SSDs rising in the flood crisis

The Thailand flood last year spelled disaster to the storage industry. We have already seen several big boys in the likes of HP, EMC and NetApp announcing the rise of prices because of the flood.

NetApp’s announcement is here; EMC is here; and HP is here, if you want to read about it. Below is a nice and courteous EMC letter to their customers.

But the Chinese character of “crisis” (below) also spells opportunities; opportunities for Solid State Drives (SSDs) that is.

For those of us close to the ground, the market for spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) has certainly been challenging for the past few months, especially for smaller system providers like us. Without the leveraging powers of the bigger boys, we practically had to beg to buy HDDs, not to mention the fact that the price has practically doubled.

Before the Thailand flood crisis, the GB/$ of a 2TB HDD was 0.325 Malaysian ringgit per GB. That’s about 33 cents. Today, the price is about 55 cents per GB. In comparison, at least from my experience, the GB/$ of SSDs has gone down from $5.83 to $4.99.

I know some of you might pooh-pooh the price difference between a 2TB SATA/SAS and a 120GB SSD, partly because the SSD seems so expensive. But when you consider that doing the math, the SSDs is likely to be 50x faster (at worst average) and 200x faster (at best average) for applications requiring IOPS, this could mean that transactional applications are likely to be completed an average of 100x faster, with better response time, with lower latency. This will have a domino effect on other related applications, making the entire service request performing and completing faster. When we put a price to the transactional hours, for example $10/hour work, then we can see the cost savings coming from using SSDs in the storage.

Interestingly, a friend of mine asked me about the prominence of an all SSDs storage systems. I have written about all SSDs systems in the past, and also did a high overview of Pure Storage some time back. And a very interesting fact I recalled was these systems having massive amount of IOPS. Having plenty of IOPS helps because you do away with Automated Storage Tiering (AST) because you don’t have to tier your data, and you don’t have to pay for such a feature.

Yes, all-SSDs pure-play storage systems are gaining prominence and it’s time to take notice. Nimbus beat NetApp and HP 3PAR last year to win eBay with an all SSDs storage solution and other players such as Violin Memory Systems, Pure Storage, SolidFire and of course, Texas Memory Systems (aka RAMSAN). And they are attracting big names into their management portfolios and getting VC dollars of course.

The Thailand flood aftermath will probably take 6 months or more to return to its previous production capacity prior to the crisis and SSDs can take this window of opportunity in the crisis to surge ahead. And if this flood is going to be an annual thing for Thailand (God bless Thailand), HDD market is going to have a perennial problem. And SSDs is going to rise even faster.

 

Storage must go on a diet

Nowadays, the capacity of the hard disk drives (HDDs) are really big. 3TB is out and 4TB is in the horizon. What’s next?

For small-medium businesses in Malaysia, depending on their data requirements and applications, 3-10TB is pretty sufficient  and with room to grow as well. Therefore, a 6TB requirement can be easily satisfied with 2 x 3TB HDDs.

If I were the customer, why would I buy a storage array, with the software licenses and other stuff that will not only increase my cost of equipment acquisition and data management, it will also increase the complexity of my IT infrastructure? I could just slot HDDs into my existing server, RAID it with RAID-0 (not a good idea but to save costs, most customers would do that) and I have a 6TB volume! It’s cheaper, easier to manage with Windows or Linux, and my system administrator doesn’t have to fuss about lack of storage experience.

And RAID isn’t really keeping up with the tremendous growth of HDD’s capacity as well. In fact, RAID is at risk. RAID (especially RAID 5/6) just cannot continue provide the LUN or volume reliability and data availability because it just takes too damn long to rebuild the volume after the failure of a disk.

Back in the days where HDDs were less than 500GB, RAID-5 would still hold up but after passing the 1TB mark, RAID-6 became more prevalent. But now, that 1TB has ballooned to 3TB and RAID-6 is on shaky ground. What’s next? RAID-7? ZFS has RAID-Z3, triple parity but come on, how many vendors have that? With triple parity or stronger RAID (is there one?), the price of the storage array is going to get too costly.

Experts have been speaking about parity-declustering,  but that’s something that a few vendors have right now. Panasas, founded by one of forefathers of RAID, Garth Gibson, comes to mind. In fact, Garth Gibson and Mark Holland of Cargenie-Mellon University’s Parallel Data Lab (PDL) presented a paper about parity-declustering more than 10 years ago.

Let’s get back to our storage fatty. Yes, our storage is getting fat, obese, rotund or whatever you want to call it. And storage vendors have been pushing a concept in hope that storage administrators and customers can take advantage of it. It is called Storage Optimization or Storage Efficiency.

