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New IBM SSD Drives Adds Some Smarts

IBM has introduced new solid state drives (SSDs) for its enterprise servers that add something long-missing to SSDs: intelligence. New management software can improve performance up to eight-fold and reduce, IBM said, while reducing the amount of storage needed by 80 percent and power consumption by 90 percent.

Up to now, the assumption with SSDs has been simply to put them in place of a hard disk and they will function just like one. That may work in an iPhone or laptop, but in the enterprise, it's not such a good idea. The notion that SSDs can replace high speed hard drives, drives that spin at 10,000 or 15,000 RPM, is running into performance obstacles.

"Today, SSD is not a replacement for high speed drives," Charlie Andrews, director of dynamic infrastructure marketing at IBM (NYSE: IBM) told InternetNews.com. "If the costs come down, who knows, but we're not there yet. Today it does sit between memory and the disk."

So IBM put the flash drive between memory and permanent storage. It added management software called IBM Data Facility Storage Management Subsystem (DFSMS), which provides for targeted data placement on the SSDs in an IBM zSeries mainframes and the DS8000 storage system.

The software has the intelligence to recognize frequently-accessed data, which would benefit from the read speed of SSD drives, from infrequently-accessed data, which is moved off to standard hard disks. This intelligence, not unlike the caching in a CPU, manages the data most needed, rather than just throwing everything on the flash drive.

"If you just randomly slap data out there, and if you need just one percent of that data but throw everything on the SSD, the odds of you finding it are pretty slim," said Andrews. "You need more automation of what goes on the SSD and at the basic level, visualize the performance characteristics of the data and recognize what would benefit from being stored on an SSD."

Better workload balancing

IBM's analytics software recognizes data that will likely be accessed frequently, or it automatically notices data being accessed a lot, and keeps that on the SSD. This means better workload balancing, reduced wear on the SSD and less power draw.

"The whole concept of intelligent managing of the information is a topic that hasn't been discussed enough. Most SSD discussion has been around 'here's the technology, it's really fast and it's in our box.' That's not delivering client value," said Andrews.

Bob Merritt, principal analyst with Convergent Semiconductors, which follows the memory industry, agrees that vendors need to make SSD's "more cache-like. There are some software changes and software modifications that have to be made, but I think these things like IBM and Schooner and even Spansion with their EchoRam are finding possibilities for other technologies," he said.

That means changing the current view of system architecture, added Merritt. "One has to look at it from a high-level system point of view to ask 'where don't we have to erase and rewrite a lot?' It's a realization of where we can use a different kind of technology in a more efficient way. We never had to before, so we didn't look," he added.