IT Moving to SSD for Robust Apps

Companies use solid-state storage to boost the performance of high-transaction databases, enterprise apps and virtualized systems.

Despite its high price tag, solid-state storage technology is increasingly becoming a viable option for large and midsize companies looking to ease bottlenecks caused by high-transaction databases, virtualized systems and other I/O-intensive applications.

Tucson Electric Power, for example, used Performance Acceleration Module flash cards from NetApp to significantly boost the performance of its PeopleSoft and Oracle customer care and billing reporting systems, said Tony Edlebrock, senior systems administrator at the Arizona utility.

Edlebrock credits the flash technology with cutting the length of nightly Oracle and PeopleSoft batch processes in half, from eight to 12 hours to four to six hours.

In addition to using flash cards on the front end of all of its PeopleSoft and Oracle tools, the utility is also using the technology as front-end cache for most of its 500 VMware virtual machines as well as its GIS mapping systems and the databases used to manage power outages.

Chris Rima, supervisor of IT infrastructure systems at Tucson Electric, a subsidiary of UniSource Energy, suggested that, because SSD cards are so expensive, IT managers should use them for multiple purposes, not just a single task. He said Tucson Electric paid $30,000 for each of its six 40TB-60TB NAND flash cards.

Rima added that the company is now in the process of deciding whether to purchase SSD storage arrays from Nimbus Systems some time next year.

Online auctioneer eBay rolled out a dozen of the Nimbus arrays earlier this year and experienced a 50% reduction in standard storage rack space, a 78% drop in power consumption and a fivefold boost in I/O performance compared with its previous network-attached storage and storage area network systems.

The speed boost allows eBay to bring a new virtual machine online in five minutes, compared with 45 minutes previously, according to Michael Craft, eBay's manager of quality assurance systems administration.

As NAND prices fall over the next few years, analysts are expecting more IT executives to turn to SSD technology. IDC predicts the enterprise-class SSD market will grow to about $1.8 billion in 2012, up from $850 million in 2010.

SSDs use nonvolatile NAND flash memory chips, which are cheaper than DRAM chips but still as much as 18 times more expensive than 15,000-rpm Fibre Channel or serial SCSI drives, according to Gregory Wong, an analyst at market research firm Forward Insights.

Wong expects prices to continue falling as the use of solid-state and NAND flash card technology in popular consumer devices increases. Wong predicted a dramatic jump in consumer use of devices featuring the technology by the end of next year, at which time, he added, SSD pricing will drop to the magic $1 per gigabyte level. That price should significantly boost corporate use as well, he said.

Quarles & Brady, a Chicago-based law firm, has been gradually adding SSD cards to its EqualLogic arrays over the past two and a half years, first for its transactional databases and then to support its virtualization technology. The SSD cards significantly boosted performance in both instances, according to Rich Raether, manager of network engineering at the firm.

Raether said he's very impressed with the technology -- if not its price tag. "If costs were cheaper," he said, "I'd put everything on SSD drives."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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