storage Switzerland, who spoke at the Tech Target Storage Decisions conference held in New York.

While solid state storage isn't a new idea -- the practice has been around for almost 10 years -- the higher costs of the storage method are dropping and the performance gains are rising, Crump said.

For businesses that require faster data flow speeds, such as financial institutions and stock transfer businesses, the technology is getting more looks, he said.

Even when a company looks at integrating solid state storage, it then has to decide which solid state storage technology to use -- DRAM-based or Flash-based.

"The debate boils down to how much speed you need," Crump said. DRAM storage is faster, but that's at a cost that's much higher than Flash-based storage. For example, 2TB of Flash-based storage costs about US$180,000, compared to about US$1 million for the same amount of DRAM-based storage. "DRAM is faster, but if Flash does it for you, why spend the extra money?" he asked. In that case, it depends on the needs of the business, he said.

While a traditional hard disk drive can read or write data in four to five milliseconds, with a random I/O speed of 150,000 to 300,000 I/O per second, a DRAM drive can read or write data at a speed of .015 milliseconds, with a random I/O speed of 400,000 I/O per second. A Flash-based storage drive can read or write data in 0.2 milliseconds, with a random I/O read speed of 100,000 I/O per second and a random write speed of 25,000 I/O per second.

For write-intensive software applications, Flash-based storage may not give the required performance compared to DRAM-based storage.

"You have to use them in the right applications ... read-heavy applications," Crump said of Flash storage.

For businesses that use high-performance database applications, DRAM-based storage "can make a big difference for your organization and be worthwhile" due to its extra speed.

Solid state storage will be like server virtualization was five years ago, Crump predicted. Today, server virtualization is more popular as a technology to help businesses cut costs, increase performance and reduce power consumption, he said.

"This will be similar to the virtualization rollout. Most here didn't have it five years ago and now many of you have it."

Several users said they see the benefits of solid state storage although their businesses are not yet jumping on the bandwagon.

Michael McCardle, storage technology manager for New York-based financial services company Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., said that while he doesn't know what the future will dictate, solid state storage isn't on the short list of things his company is looking to do anytime soon.

"A lot of bleeding edge technologies are real nice," McCardle said. "But when you boil it all down, how much of it do you really need?"

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Todd R. Weiss

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