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Have SSDs Been Unsuccessful with Storage Arrays (with Poll)?

I hear people talking about how Solid State Devices (SSDs) have not been successful with or for vendors of storage arrays

I hear people talking about how Solid State Devices (SSDs) have not been successful with or for vendors of storage arrays, particular legacy storage systems. Some people have also asserted that large storage arrays are dead at the hands of new purpose-built SSD appliances or storage systems (read more here).

As a reference, legacy storage systems include those from EMC (VMAX and VNX), IBM (DS8000, DCS3700, XIV, and V7000), and NetApp FAS along with those from Dell, Fujitsu, HDS, HP, NEC and Oracle among others.

Granted EMC have launched new SSD based solutions in addition to buying startup eXtremeIO (aka Project X), and IBM bought SSD industry veteran TMS. IMHO, neither of those actions by either vendor signals an early retirement for their legacy storage solutions, instead opening up new markets giving customers more options for addressing data center and IO performance challenges. Keep in mind that the best IO is the one that you do not have to do with the second best being the least impact to applications in a cost-effective way.

SSD, IO, memory and storage hirearchy

Sometimes I even hear people citing or using some other person or source to attribute or make their assertions sound authoritative. You know the game, according to XYZ or, ABC said blah blah blah blah. Of course if you say or repeat something often enough, or hear it again and again, it can become self-convincing (e.g. industry adoption vs. customer deployments). Likewise depending on how many degrees of separation exists between you and the information you get, the more that it can change from what it originally was.

So what about it, has SSD not been successful for legacy storage system vendors and is the only place that SSD has had success is with startups or non-array based solutions?

While there have been some storage systems (arrays and appliances) that may not perform up to their claimed capabilities due to various internal architecture or implementation bottlenecks. For the most part the large vendors including EMC, HP, HDS, IBM, NetApp and Oracle have done very well shipping SSD drives in their solutions. Likewise some of the clean sheet new design based startup systems, as well as some of the startups with hybrid solutions combing HDDs and SSDs have done well while others are still emerging.

Where SSD can be used and options

This could also be an example where myth becomes reality based on industry adoption vs. customer deployment. What this means is that the myth is that it is the startups that are having success vs. the legacy vendors from an industry adoption conversation standpoint and thus believed by some.

On the other hand, the myth is that vendors such as EMC or NetApp have not had success with their arrays and SSD yet their customer deployments prove otherwise. There is also a myth that only PCIe based SSD can be of value and that drive based SSDs are not worth using which I have a good idea where that myth comes from.

IMHO it is a depends, however safe to say from what I have seen directly that there are some vendors of storage arrays, including so-called legacy systems that have had very good success with SSD. Likewise have seen where some startups have done ok with their new clean sheet designs, including EMC (Project X). Oh, at least for now I am not a believer that with the all SSD based project "X" over at EMC that the venerable VMAX formerly known as DMX and its predecessors Symmetric have finally hit the end of the line. Rather they will be positioned and play to different markets for some time yet.

Over at IBM I don't think the DS8000 or XIV or V7000 and SVC folks are winding things down now that they bought SSD vendor TMS who has SSD appliances and PCIe cards. Rest assured there have been success by PCIe flash card vendors both as targets (FusionIO) and cache or hybrid cache and target systems such as those from Intel, LSI, Micron, and TMS (now IBM) among others. Oh, and if you have not noticed, check out what Qlogic, Emulex and some of the other traditional HBA vendors have done with and around SSD caching.

So where does the FUD that storage systems have not had success with SSD come from?

I suspect from those who would rather not see or hear about those who have had success taking away attention from them or their markets. In other words, using Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) or some community peer pressure, there is a belief by some that if you hear enough times that something is dead or not of a benefit; you will look at the alternatives.

Care to guess what the preferred alternative is for some? If you guessed a PCIe card or SSD based appliance from your favorite startup that would be a fair assumption.

On the other hand, my educated guess (ok, its much more informed than a guess ;) ) is that if you ask a vendor such as EMC or NetApp they would disagree, while at the same time articulate benefits of different approaches and tools. Likewise, my educated guess is that if you ask some others, they will say mixed things and of course if you talk with the pure plays, take a wild yet educated guess what they will say.

Here is my point.

SSD, DRAM, PCM and storage adoption timeline

The SSD market, including DRAM, nand flash (SLC or MLC or any other xLC), emerging PCM or future mram among other technologies and packaging options is still in its relative infancy. Yes, I know there have been significant industry adoption and many early customer deployments, however talking with IT organizations of all size as well as with vendors and vars, customer deployment of SSD is far from reaching its full potential meaning a bright future.

Simply putting an SSD, card or drive into a solution does not guarantee results.

Likewise having a new architecture does not guarantee things will be faster.

Fast storage systems need fast devices (HDD, HHDD and SSDs) along with fast interfaces to connect with fast servers. Put a fast HDD, HHDD or SSD into a storage system that has bottlenecks (hardware, software, architectural design) and you may not see the full potential of the technology. Likewise put fast ports or interfaces on a storage system that has fast devices however also a bottleneck in its controller has or system architecture and you will not realize the full potential of that solution.

This is not unique to legacy or traditional storage systems, arrays or appliances as it is also the case with new clean sheet designs.

There are many new solutions that are or should be as fast as their touted marketing stories present, however just because something looks impressive in a YouTube video or slide deck or WebEx does not mean it will be fast in your environment. Some of these new design SSD based solutions will displace some legacy storage systems or arrays while many others will find new opportunities. Similar to how previous generation SSD storage appliances found roles complementing traditional storage systems, so to will many of these new generation of products.

What this all means is to navigate your way through the various marketing and architecture debates, benchmarks battles, claims and counter claims to understand what fits your needs and requires.

StorageIO industry trends cloud, virtualization and big data

What say you?

Click here to cast your vote and see others perspectives.

Ok, nuff said

Cheers Gs

Greg Schulz - Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press, 2011), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press, 2009), and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier, 2004)

twitter @storageio

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More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.

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