Here are a few ways you can consider to put your storage on a diet.

  • Compression
  • Thin Provisioning
  • Deduplication
  • Storage Tiering
  • Tapes and SSDs

To me, compression has not taken the storage world by storm. But then again, there aren’t many vendors that tout compression as a feature for storage optimization. Most of them rather prefer to push the darling of data reduction, data deduplication, as the main feature for save more space. Theoretically, data deduplication makes more sense when the data is inactive, and has high occurrence of duplicated data. That is why secondary storage such  as backup deduplication targets like Data Domain, HP StoreOnce, Quantum DXi can publish 20:1 rates and over time, that rate can get even higher.

NetApp also has been pushing their A-SIS data deduplication on primary storage. Yes, it helps with the storage savings in primary but when the need for higher data transfer rates and time to access “manipulated” data (deduped or compressed), it is likely that compression is a better choice for primary, active data.

So who has compression? NetApp ONTAP 8.0.1 has compression now and IBM with its Storewize V7000 started as a compression device. Read about IBM Storewize in my blog here. Dell has Ocarina Networks, which was recently unleashed. I am a big fan of Ocarina Networks and I wrote about the technology in my previous blog. EMC, during the Celerra days of DART has compression but I don’t hear much about it in their VNX. Compression is there, believe me, embedded all the loads of EMC marketing.

Thin Provisioning is now a must-have and standard feature of all storage vendors. What is Thin Provisioning? The diagram below shows you:

In the past, storage systems aren’t so intelligent. You ask for 10TB, you are given 10TB and that 10TB is “deducted” from the storage capacity. That leads to wastage and storage inefficiencies. Today, Thin Provisioning will give you 10TB but storage capacity is consumed as it is being used. The capacity is not pre-allocated as in the past. Thin provisioning is a great diet pill for bloated storage projects. 

Another up and coming feature is storage tiering. Storage tiering, when associated to storage optimization, should include hierarchical storage management (HSM) and tape-out as well. Storage optimization solutions should not offer only in the storage array itself. Storage tiering within the storage array is available with most vendors – IBM EasyTier, EMC FAST2, Dell Fluid Data Management and many others. But what about data being moved out of the storage array? What about reducing the capacity of the data online or near-line? Why not put them offline if there isn’t a need for it?

I term this as Active Archiving, something I learned while I was at EMC. Here’s a look at EMC’s style of Active Archiving:

Active Archiving promotes the concept of data archiving and is not unique only to EMC. Almost all storage vendors, either natively or with 3rd party vendors, can perform fairly efficient data archiving in one way or another. One of the software that I liked (and not unique!) is Quantum Stornext. Here’s a video of how Quantum Stornext helps reduce the fat of the storage.

With the single-copy sharing feature of Quantum Stornext to multiple disparate OSes, there are lesser duplicate files in storage as well.

Tapes have been getting a bad name in the past few years. It has been repositioned and repurposed as an archive medium rather than a backup medium. But tape is the greenest and most powerful storage diet pill around. And we should not be discount tapes because tapes are fighting back. Pretty soon you will be hearing about Linear Tape File System (LTFS). In a nutshell, Linear Tape File System (LTFS) allows you to use the tape almost as if it were a hard disk. You can drag and drop files from your server to the tape, see the list of saved files using a standard operating system directory (no backup software catalog needed), and use point and click to restore. How cool is that!

And Solid State Drives (SSDs) makes sense as well.

There are times that we need IOPS and using spinning drives, we have to set up many disk spindles to achieve the IOPS that we want.  For example, using the diagram below from the godfather of storage, Greg Schulz,

The set of 16 spinning HDD drives on the left can only deliver 3,520 IOPS. The problem is, we have wasted a lot of disk space, as seen in the diagram below. This design, which most customer would be accustomed to, may look cheaper but in actual fact, is NOT.

If the price of a Fibre Channel HDD is RM2,000, the total of 16 would make up RM32,000.00. That is not inclusive of additional power and cooling and rack space and also the data management costs. Assuming the SSDs costs 5 times more than the Fibre Channel HDD. SSDs are capable of delivering very high IOPS. Here I am putting a modest 5,000 IOPS per SSDs. With just 2 SSDs (as the right design suggests), the total costs is only RM20,000. It has greater performance room to grow, and also savings in data management, power and cooling.

Folks, consider SSDs as part of your storage diet plan.

All these features are available, in whole or in part, and they are part of the storage technology offerings that is out there. With all these being said, are you doing something about it? Get off your lazy bum and start managing your storage and put your storage on a diet!!!

Does all SSDs make sense?

