Are costly SSDs worth the money? Enterprise users say absolutely

At 18 times the cost of hard drives, solid-state disk drive purchases need to be strategic, however

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After replacing 100TB of storage in a year, eBay experienced a 50% reduction in standard storage rack space, a 78% drop in power consumption and a fivefold boost in I/O performance. That speed boost now allows eBay to bring a new VM online in five minutes, compared with 45 minutes previously.

The online auction site's quality assurance division had been using both network-attached storage (NAS) and a storage area network (SAN) prior to deploying modular SSD arrays from Nimbus Data Systems. It began by deploying a single 2U (3.5-in high) Nimbus S-class SSD system and HALO storage operating system a year ago.

Today, eBay has 12 SSD arrays with capacity that rivals the amount of traditional hard-drive storage used, said Michael Craft, eBay's manager of QA systems administration.

Rima said Tucson Electric is looking to move more of its data onto high-density serial ATA (SATA) hard disks, using NAND flash as a cache on the front end to increase performance. That would easily make the business case for executives to approve the purchase of more solid-state storage, he said.

"If you ... add in the cost of data center space, then you could justify an ROI within 18 months easily because instead of 300GB Fibre Channel disk you can use 2TB SATA disk for a portion of those environments. So you have fewer spindles but the same performance."

Satiating virtualization and the boot storm

One data center advancement driving the adoption of solid-state storage is virtualization. As server density and utilization rates climb, I/O bandwidth bottlenecks, Wong said.

Virtual desktop infrastructures, where hundreds or thousands of machines are all booting from a virtualized server farm, come up against I/O constraints. So, instead of utilizing traditional spinning disks, data center mangers are rolling out flash as boot drives in their servers. The SSDs hold the basic operating systems and meta file data.

Rich Raether, manager of network engineering at the law firm of Quarles & Brady, currently oversees 450 Windows 7 desktops that run from 19 VMs. The firm rolled out its VDI infrastructure at the beginning of this year.

Quarles & Brady has a total of 350 servers, about 260 of which are virtualized through VMware in support of nine U.S. offices and one Shanghai, China location. The virtual machines are all running off of networked storage from Dell EqualLogic storage arrays that include PS5000XV, PS6000S, PS6000SVS and PS6010XVS models.

Quarles & Brady's data center contains a total of 450TB of disk drive capacity, all of which resides on the EqualLogic array except for 35TB on an EMC Celerra NAS filer. The EqualLogic arrays utilize a combination of 15,000-rpm SAS drives and SSDs. About 1TB of the capacity is made up by SSDs.

The law firm has five PS5010XVX arrays, three in its Milwaukee data center and two in its Phoenix data center, all of which support its VDI infrastructure.

The law firm's EqualLogic XVS arrays are capable of tiering data within the array based on usage patterns. "Hot data" is moved to the SSD drives during the morning "boot storm" and then back to SAS as the day progresses and utilization slows.

The VDI infrastructure runs over 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches from Cisco Systems. While the law firm also has 10 Gigabit Ethernet Juniper switches, Raether said he found out the hard way they weren't qualified with the Dell EqualLogic arrays.

Before rolling out SSDs for his VDI infrastructure about six months ago, Raether said he had a number of vendors come in with various solid-state and hard drive systems so that he could benchmark their performance in his environment.

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