Big Tin

Big tin: IT infrastructure used by organisations to run their businesses. And other stuff too when I feel like it…

Seagate launches new solid-state disks (SSD)

Seagate, the biggest maker of hard disks, recently launched a new range of solid state disk drives, as it aims to align itself better with current buying trends.

In particular, the company’s new 600 SSD is aimed at laptop users who want to speed their boot and data access times. This is Seagate’s first foray into this market segment.

Claiming a 4x boot time improvement, Seagate said that SSD-stored data is safer if the laptop is dropped. From my own experience over the last five years of using using SSDs in laptops, I can confirm both this, and that their lower power consumption helps to improve battery life too.

The 600 SSD is available with up to 480GB and in multiple heights including 5mm, which the company says makes it “ideal for most ultra-thin devices as well as standard laptop systems”. The drive features up to 480GB of capacity and comes in a 2.5 form factor. It’s compatible with the latest 6Gbps SATA interface.

The other new SSD systems are aimed at enterprises. The most interesting of these is the X8 Accelerator, which is the result of Seagate’s investment in Virident, a direct competitor with Fusion-io, probably the best-known maker of directly-attached SSDs for servers. The Seagate product is also a PCIe card with a claimed IOPS of up to 1.1 million. The X8 offers up to 2.2TB in a half-height, half-length card.

Of the two other new drives, the 2.5-inch 480GB 600 Pro SSD and the 1200 Pro SSD, the first is targeted at cloud system builders, data centres, cloud service providers, content delivery networks, and virtualised environments, and is claimed to consume less power and so need less cooling. It consumes 2.8W, variable according to workload, which Seagate reckons is “the industry’s highest IOPS/watt”.

Up the performance scale is the 800GB 1200 Pro SSD, which is aimed at those needing high throughput. It attaches using dual-port 12Gbps SAS connectors and “uses algorithms that optimize performance for frequently accessed data by prioritizing which storage operations, reads or writes, occur first and optimizing where it is stored.”

Seagate said it buys its raw flash memory from Samsung and Toshiba but holds patents for its controller and system management technologies.

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Filed under: Cloud computing, Data centre, Enterprise, Laptop, Storage, , , , , ,

Hard disks and flash storage will co-exist – for the moment

When it comes to personal storage, flash is now the default technology. It’s in your phone, tablet, camera, and increasingly in your laptop too. Is this about to change?

I’ve installed solid-state disks in my laptops for the last three or so years simply because it means they fire up very quickly and – more importantly – battery life is extended hugely. My Thinkpad now works happily for four or five hours while I’m using it quite intensively, where three hours used to be about the maximum.

The one downside is the price of the stuff. It remains stubbornly stuck at 10x or more the price per GB of spinning disks. When you’re using a laptop as I do, with most of my data in the cloud somewhere and only a working set kept on the machine, a low-end flash disk is big enough and therefore affordable: 120GB will store Windows and around 50GB of data and applications.

From a company’s point of view, the equation isn’t so different. Clearly, the volumes of data to be stored are bigger but despite the blandishments of those companies selling all-flash storage systems, many companies are not seeing the benefits. That’s according to one storage systems vendor which recently announced the results of an industry survey.

Caveat: industry surveys are almost always skewed because of sample size and/or the types of questions asked, so the results need to be taken with a pinch – maybe more – of salt.

Tegile Systems reckons that 99 percent of SME and enterprise users who are turning to solid state storage will overpay. They’re buying more than they need, the survey finds, at least according to the press release, which wastes no time by mentioning in its second paragraph that the company penning the release just happens to have the solution. So shameless!

Despite that, I think Tegile is onto something. Companies are less sensitive to the price per GB than they are to the price / performance ratio, usually expressed in IOPS, which is where solid-state delivers in spades. It’s much quicker than spinning disks at returning information to the processor, and it’s cheaper to run in terms of its demands on power and cooling.

Where the over-payment bit comes in is this (from the release): “More than 60% of those surveyed reported that these applications need only between 1,000 and 100,000 IOPS. Paying for an array built to deliver 1,000,000 IOPS to service an application that only needs 100,000 IOPS makes no sense when a hybrid array can service the same workload for a fraction of the cost.”

In other words, replacing spinning disks with flash means you’ve got more performance than you need, a claim justified by the assertion that only a small proportion of the data is being worked on at any one time. So, the logic goes, you store that hot data on flash for good performance but the rest can live on spinning disks, which are much cheaper to buy. In other words, don’t replace all your disks with flash, just a small proportion, depending on the size of your working data set.

It’s a so-called hybrid solution. And of course Tegile recommends you buy its tuned-up, all-in-one hybrid arrays which saves you the trouble of building your own.

Tegile is not alone in the field, with Pure Storage having recently launched in Europe. Pure uses ordinary consumer-grade disks, which should make it even cheaper although price comparisons are invariably difficult due to the ‘how long is a piece of string?’ problem.

There are other vendors too but I’ll leave you to find out who they are.

From a consumer point of view though, where’s the beef? There’s a good chance you’re already using a hybrid system if you use a recent desktop or laptop, as a number of hard disk manufacturers have taken to front-ending their mechanisms with flash to make them feel more responsive from a performance perspective.

Hard disks are not going away as the price per GB is falling just as quickly as it is for flash, although its characteristics are different. There will though come a time when flash disk capacities are big enough for ordinary use – just like my laptop – and everyone will get super-fast load times and longer battery life.

Assuming that laptops and desktops survive at all. But that’s another story for another time.

Filed under: Data centre, desktops, Laptop, Storage, Technology, , , , , ,

Technology predictions for 2013

The approaching end of the year marks the season of predictions for and by the technology industry for the next year, or three years, or decade. These are now flowing in nicely, so I thought I’d share some of mine.

