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, , , , , ,

Are SSDs too expensive?

Recent weeks have seen a deluge of products from solid-state disk (SSD) vendors, such as Tegile, Fusion-IO, and now LSI to name but a few; a significant proportion of new storage launches in the last year or two have been based around SSDs.

Some of this is no doubt opportunism, as the production of spinning disk media was seriously disrupted by floods in Thailand last year, a phenomenon that the disk industry reckons has now disappeared. Much of the SSD-fest though purports to resolve the problem of eking more performance from storage systems.

In your laptop or desktop PC, solid state makes sense simply because of its super-fast performance: you can boot the OS of your choice in 15-30 seconds, for example, and a laptop’s battery life is hugely extended. My ThinkPad now runs happily for four to five hours of continuous use, more if I watch a video or don’t interact with it constantly. And in a tablet or smartphone of course there’s no contest.

The problem is that the stuff is expensive, with a quick scan of retail prices showing a price delta of between 13 to 15 times the price of hard disks, measured purely on a capacity basis.

In the enterprise, though, things aren’t quite as simple as that. The vendors’ arguments in favour of SSDs ignore capacity, as they assume that the real problem is performance, where they can demonstrate that SSDs deliver more value for a given amount of cash than spinning media.

There is truth in this argument, but it’s not as if data growth is slowing down. In fact, when you consider that the next wave of data will come from sensors and what’s generally known as the Internet of things – or machine-to-machine communication – then expect the rate of data growth to increase, as this next data tsunami has barely started.

And conversations with both vendors and end users also show that capacity is not something that can be ignored. If you don’t have or can’t afford additional storage, you might need to do something drastic – like actually manage the stuff, although each time I’ve mooted that, I’m told that it remains more costly to do than technological fixes like thin provisioning and deduplication.

In practice, the vendors are, as so often happens in this industry, way ahead of all but the largest, most well-heeled customers. Most users, I would contend, more concerned with ensuring that they have enough storage to handle projected data growth over the next six months. Offer them high-cost, low capacity storage technology and they’re may well reject it in favour of capacity now.

When I put this point to him, LSI’s EMEA channel sales director Thomas Pavel reckoned that the market needed education. Maybe it does. Or maybe it’s just fighting to keep up with demand.

Filed under: Enterprise, Servers, Storage, , , , , , , ,

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