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.
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.
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.
- Thin Provisioning
- Storage Tiering
- Tapes and SSDs
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.
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 …