Computer storage systems rapidly taking on the energy efficiency challenge

In the video above, Dave Wright, founder and CEO of SolidFire makes the point that what with ARM-based servers, OpenCompute, etc. there has been a lot of breakthroughs on the computing side of servers, to make them more efficient recently, but very little innovation has happened with storage systems. Predictably he’s gone after storage modernisation with his new company SolidFire offering SSD-based enterprise storage solutions.

My laptop

My laptop

One of the biggest advantages of SSD’s, as storage for servers, is it is incredibly fast, so you get an immediate performance win. I first found this when I changed my laptop to one with an SSD, instead of a normal HDD. The drive is far faster, but because the SSD doesn’t generate heat, there is no requirement for a fan. This makes the laptop cooler (no laptop burn), quieter and it has a far longer battery life. Samsung affirmed this in a server situation when I talked to them earlier this year. Because SSD’s don’t require power-hungry fans to cool down the heat created by spinning drives, the reduced power requirement and heat generation is a big win in a data centre environment.

SolidFire are far from being alone in this field. Just last week FlashSoft announced that they had secured $3m in first round funding to develop Flash virtualisation software for enterprises. They have nifty software which runs on servers with hybrid storage (some SSD and some HDD). Their software identifies regularly accessed data (hot data) and caches this in SSD, while moving less frequently accessed data to spinning disks. Having regularly accessed data in a cache on SSD greatly increases the performance of the storage.

The hybrid model is one way of getting over the issue of the cost differential between HDD’s and SSD’s. SolidFire have a different approach – they don’t go for the hybrid model. Instead their all-SSD model uses a combination of data compression, de-duplication and thin client provisioning to reduce the amount of space required for storage.

A performance enhancing tactic regularly employed with HDD’s is to only use a small amount of the available space on the outside of the disk for your storage. The outside of the disk spins fastest giving you faster read/write access. However, this is hugely inefficient as most of the disk remains unused.

SolidFire do away with the need to have any HDD’s at all making your storage far more efficient. While in Flashsoft’s hybrid model, you can do away with the requirement for faster spinning SAS drives and instead go for slower, cheaper SATA drives without taking a performance hit. Both solutions reduce your energy and cooling needs.

Then out of Japan comes news that in response to requirements for energy efficiency there (due to the earthquake earlier this year closing nuclear power plants), Nexsan have come up with new power managed storage systems with in-built MAID capable of supporting any combination of SATA/SAS/SSD drives. Because MAID allows disks to be spun down when not in use, Nexsan are claiming up to 85% savings in energy usage for its systems.

It is true certainly that SSD’s have a shorter lifetime than HDD’s but even this has been given a boost with the recent announcement from IBM that their new Phase Change Memory chips (PCM) will be faster, cheaper and longer lasting than todays SSD’s.

So while Dave, above, feels that there isn’t much innovation happening in the efficiency of storage, I would respectfully differ and say this is very exciting times to be looking into storage energy efficiency!

Photo credit Tom Raftery


Samsung: Solid State Drive’s (SSD’s) are Green

Samsung have an interesting section on their GreenMemory site about Solid State Drives and how they are considerably Greener than traditional HDD’s.

This rings true with me because my own laptop has an SSD instead of a HDD and I find that it out-performs my desktop for some applications, it runs cold (and quiet as it doesn’t need a fan) and the battery life is better than any laptop I have owned to date.

I caught up with them at the recent Sapphire Now conference where they kindly led me through a demo, showing exactly how much better SSD’s perform compared to HDD’s..

Here’s a transcription of the demo:

Tom Raftery: Hi, everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV. I?m at the Sapphire Now conference in Orlando and I?m with Steven Peng from Samsung. Steven is demoing a new way of looking at SSD?s, solid-state disks and some interesting metrics around the solid-state drives. Steven can you tell me why you are telling me that solid-state drives are Green?

Steven Peng: Yes, solid-state drive doesn?t have a moving part by nature, you can save more power of a traditional hard disk drive and you can say that?s the reason that it is Green.

Tom Raftery: Okay. So you have numbers here, you can talk to around that both in terms of cost and in terms of throughput. Can you talk us through some of those?

Steven Peng: Of course, welcome to our Green SSD versus HDD demo. And a lot of people state the SSD you get cost, it?s too high compared to current technology hard disk drive. However, if you look at a system cost, it actually is the cheapest cost in delivering the performance needed in systems.

So, I have a demo here, I have two identical systems, server systems. If you look at the CPU, the memory configuration, they are identical. However, if you look at the Green SSD system, I have four Samsung MLC SSD drive at 200 gigabytes each, so total capacity is 800 gigabyte. And I can also put two or three 7200 RPM HDD.

So the total capacity is a really comparable to the HDD system here. In this system, I have a 12 high speed 15K SAS HDD, a 300 gigabyte drive capacity each.

So, if you look at two systems, the cost of four SSD drive and 12, 30 gigabyte 15K hard disk drive, the cost is about the same. So, the system costs are same.

Tom Raftery: It is compatible, okay.

Steven Peng: Yeah. So, the interesting area of what about the performance that really tells the system cost difference, right. So the demo here is, we are also running the Benchmarking software, TPC-C and online transaction processing benchmark software and that?s software allows us to know what?s the difference in terms of performance.

If you look at the number here, we recorded in the Green SSD server system, we have 7,000 transaction per second level. If you look at the hard disk drive HDD server system, we only recorded like 1,900 transaction per second level. So, immediately it is about 3X delta.

Tom Raftery: So, it?s significantly faster in terms of performance, but also the amount of watts that are being consumed are considerably lower as well?

Steven Peng: Exactly. So the wattage of a Green SSD system consumption is about 170 watts. If you look at the HDD system, it?s 280 watts. So, you see the delta right there, 60 percent range in power saving per system.

Tom Raftery: And that power saving is coming from a couple of things, I assume, you can tell me if I?m wrong, my assumption would be that a) There is no moving parts as you said earlier but also, b) There is no heat being generated or less heat being generated by the SSD than the hard drive, would that be right?

Steven Peng: Yeah, indeed. Since SSD, the system you generate less heat you don?t need the fan to spin faster and also you can imagine in the data center, you can spend less cooling cost.

Tom Raftery: Cool, so faster performance, compatible pricing and lower operating cost in terms of power usage.

Steven Peng: Right. So, we suggest to people when you are doing your next IT refresh server system, look into SSD system and that can give you the lowest initial purchasing cost and also the ongoing operating cost saving from the power you know saving payout.

Tom Raftery: Steven, that?s been great. Thanks a million.

Steven Peng: Alright, thank you Tom.

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