Getting More Bang for the Storage Buck

By: Jun Alejo
BiTMICRO Networks

In an article titled "No Waiting: Considering the Benefits of Solid State Disks1," authors Ramon Sandoval and Maneesha Lee highlighted the growing popularity of solid state disks (SSDs) as accelerators for enterprise databases. The authors cited the rapid expansion of the SSD industry as a result of relational database applications, with SSDs being deployed as storage devices for hot files2. In particular, Sandoval and Lee revealed that a major portion of enterprise SSDs are installed in high-end database applications running Sybase, Oracle and Informix, along with SAP running on top of these databases.

Aside from this write-up, several reports and white papers emphasizing the performance benefits of SSDs have already been published, and hard disk drive makers such as Samsung have expressed interest in this storage line. The only remaining question is, are SSDs a viable alternative for price-conscious buyers who are running performance-hungry OLTP apps?

The objective of this article is to examine the benefits of utilizing flash SSD-enabled storage system as cache storage in an enterprise environment. A comparison will be made between conventional storage systems (featuring HDDs) and solid-state disk-based network storage in terms of performance and overall cost per IOPS.

Market Trends

Storage users are buying more midrange and lower cost systems, according to International Data Corp.'s (IDC) quarterly worldwide disk storage systems report released December 2004. Revenues grew 3.5 percent year-over-year to $3.4 billion in the third quarter of 2004. Although revenue growth was smaller compared to previous quarters, IDC noted rapid growth in storage capacity, rising 50.5 percent year over year to 310 petabytes. It is the largest growth rate posted over the last seven quarters, the report said.

IDC analyst Brad Nisbet says the results confirm the slow but steady growth of midrange and lower segments, like ATA-based storage. "We saw an increase in the growth of petabytes shipped, which is yielding the largest dollar per gigabyte pricing decline in seven quarters and points to a growing share of higher-capacity, lower-cost disk drive deployments and a broader variety of products offered by the major vendors," he explains.

Another contributing factor to the growth of networked storage, in particular midrange systems, is the stiff price competition among sellers in their bid to corner a slice of shrinking IT budgets. Price consciousness is also echoed in the way enterprises handle their storage requirements. Consolidation is now a must as it increases storage manageability, maximizes capacity utilization, and lowers overall TCO.

However, this strategy puts a strain on server performance, especially for I/O intensive applications such as:

OLTP is a critical segment in enterprise storage as most banking, trading and supply chain transactions are now transferred online, with users demanding faster and more responsive systems. In selecting the most cost-effective, high-performance storage device for this application, IT and data center administrators have HDDs and SSDs as options. The wide variety of available models in the market and lower price per unit makes the HDD as the most logical solution for enterprises, providing the best return on investment. Or does it?

Cost Analysis

Let us examine a setup involving a generic SAN attached JBOD setup comprised entirely of 15,000RPM rotational HDDs as opposed to a BiTMICRO E-Disk®SAN S2F-J featuring flash-based E-Disk SSDs. The objective of this analysis is to compare the capital investment needed to acquire a networked storage solution that can offer peak performance of 100,000 IOPS in a typical OLTP/database I/O application.

Hardware Specifications

The tables below detail the technical specifications of the drives and JBOD modules used in our comparative analysis.

 Rotational HDDBiTMICRO E-Disk 3F2
Drive Technology
(1 Gb/2Gb Fibre Channel)
15,000 rpm HDDSolid-State Flash Disk
18.4 GB capacity2 GB capacity
Drive Form Factor (FF)3.5-inch3.5-inch

Table 1: Drive Specifications

1 Source:
2 Defined by as "a database or data file that is currently being heavily accessed by users"

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