I have been receiving a lot of email updates from Texas Memory Systems for many months now. I am a subscriber to their updates and Texas Memory System is the grand daddy of flash and DRAM-based storage systems. They are not cheap but they are blazingly fast.

Lately, more and more vendors have been coming out with all SSDs storage arrays. Startups such Pure Storage, Violin Memory and Nimbus Data Systems have been pushing the envelope selling all SSDs storage arrays. A few days ago, EMC also announced their all SSDs storage array. As quoted, the new EMC VNX5500-F utilizes 2.5-in, single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash drives to 10 times the performance of the hard-drive based VNX arrays. And that is important because EMC has just become one of the earliest big gorillas to jump into the band wagon.

But does it make sense? Can one justify to invest in an all SSDs storage array?

At this point, especially in this part of the world, I predict that not many IT managers are willing to put their head on the chopping board and invest in an all SSDs storage array. They would become guinea pigs for a very expensive exercise and the state of the economy is not helping. Therefore the automatic storage tiering (AST) might stick better than having an all SSDs storage array. The cautious and prudent approach is less risky as I have mentioned in a past blog.

I wrote about Pure Storage in a previous blog and the notion that SSDs will offer plenty of IOPS and throughput. If the performance gain translates into higher productivity and getting the job done quicker, then I am all for SSDs. In fact, given the extra performance numbers

There is no denying that the fact that the industry is moving towards SSDs and it makes sense. That day will come in the near future but not now for customers in these part of the world.

All SSDs storage array? There’s more than meets the eye at Pure Storage

Wow, after an entire week off with the holidays, I am back and excited about the many happenings in the storage world.

One of the more prominent news was the announcement of Pure Storage launching its enterprise storage array build entirely with flash-based solid state drives. In addition to that, there were other start-ups who were also offering SSDs storage arrays. The likes of Nimbus Data, Avere, Violin Memory Systems all made the news as well as the grand daddy of solid state storage arrays, Texas Memory Systems.

The first thing that came to my mind was, “Wow, this is great because this will push down the $/GB of SSDs closer to the range of $/GB for spinning disks”. But then skepticism crept in and I thought, “Do we really need an entire enterprise storage array of SSDs? That’s going to cost the world”.

At the same time, we in the storage industry knows that no piece of data are alike. They can be large, small, random, sequential, accessed frequently or infrequently and so on. It is obviously better to tier the storage, using SSDs for Tier 0, 10K/15K RPM spinning HDDs for Tier 1, SATA for Tier 2 and perhaps tape for the archive tier. I was already tempted to write my pessimism on Pure Storage when something interesting caught my attention.

Besides the usual marketing jive of sub-milliseconds, predictable latency, green messaging, global inline deduplication and compression and built-in data integrity into its Purity Operating Environment (POE), I was very surprised to find the team behind Pure Storage. Here’s their line-up

  • Scott Dietzen, CEO – starting from principal technologist of Transarc (sold to IBM), principal architect of Web Logic (sold to BEA Systems), CTO of BEA (sold to Oracle), CTO of Zimbra (sold to Yahoo! and then to VMware)
  • John “Coz” Colgrove, Founder & CTO – Veritas Fellow, CTO of Symantec Data Management group, principal architect of Veritas Volume Manager (VxVM) and Veritas File System (VxFS) and holder of 70 patents
  • John Hayes, Founder & Chief Architect – formerly of  Yahoo! office of Chief Technologist
  • Bob Wood, VP of Engineering – Formerly NetApp’s VP of File System Engineering,
  • Michael Cornwell, Director of Technology & Strategy – formerly the lead technologist of Sun Microsystems’ Sun Storage F5100 Flash Array and also Quantum’s storage architect for their storage telemetry, VTL and DXi solutions
  • Ko Yamamoto, VP of System Engineering – previously NetApp’s director of platform engineering, Quantum DXi director of hardware engineering, and also key contributor to 4-generations of Tandem NonStop technology

In addition to that, there are 3 key individual investors worth mentioning

  • Diane Green – Founder of VMware and former CEO
  • Dr. Mendel Rosenblum – Founder and former Chief Scientist and creator of VMware
  • Frank Slootman – formerly CEO of Data Domain (acquired by EMC)

All these industry big guns are flocking to Pure Storage for a reason and it looks to me that Pure Storage ain’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill enterprise storage company. There’s definitely more than meet the eye.