Shine to rub off Apple
I don’t believe that the lustre that attaches to everything Apple does will save it from the ability of its competitors to do pretty much everything it does, but without the smugness. Some of this was deserved when it was the only company making smartphones, but this is no longer true. and despite the success of the iPhone 5, I wonder if its incremental approach – a slightly bigger screen and some nice to have features – will be enough to satisfy in the medium term. With no dictatorial obsessive at the top of a company organised and for around that individual’s modus operandi, can Apple make awesome stuff again, but in a more collective way?

We shall see, but I’m not holding my breath.

Touch screens
Conventional wisdom says that touchscreens only work when they are either horizontal and/or attached to a handheld device. It must be true: Steve Jobs said so. But have you tried using a touchscreen laptop? Probably not.

One reviewer has, though, and he makes a compelling case for them, suggesting that they don’t lead to gorilla arm, after all. I’m inclined to agree that a touchscreen laptop could become popular, as they share a style of interaction with users’ phones – and they’re just starting to appear. Could Apple’s refusal to make a touchscreen MacBook mean it’s caught wrong-footed on this one?

I predict that touchscreen laptops will become surprisingly popular.

Windows 8
Everyone’s a got a bit of a downer on Windows 8. After all, it’s pretty much Windows 7 but with a touchscreen interface slapped on top. Doesn’t that limit its usefulness? And since enterprises are only now starting to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 — and this might be the last refresh cycle that sees end users being issued with company PCs — doesn’t that spell the end for Windows 8?

I predict that it will be more successful than many think: not because it’s especially great because it certainly has flaws, especially when used with a mouse, which means learning how to use the interface all over again.

In large part, this is because the next version of Windows won’t be three years away or more, which has tended to be the release cycle of new versions. Instead, Microsoft is aiming for a series of smaller, point releases, much as Apple does but hopefully without the annoying animal names from which it’s impossible to derive an understanding of whether you’ve got the latest version.

So Windows Blue – the alleged codename – is the next version and will take into account lessons from users’ experiences with Windows 8, and take account of the growth in touchscreens by including multi-touch. And it will be out in 2013, probably the third quarter.

Bring your own device
The phenomenon whereby firms no longer provide employees with a computing device but instead allow you to bring your own, provided it fulfils certain security requirements, will blossom.

IT departments hate this bring your own device policy because it’s messy and inconvenient but they have no choice. They had no choice from the moment the CEO walked into the IT department some years ago with his shiny new iPhone – he was the first because he was the only one able to afford one at that point – and commanded them to connect it to the company network. They had to comply and, once that was done, the floodgates opened. The people have spoken.

So if you work for an employer, expect hot-desking and office downsizing to continue as the austerity resulting from the failed economic policies of some politicians continue to be pursued, in the teeth of evidence of their failure.

In the datacentre
Storage vendors will be snapped up by the deep-pocketed big boys – especially Dell and HP – as they seek to compensate for their mediocre financial performance by buying companies producing new technologies, such as solid-state disk caching and tiering.

Datacentres will get bigger as cloud providers amalgamate, and will more or less be forced to consider and adopt software-defined networking (SDN) to manage their increasingly complex systems. SDN promises to do that by virtualising the network, in the same way as the other major datacentre elements – storage and computing – have already been virtualised.

And of course, now that virtualisation is an entirely mainstream technology, we will see even bigger servers hosting more complex and mission-critical applications such as transactional databases, as the overhead imposed by virtualisation shrinks with each new generation of technology. What is likely to lag however is the wherewithal to manage those virtualised systems, so expect to see some failures as virtual servers go walkabout.

Security
Despite the efforts of technologists to secure systems – whether for individuals or organisations, security breaches will continue unabated. Convenience trumps security every time, experience teaches us. And this means that people will find increasingly ingenious ways around technology designed to stop them walking around with the company’s customer database on a USB stick in their pocket, or exposing the rest of the world to a nasty piece of malware because they refuse to update their operating system’s defences.

That is, of course, not news at all, sadly.

Filed under: Cloud computing, Consumer, data protection, desktops, Enterprise, Laptop, mobile, Networking, operating systems, Product, Security, Servers, Storage, Technology, , , , , , , , , , ,

iPad? Just say no

If the world needed an iPad, why hasn’t one been invented before? Oh look: it has. Called the Newton when Apple launched it in 1992 – there were a couple of others released about the same time but the Newton got the headlines – it died in 1998 as not enough people bought it.

Will the iPad be different? Do you care?

Amid the inevitable hoopla and swooning going on in Applista diasporas at media outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC, let’s be clear: the iPad is a blown-up iPhone. And already we hear calls for there to be a cut-down version of the iPad so that you can carry it in your pocket. Thought that’s what an iPhone was…

The iPad’s remit seems to be more limited than the Newton’s. There’s no handwriting recognition for a start but it is very shiny, has bright colours and maybe the battery life is long enough to make it useful enough to carry around all day. I await review samples for verification. There’s no talk of local connectivity to either Mac or Windows, no talk of open access to all the applications you want, no talk of opening up the OS so that others can develop extensions or applications.

And for all of Jobs’ sneering at netbooks, mine works for hours on a single charge, runs Ubuntu quite happily – though I suspect that Windows 7 might actually be easier to to use in terms of getting everything working, but at least I have the choice.

As one blogger has already pointed out, this closed-world mentality could be the fatal flaw in the iPad’s shiny armour.

iPad? I don’t think so.

Filed under: Laptop, mobile, operating systems, Product launch, , , , , ,

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