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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The firm performed benchmark testing using large amounts of RAM in servers, all-SSD arrays, the EqualLogic hard drive and SSD-hybrid arrays, and straight-SAS arrays.

"The best performance we received in our VDI environment was to load up a server with RAM and do cache to RAM within the server itself. It outperformed everything. Nothing was even close," Raether said.

The configuration that came in second was using server flash acceleration cards from Fusion-io, which offered almost twice the speed as his other disk arrays. The third best performer were the hybrid arrays.

"It becomes cost prohibitive to really jack these servers up with a lot of memory. And, the Fusion-io cards weren't inexpensive either. So probably the best bang for the buck for us were these hybrid arrays," he said.

Over the past couple of years PCIe-based flash cards that insert directly into servers to accelerate I/O performance have become popular with several vendors offering different products.

Fusion-io makes specialized NAND flash cards designed to boost server throughput up to 278,000 I/Os per second while offering up to 1.28TB of data storage capacity. The cards cost between about $7,000 and $8,000. More recently, Fusion-io came out with a new card that allows VMs to share flash storage from their ioCache adapter card. That card has 600GB of capacity and sells for about $6,900.

In June, Micron also announced its own PCIe-based flash card, the realSSD P320h, which comes in two models that hold 350GB and 700GB, respectively. A 350GB model retails for $5,600.

Texas Memory Systems launched its second-generation PCIe-based SSD last month. Its RamSan-70 SSD has from 450GB to 900GB of capacity. TMS hasn't released pricing on the new card.

Prior to the SSD rollout earlier this year, Quarles & Brady ran its VDI environment off the all-SAS drive arrays. Using the SAS drives, it would take from six to seven minutes to provision a new desktop. When the firm moved to SSDs, that time was cut to less than a minute, Raether said.

"Boot times ... were about a minute and a half to two minutes. And we cut that down to about 25 seconds," he said.

The law firm also uses its SSD pools for its SQL databases. "We started playing around with configurations on SQL and after a while, we came up with an environment where we house our temp databases and log files strictly on SSDs. So we have separate pools. The second pool is the SAS array, and we house the databases on there," Raether said.

Over the past two and a half years that Raether has been using SSDs, people have asked him numerous times why he would put temporary databases and logs on SSDs, instead of SAS drives. "You really want high read and low write [rates] there," he said. "Honestly, we saw a greater performance boost when we had the temp data bases and log files on them. We saw almost a [doubling of] performance in speed just on performance I/O. Application responsiveness varies, but some of theses things improved drastically."

"If costs were cheaper," Raether said, "I'd put everything on SSD drives."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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