On top of the enterprise storage array platform is Pure Storage’s Purity Operating Environment (POE). POE focuses on 3 key storage services which are

  • High Performance Data Reduction
  • Mission Critical Reliability
  • Predictable Sub-millisecond Performance

After going through the deep-dive videos by Pure Storage’s CTO, John Colgrove, they are very much banking the success of their solution around SSDs. Everything that they have done is based on SSDs.  For example, in order to achieve a larger capacity as well as a much cheaper $/GB, the data reduction techniques in global deduplication, high compression and also fine grained thin provision of 512 bytes are used. By trading off IOPS (which SSDs have plenty since they are several times faster than conventional spinning disks), a larger usable capacity is achieved.

In their RAID 3D, they also incorporated several high reliability techniques and data integrity algorithm that are specifically for SSDs. One note that was mentioned was that traditional RAID and especially the parity-based RAID levels were designed in the beginning to protect against an entire device failure. However, in SSDs, the failure does not necessarily occur in the entire device. Because of the way SSDs are built, the failure hotspots tend to happen at the much more granular bit level of the SSDs. The erase-then-write techniques that are inherent in NAND Flash SSDs causes the bit error rate (BER) of the SSD device to go up as the device ages. Therefore, it is more likely to get a read/write error from within the SSDs memory itself rather than having the entire SSD device failing. Pure Storage RAID 3D is meant to address such occurrences of bit errors.

I spoke a bit of storage tiering earlier in this article because every corporation employs storage tiering to be financially responsible. However, John Colgrove’s argument was why tier the storage when there’s plentiful of IOPS and the $/GB is comparable to spinning disks. That is true is when the $/GB of SSDs can match the $/GB of spinning disks. Factors we must also taken into account is the rack-space savings using the smaller profile disks of SSDs, the power-savings costs of SSDs versus conventional HDD-based enterprise storage arrays. In its entirety, there are strong indications that the $/GB of SSD-based systems to match or perhaps lower the $/GB of HDD-based systems. And since the IOPS requirement levels of present-day applications have not demanded super-high IOPS and multi-core processing is cheap, there’s plenty of head-room for Pure Storage and other similar enterprise storage array companies to grow.

The tides are changing for the storage industry and it is good to see a start-up like Pure Storage boldly coming forth to announce their backing for SSDs. It’s good for the consumer and good for the industry. But more importantly, they are driving innovations to rethink of how we build storage arrays. I am looking forward to more things to come.

Nimbus beats NetApp at Ebay – The details and the conspiracy of vendors

In my last entry, I mentioned that Nimbus has now 100TB in eBay and every single TB of it is on SSDs. The full details of how the deal was trashed out are detailed here, beating the competition from NetApp and 3PAR, the incumbents.

The significance of the deal was how a full SSDs system was able to out-price the storage arrays with a hybrid of spinning disks and SSDs.

The Nimbus news just obliterated the myth that SSDs are expensive. If you do the math, perhaps the price of the entire storage systems is not the SSDs. It could be the way some vendors structure their software licensing scheme or a combination of license, support and so on.

Just last week, we were out there discussing about hard disks and SSDs. The crux of the discussion was around pricing and the customer we were speaking too was perplexed that  the typical SATA disks from vendors such as HP, NetApp and so on cost a lot more than the Enterprise HDDs and SSDs you get from the distributors. Sometimes it is a factor of 3-4x.

I was contributing my side of the story that one unit of 1TB SATA (mind you, this is an Enterprise-grade HDD from Seagate) from a particular vendor would cost about RM4,000 to RM5,000. The usual story that we were trained when we worked for vendors was, “Oh, these disks had to be specially provisioned with our own firmware, and we can monitor their health with our software and so on ….”. My partner chipped in and cleared the BS smoke screen and basically, the high price disks comes with high margins for the vendor to feed the entire backline of the storage product, from sales, to engineers, to engineering and so on. He hit the nail right on the head because I believe a big part of the margin of each storage systems goes back to feed the vendor’s army of people behind the product.

In my research, a 2TB enterprise-grade SATA HDDs in Malaysia is approximately RM1,000 or less. Similar a SAS HDDs would be slightly higher, by 10-15%, while an enterprise-grade SSD is about RM3,000 or less. And this is far less than what is quoted by the vendors of storage arrays.

Of course, the question would be, “can the customer put in their own hard disks or ask the vendor to purchase cheaper hard disks from a cheaper source?” Apparently not! Unless you buy low end NAS from the likes of NetGear, Synology, Drobo and many low-end storage systems. But you can’t bet your business and operations on the reliability of these storage boxes, can you? Otherwise, it’s your head on the chopping block.

Eventually, the customers will demand such a “feature”. They will want to put in their own hard disks (with proper qualification from the storage vendor) because they will want cheaper HDDs or SSDs. It is already happening with some enterprise storage vendors but these vendors are not well known yet. It is happening though. I know of one vendor in Malaysia who could do such a thing …