Flash Drives – Solid State Drive Technology for your SAN

Every once and a while at client meeting the discussion about Flash Drives or Solid-State Drives (SSD) comes up.  Flash drives are now an option in EMC’s Clariion arrays.  Usually the first question is “I heard they’re expensive, what do those things cost anyway?”  Well the short answer is A LOT.   Retail from EMC is over $15,000 each!  Yeah….I’ll take a few trays just in case we need some extra storage space!

Obviously you wouldn’t purchase this type of storage to store your MP3 collection but what are the benefits and use cases for these drives?  According to EMC the new Flash Drive technology is for Tier Zero apps or in other words, applications that require incredible amounts of disk I/O and performance.  Examples of this could be some SQL and Oracle production databases.

So why use Flash Drives?  Marketing numbers from EMC state “up to 30x the IOPS” of a standard drive can be achieved.  Let’s be conservative and say 15x IOPS for the purposes of this example.  If you had a database the generated, let’s say 10,000 IOPS, you would need to stripe that data over at least 55 drives to achieve the performance needed (assuming 180 IOPS/drive).  With Flash drives you could theoretically do it with as little as 4 or 5 drives or even less.  Of course with a maximum drive size of 73GB per drive, space might be an issue.

Here is a brief summary of the benefits of these new drives:

          More Performance:        At up to 30x IOPS of a normal high-speed drive you can reduce the number of spindle you need and increase performance.  Latency is also dramatically reduced

          Greener:                             The drives use much less power because there are now moving parts which translates in to less heat, less cooling a smaller carbon footprint and more financial savings.

          Higher Reliability:           No moving parts equal less to break as well as much faster rebuild times.

          Less Rack Space:               Using less drives will free up rack space and datacenter floor space.

The obvious drawback to these drives is cost.  Most companies with tight budgets will have a hard time justifying the astronomical cost per megabyte that comes along with this technology.  For some high-performance apps though, they may be a great solution.  Hopefully with time and competition the cost will come down and the usable space will go up.

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