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SSDs, Velocity and the Rate of Change

The rate of change in a mathematical equation can vary immensely

The rate of change in a mathematical equation can vary immensely based upon the equation and the inputs to the equation. Certainly the rate of change for f(x) = x^2 is a far different picture than the rate of change for f(x)=2x, for example. The old adage “the only constant is change” is absolutely true in high tech. The definition of “high” in tech changes every time something becomes mainstream.

You’re working with tools and systems that even ten years ago were hardly imaginable. You’re carrying a phone that Alexander Graham Bell would not recognize – or know how to use. You have tablets with the power that was not so long ago only held by mainframes.

image But that change did not occur overnight. Apologies to iPhone fans, but all the bits Apple put together to produce the iPhone had existed before, Apple merely had the foresight to see how they could be put together in a way customers would love.

The changes happen over time, and we’re in the midst of them, sometimes that’s difficult to remember. Sometimes that’s really easy to remember, as our brand-new system or piece of architecture gives us headaches. Depends upon the day.

Image generated at Cool Math

So what is coming of age right now? Well, SSDs for one. They’re being deployed in the numbers that were expected long ago, largely because prices have come down far enough to make them affordable. We offer an SSD option for some of our systems these days, and since the stability of our products is of tantamount to our customers’ interests, we certainly aren’t out there on the cutting edge with this development. They’re stable enough for mission critical use, and the uptick in sales reflects that fact.

If you have a high-performance application that relies upon speedy database access, you might look into them. There are a lot of other valid places to deploy SSDs – Tier one for example – but a database is an easy win. If access times are impacting application performance, it is relatively easy to drop in an SSD drive and point the DB (cache or the whole DB) at them, speeding performance of every application that relies on that DBMS.

That’s an equation that is pretty simple to figure out, even if the precise numbers are elusive. Faster disk access = faster database response times = faster applications. That is the same type of equation that led us to offer SSDs for some of our products. They sit in the network between data and the applications that need the data. Faster is better, assuming reliability, which after years of tweaking and incremental development, SSDs offer.

Another place to consider SSDs is in your virtual environment. If you have twenty VMs on a server, and two of them have high disk access requirements, putting SSDs into place will lighten the load on the overall system simply by reducing the blocking time waiting for disk responses.

While there are some starting to call for SSDs everywhere, remember that there were some who said cloud computing meant no one should ever build out a datacenter again also. The price of HDs has gone down with the price of SSDs pushing them from the top, so there is still a significant cost differential, and frankly, a lot of applications just don’t need the level of performance that SSDs offer.

imageThe final place I’ll offer up for SSDs is if you are implementing storage tiering such as that available through our ARX product. If you have high-performance NAS needs, placing an SSD array as tier one behind a tiering device can significantly speed access to the files most frequently used. And that acceleration is global to the organization. All clients/apps that access the data receive the performance boost, making it another high-gain solution.

Will we eventually end up in a market where old-school HDDs are a thing of the past and we’re all using SSDs for everything? I honestly can’t say. We have plenty of examples in high-tech where as demand went down, the older technology started to cost more because margins plus volume equals profit. Tube monitors versus LCDs, a variety of memory types, and even big old HDDs – the 5.25 inch ones. But the key is whether SDDs can fulfill all the roles of HDDs, and whether you and I believe they can. That has yet to be seen, IMO. The arc of price reduction for both HDDs and SSDs plays in there also – if quality HDDs remain cheaper, they’ll remain heavily used. If they don’t, that market will get eaten by SSDs just because all other things being roughly equal, speed wins.

It’s an interesting time. I’m trying to come up with a plausible use for this puppy just so I can buy one and play with it. Suggestions are welcome, our websites don’t have enough volume to warrant it, and this monster for laptop backups would be extreme – though it would shorten my personal backup window ;-).

OCZ Technology 1 TB SSD.

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Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.