SSD: Coming with a Vengeance

SSD will soon be added to your disk and tape storage environment. It's time to start studying and planning for this evolution.

By John Pearring

Nothing stays the same. Like all of the early hype surrounding every piece of technology that lives in IT today, about one-quarter of the projections will come true. You just want to be sure to pick the right quarter.

You have probably already given a report or two to your staff and executives on the solid-state drive (SSD) technology onslaught. Now, it's time to study, compare, position, and help your staff and executives make the proper shift in the backup world from all-disk backup solutions to SSD. They'll need to know where SSD fits and how it can help backup better meet corporate data protection goals.

If you were responsible for explaining the shift in backup from tape to disk, then you know what to expect. If you pitched the idea of introducing SSD into the enterprise server space (and maybe the company's new laptops), then you have a good background on SSD advantages.

The Near-Term Future of SSD

SSD had a rocky beginning. The original excitement over SSD waned considerably when the price per terabyte matched the cost of a mid-sized car. The next hit came when SSD's mean time between failures (MTBF) estimates hovered around 9 months. Now, a large portion of laptops will likely be all SSD in a mere matter of months (my prediction: less than two years).

Maturity, though, has improved the SSD positioning. Inevitably, significantly lower prices will come to SSDs, and we won't have to wait 10 years like we did with disk implementations from 1976 to 1986. Some may argue that we've already waited 10 years since the early 2000 SSD announcements (BitMicro, Micron, etc.), but those were primarily lab efforts. SSD manufacturing will create a competitive price point when the volumes go up.

With the introduction of a new storage media, the arguments will begin. SSD will be pitted against disk. Soon, we'll be talking about how disks may be slow but they are less expensive than SSDs. We'll probably hear debate about the heat and electrical costs of disks as "not that inexpensive compared to SSD." SSD prices will drop even more and the arguments that "disk is dead" will start in earnest. Such talk is not that far in the future!

Enterprise IT professionals will need to justify or wait on SSD in backup, archiving, and disaster recovery. SSD will be hyped first in the production environments, but soon after, advantages from SSD for backup will arise. The vendors and resellers will be shoving SSD down your throat and holding Webinars with free trinkets, reminiscent of the data deduplication-hyped events you used to attend. The biggest pressure points will come from your organization's executives, who wonder at first what you think of SSD, then ask why you haven't started using it.

Data Protection Benefits from Digital-Based Storage

For good reason, pundits have lately been praising the disk replacement and near memory speed technology of SSD at a more rapid pace. The limitations of disk have been met. Data sizes and movement expectations have already reached what science fiction writers had predicted. Plus, the mechanical metal-on-metal foundation of disk spindles worries folks today just as concerns over spinning-head damage on linear tape did just 10 years ago.

What does this mean for selling data protection solutions and architectures? I believe we're simply heightening the pyramid of hierarchical storage, which will increase the range of options available for customers, and the timing couldn't be better.

The three data protection categories -- backup, archive, and disaster recovery -- could all benefit from digital-based storage: data deduplication has increased memory requirements on backup servers. Complex backup technologies push the disk capabilities as processing power speeds up. Network bandwidths quickly approach speeds beyond disk-handling outputs.

How Can SSD Help?

First, SSD has no moving parts. Second, SSD operates like memory in a functional location where disk and tape reside.

Copying data to preserve versions, meet time-stamp regulations, and provide replicated safety have all been point-of-failure victims due simply to the inevitability of data loss from the crustiness of long-term tape and the nicks in magnetic circles of disk.

Of course, the corruptibility and digital hiccup problems will still exist with SSD. The truly 99.999 percent reliability in MTBF may well be only 18 months left, though three years is more likely. Although three years isn't too far away, in SSD timeframes, we'll probably see migration to new, faster, and larger drives in that time anyway.

What this means for disk drives is the same thing we've seen with tape drives and tape. Slower will move to very long-term use, and disk will be the new "slow."

Think about how SSD will soon be added to your disk and tape storage deployments, and start studying up now.

The really good backup professionals, like you, will know what to do with the "slower" disk as SSD begins to take its place, just like you do with tape today. There's a place for everything.

John Pearring is manager of sales for STORServer. As the company's president from 2000 to 2008, John built the original OEM alliances and the original e-business infrastructure for the company. You can contact the author at pearring@storserver.com.
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