Data Centers Love Flash Storage
March 7, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you haven’t thought about adding flash storage to your Power Systems-IBM i box, perhaps now is a good time to start thinking about it, despite the high cost of this very fast storage that sits somewhere in speed between disk drives and main memory. Your peers sure are buying this stuff.
SandForce, which makes controllers for the NAND-based solid state drives (SSDs) that IBM has been selling with its Power7-based servers since last year, said last month that it has shipped over one million SSD processors, the company’s name for its flash drive controllers, since they debuted earlier in 2010. The company estimates that this represents over 100 PB (that’s not peanut butter, but petabytes) of aggregate SSD capacity.
These shipments were for the SF-1200 and SF-1500 modules, and the company is hoping that the introduction of the SF-2500 and SF-2500 modules will ramp up even faster. The new SandForce flash memory controllers support 1.5, 3, and 6 GB/sec SATA interfaces, have native AES-128 encryption, and can support SSD memory modules of 512 GB in size. The controllers support MLC, eMLC, and SLC flash memory, and depending on the controller, support sector sizes of 512, 520, 524, and 528 bytes. (The OS/400 and IBM i platform uses a 520 byte format.)
Fusion-io, another IBM server partners, says it has over 2,000 customers and has shipped over 15 PB of actual flash memory that is in use at customer sites today, accelerating database and server performance. That is the ship rate for the past 12 months as of the end of January.
Despite the cost, there is an appetite for this flash storage. And I understand perfectly well why. When I got a new desktop workstation last year–a real workstation, and my first one since my Dell Precision workstation from 1998–I only shopped for machines that offered SSD support for the primary OS drive. I was getting tired of using a laptop with its limited capacity and I/O as my desktop. That left Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and a bunch of whitebox vendors as my only real options. (I could build it myself, but I am too busy to do my own tech support. Been there, spent the decade doing that.) Dell was offering such deep discounts back in December that I could get a very expensive machine for a very reasonable price–even with a 256 GB SSD as the primary OS drive and a 1 TB disk as the data drive. The machine, which is a single-socket Xeon box with a killer ATI graphics card, has made me more productive just because when I hit the On button, the machine is actually on, fully loaded, in a few seconds. No kidding.