Traditionally, enterprise storage systems have relied on hard drives to store data. Because their data is written to a circular platter using an actuator arm that moves back and forth across the disk, hard drives take longer to write and read data than solid-state devices, which can write and read to any location equally as quickly.
To boost hard-drive performance, some organizations stripe, or span, data across multiple disks in order to improve performance, leaving most of each disk empty. This approach speeds system responsiveness because a drive's actuator arm doesn't have to travel across the entire disk to write or read data. But this approach drives up the costs because it requires more hard drives, as well as the associated cost of electricity, space and IT management to keep the disks running.
Solid-state disks have been available for more than a decade, though they have cost more than hard drives and still can't offer the full capacity of hard drives, on a per-disk basis. The prices have been declining, though, as more are used in consumer devices such as smartphones and cameras.
And Mills made the argument that the industry is seeing a tipping point, where flash disks can be just as inexpensive as hard drives.
Right now, generic hard drives cost about $2 per gigabyte, he said. An enterprise hard drive will cost about $4 per gigabyte, and a high-performance hard drive will run about $6 per gigabyte. If an organization stripes its data across more disks for better performance, the cost goes up to about $10 per gigabyte. In some cases, where performance is critical, hard-drive costs can skyrocket to $30 or $50 per gigabyte. A solid state disk from IBM runs about $10 per gigabyte and can be filled to capacity, so they actually are less expensive in many cases, Mills argued.
Also, other economical benefits accrues with using solid-state drives. One is that they consume less electricity. While today most IT managers do not have to worry about how much electricity their systems consume, this may be changing. One IBM customer who spoke at the presentation, Sprint Director of IT Operations Karim Abdullah, noted that his company has mandated that he cut electricity use of his operations by 1.5 percent month over month. Abdullah is using solid-state disks to cut power costs and improve system performance.
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