It isn’t about the capacity. It’s the performance.

I few weeks ago I asked StorageMojo readers to help out Jim Handy of Objective Analysis, a semiconductor research firm. They did, and Jim got some surprising results.

Now that I have finished interviewing 21 PCIe SSD users (both Fusion-io and Texas Memory Systems users, thanks to help from StorageMojo) I can step back and see the common threads. One surprises me a bit.

The almost universal reply from users is that, although they were able to reduce the use of other hardware by adding flash to their system, they were unhappy that the price per gigabyte for flash is so much higher than HDDs.

In one or two cases the SSD displaced very expensive hardware. One company was able to re-deploy a $500K high-speed SAN which it now uses to perform backups.

A couple of others slashed their DRAM sizes by as much as 2/3, leading to power savings. decreased the server count in each of the company’s five data centers from four to one by eliminating the need to shard its databases.

There are side benefits to such moves.

  • Any future system expansion that uses the new approach will be able to get by with less hardware, saving money along the way.
  • A smaller system is usually easier to manage than a large one, saving in HR costs.
  • In some cases fewer software licenses will be required, cutting operating costs appreciably.
  • Smaller systems are likely to consume less power than their predecessors.

This last may seem to be a small point until its effect over time is considered. The last three all accumulate over time to become important sums.

Yes, this is a TCO argument, I agree, but it’s a GOOD TCO argument. Although the cost per gigabyte of an SSD may be an order of magnitude greater than that of hard drives, very many systems can save money by deploying these devices. Unfortunately it’s difficult to tell exactly how this will come about until after the SSD is deployed.

As I knuckle down to compile the survey data into a report I’ll be considering the impact of SSDs on the data center, and how the findings of these 21 companies can help others who have not yet adopted the technology.

This exercise has reinforced my position that flash will become widespread in the data center, but not as storage; it will rather be thought of as “something else” that brings cost and power efficiencies that can’t be attained through more established methods.

The StorageMojo take
Jim’s findings surprised me. But thinking a bit I’m surprised that I’m surprised.

Why? Back in ’06 I wrote about the Capacity Illusion, the storage industry equivalent of the economist’s “money illusion.”

The capacity illusion: most customers need IOPS, but they buy capacity. And then they moan about how much unused capacity they have or, in the SSD case, how much SSD capacity costs.

While faster and cheaper SSDs are rewiring data center architectures, something more powerful is needed to rewire customers. A concerted industry effort to classify and promote on IOPS, perhaps?

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Speaking of research, if you haven’t done so yet, please support StorageMojo by completing the Internal Storage Survey. More about it in the previous post. Thanks!