Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Future of Storage: Flash

Future of Storage: Flash


With ever increasing storage size increases, cost decreases, and performance increases - it seems like Flash storage will soon be a winner in the Managed Services arena. Others are writing about this technology, such as StorageMojo and The Register. Understanding where the technology is going is a good start, but understanding your technological bottlenecks is required for application.

What's New?

The flash DIMM format is an opportunity to significantly change the computing industry for the long term. Pictured below is a Sun Flash DIMM, in the form factor of common laptop memory.

Since hard disk drives are normally always spinning and generating massive quantities of heat - failure rates were high. High failure rates necessitated easy access in arrays through front and rear chassis access. Removal of the heat generation and mechanical movement increases reliability - so why would one need to suck up space in the front or rear of a rack with the center of the rack mount unit being mostly empty?

DIMM is the way to go.

What's Up and Coming?

Sun Systems designer, Andy von Bechtolsheim discussed the use of flash a quarter ago, both in the regular market, as well as in the future of the Sun marketing products.

One example of a core building block was a 4 Terabyte 1U high storage unit.

While 4 Terabytes in a 1U high rack space may not make people jump for joy, the news is really around the benefits for a dramatic increase in performance. When one can increase performance 100x, use 1/100th the rack space, and use orders of magnitude less power - this can drive change in any business.

Sun briefly posted a PDF of the F5100 storage platform, but this document was pulled. Google still has the HTML version of the "Sun Storage F5100 Flash Array Getting Started Guide" document, although it is fairly stripped of visual content and structure. You can see from the HTML that it was published in July of 2009.

What's Here Today

What is very comforting is that this up & coming technology is already supported by standard storage management tools - Sun StorageTek Common Array Manager (CAM).

The F5100 Flash Array is steadily appearing in more standard Sun documentation, for example the "Sun StorageTek Common Array Manager User Guide for Open Systems". There is also a PDF of this guide (as well as others) available, for common consumption.

Application in Network Management

For Open Source polling & graphing software, the I/O becomes inhibitive in large installations. The need for many spindles in order to keep up with the data read & write rates had created the architectural need to split the database from the polling software. With massive quantities of data coming into a database on very rapid & regular polling rates - the need for archiving this data becomes increasingly important, but secondary to the performance since massive numbers of spindles will leave high capacity drives mostly empty.

What would happen if the artificial need for breaking storage away from the pollers disappeared?

The architecture could simplify and re-consolidate onto a single server with multiple [virtual] pollers. The result would be a reduced level of system complexity (fewer servers, switch ports, physical ports, drive interconnects, etc.), increase performance (eliminate the need for massive external storage), increase reliability (fewer moving mechanical parts), and overall decrease costs.

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