NetApp this week began to enhance its solid-state disk strategy. I have been critical of traditional storage suppliers' efforts in trying to incorporate SSD into their overall storage offerings. This time someone is finally getting close.The challenge has been that SSD is being viewed as a game changer offering 30X performance. Inserting this technology into systems that were designed for comparatively clunky mechanical drives caused a number of problems, not the least of which was it did not enable the technology to deliver its full performance promise. That's critical because of the cost premium compared with the mechanical offering. If you're going to pay extra to get a 30X performance boost, only getting a 15X boost can be disappointing.
Where most of the major manufacturers miss the point on SSD is that it's application-specific storage, designed and purchased to enhance the performance of a specific application with a relatively small capacity requirement yet a huge level of importance to the revenue generation of the organization. This is the opposite of what traditional storage manufacturers commonly provide: universal storage for all applications. Yes, it can be tweaked and fine-tuned, but as a percentage the overall system delivers roughly the same performance to every application storing data on it.
What NetApp did right is it has segmented the nonmoving parts of its storage away from the mechanical spindles. First with its Performance Acceleration Module (PAM), it has a cost-effective solution to handle random read workloads like file services or Exchange. The second thing it did right was leverage its vFiler Technology and partner with Texas Memory Systems for environments that have random I/O workloads like database applications and HPC environments.
The critical components of this decision is it segmented mechanical moving storage away from solid-state storage and partnered with an organization with years, actually decades, of experience delivering solid-state technology. In doing so, NetApp is still able to deliver cost-effective enclosures that are well suited for mechanical technology while at the same time have an optimized path for the high-speed solid-state technology.
Outside of PAM, the key is that vFiler can leverage other disk manufacturers and, in this case, totally different technology, which means that, for NAS solutions, companies like ONStor and BlueArc can offer an independent SSD channel. For raw block storage support of SSD, you can just attach it to your SAN and manage it separately or leverage a virtualization solution like DataCore's SAN Symphony to have a unified management umbrella.
Either way we're starting to see suppliers get it. The SSD channel has to be independent of the mechanical drive channel. Mixing the two technologies into the same shelf or bus will deliver less-than-desirable results.
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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.