IT execs explain their moves to solid-state storage

Four companies show how performance boosts can make expensive NAND flash technology cost-effective

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Fruin said the flash allowed 10 times as many caller queries to be handled in the same amount of time.

"We were looking for four times improvement based on projected call volume increase over time and we got 10X, so we were surprised," he said.

After Virident's FlashMAX flash module was installed, response times to billing inquiries dropped from an average of five seconds to virtually real time -- as low as 500 milliseconds.

Fruin considers Vail's flash storage technology a competitive advantage, as it improved response times and allowed the business to service more clients every day.

Database load capacity also doubled, allowing Vail to store more billing records for clients to use as trending data.

The flash technology also addressed what had been a significant source of downtime with the hard drive configuration.

Fruin is candid about the cost. A single flash module cost Vail $13,000, he said, but added that alternative solutions were no cheaper.

"They are a lot of money [but] the alternative was to throw a lot of RAM into the boxes, which is even more expensive," he said.

It's about how, not how much

Ryan Chien, a storage and memory analyst with market researcher IHS iSuppli, said using flash to accelerate the speed of databases could be very inexpensive if users are careful with how they deploy it. A little flash, he said, can go a long way.

"Probably the most cost effective way to [accelerate Oracle databases] is to put the write tables and hash tables on flash memory," Chien said. "That still gives you a 2X to 3X performance boost without a huge investment involving moving whole database over to flash. That's really the best way to do it in 2012. Most companies don't need 100TB capacity arrays yet."

Associated Bank and three SSDs

Dan Marbes, a systems engineer at Associated Bank in Green Bay, Wis. recently deployed three SSDs in one of its three Dell Compellent storage arrays.

The bank installed a SAN about seven years ago with a capacity of 17TB. When it acquired another bank in 2006, SAN capacity grew to 300TB. Since then, the SAN's capacity has tripled again.

Associated Bank now has more than 5,000 employees and facilities in 280 locations.

Within the last year, the bank brought its public Internet servers in house, which increased I/O workloads on backend storage and archive servers. The bank also recently rolled out a business intelligence application and upgraded its website.

The bank's three Dell-Compellent storage arrays are classified by the applications that are use them: database clusters and business intelligence; VMware servers; and archive data.

Marbes deployed three SSDs to support the database clusters and business intelligence array. The performance boost was immediate, he said. In terms of sequential, small-block data reads, the three SSDs outperformed what 60 15,000 rpm Fibre Channel hard drives formerly handled.

However, when it came to large-block and random data read operations, the 60 Fibre Channel drives "crushed the SSDs."

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