SSDs coming into mainstream … be Ready!

There has been a slew of SSD news in the storage blogosphere with the big one from eBay.

eBay has just announced that it has 100TB of SSDs from Nimbus Data Systems. On top of that, OCZ, SanDisk and STEC, all major SSD manufacturers, have announced a whole lot of new products with the PCIe SSD cards leading the way. The most interesting thing was the factor of $/GB has gone down significantly, getting very close to the $/GB of spinning disks. This is indeed good news to the industry because SSDs delivers low latency, high IOPS, low power consumption and many other new benefits.

Side note: As I am beginning to understand more about SSDs, I found out that NAND flash SSD has a latency in the microseconds compared to spinning HDDs, which has milliseconds latency range. In addition to that DRAM SSDs have latency that is in the range of nano seconds, which is basically memory type of access. DRAM SSDs are of course, more expensive. 

The SSDs are coming very soon into the mainstream, and this will inadvertently, drive a new generation of applications and accelerate growth in knowledge acquisition. We are already seeing the decline of Fibre Channel disks and the rise of SAS and SATA disks but SSDs in the enterprise storage, as far as I am concerned, brings forth 2 new challenges which we, as professionals and users in the storage networking environment, must address.

These challenges can be simplified to

  1. Are we ready?
  2. Where is the new bottleneck?

To address the first challenge, we must understand the second challenge first.

In system architectures, we know of various of performance bottlenecks that exist either in CPU, memory, bus, bridge, buffer, I/O devices and so on. In order to deliver the data to be process, we have to view the data block/byte service request in its entirety.

When a user request for a file, this is a service request. The end objective is the user is able to read and write the file he/she requested. The time taken from the beginning of the request to the end of it, is known as service time, which latency plays a big part of it. We assume that the file resides in a NAS system in the network.

The request for the file begins by going through the file system layer of the host the user is accessing, then to the user and kernel space, moving on through the device driver of the NIC card, through the TCP/IP stack (which has its own set of buffer overheads and so on), passing the request through the physical wire. From there it moves on through the NAS system with the RAID system, file system and so on until it reaches the file request. Note that I have shortened the entire process for simple explanation but it shows that the service request passes through a whole lot of things in order to complete the request.

Bottlenecks exist everywhere within the service request path and is also subjected to external factors related to that service request. For a long, long time, I/O has been biggest bottleneck to the processing of the service request because it is usually and almost always the slowest component in the entire scheme of things.

The introduction of SSDs will improve the I/O performance tremendously, into the micro- or even nano-seconds range, putting it in almost equal performance terms with other components in the system architecture. The buses and the bridges in the computer systems could be the new locations where the bottleneck of a service request exist. Hence we have use this understanding to change the modus operandi of the existing types of applications such as databases, email servers and file servers.

The usual tried-and-tested best practices may have to be changed to adapt to the shift of the bottleneck.

So, we have to equip ourselves with what SSDs is doing and will do to the industry. We have to be ready and take advantage of this “quiet” period to learn and know more about SSD technology and what the experts are saying. I found a great website that introduces and speaks about SSD in depth. It is called StorageSearch and it is what I consider the best treasure trove on the web right now for SSD information. It is run by a gentleman named Zsolt Kerekes. Go check it out.

Yup, we must be get ready when SSDs hit the mainstream, and ride the wave.