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SSD vs HDD – The future of storage

A number of storage vendors have been talking for a while now about SSD based storage replacing the traditional spinning media. In this blog, we take a look at the advantages/disadvantages of the two technologies – as well as the barriers to adopting flash based storage.

What is flash based storage?

Flash based storage is made of SSD (Solid State Drives) that replace the traditional spinning media. As of now, storage vendors offer hybrid arrays where you have a mixture of both SSD and SAS/SATA based drives, and full flash arrays solely made up of SSD.

What are the advantages of SSD?

SSD hard drives have no moving parts so they don’t suffer from the same type of wear and tear as traditional spinning media. This in turn makes them more reliable. Flash based storage also provides significantly faster performance than traditional media.

So why haven’t SSDs taken over in the marketplace? Until recently, the answer has been simple – high cost and low capacity. But that’s changing. SSD capacity technology has advanced – now even the largest HDDs are roughly half as dense as the largest SSDs on the market.*

For Lee Caswell, VP NetApp, the lowering price of SSD will soon make them seriously viable. “The first wave of flash adoption was driven by its promise of performance, but used sparingly due to high costs. Until now, flash was reserved for cache and tier technologies or carefully applied to isolated performance applications such as databases.

“However, we have begun to see a steady increase in interest around flash in the last few years. According to IDC, the worldwide flash-based array market grew to $11.3 billion in 2014. Meanwhile, IDC reported that flash grew 101% year over year in the second quarter of 2015 in EMEA ‘defying overall market storage slowdown’.”**

But will all flash storage see the end of SAS disks?

Flash based storage is still more expensive than SAS disks, but as Caswell has stressed, that gap is narrowing. The demand for higher performance and low latency storage for the enterprise at low cost is increasing. There is definite potential that we will see a higher rate of adoption of all flash storage arrays in 2016.

What about hybrid arrays?

Hybrid storage arrays are a mixture of flash and spinning media. This offers a good starting point for organisations that have not yet introduced flash into their storage platforms. In this type of deployment, flash is generally used as a caching mechanism to improve the performance of key workloads or heavily transactional based systems.

Should I be concerned about the expected lifetime of an SSD?

As we have already discussed, SSD based drives work differently to hard drives. They have a finite life determined by the number of write operations they can endure. Concerns about this issue have been a barrier to some organisations considering wider adoption of flash based storage. However, a lot has changed over the last few years in the technologies used to monitor drive wear and in the underlying technology itself. Most experts predict a life of around five years, which compares favourably to traditional HDDs.

What applications/workload best fit flash based storage?

Applications requiring high performance and low latency. A few examples of where all flash is a good fit are VDI, transactional databases and server virtualisation.

For Lee Caswell, SSD represents a thrilling new chapter. “It’s never been as exciting to be in storage technology. With 2016, we will see products and solutions respond to the market needs for simplicity, easier management, better economic returns, and a need to integrate data management across the hybrid cloud.”

For further information on flash based storage, please contact a member of the team on 01202 308000.

Author: James Cripps, 07 August 2016

*NetApp, Is Spinning Disk Dead? How SSD (Flash) Is Shaping the Future of NetApp IT Storage 
**NetApp, 2016 Predictions for Storage Administrators

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