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RIP high-speed disk

21 Feb 2013

It’s a brave man who strolls up and announces the death of something which has remained fundamental to computing since the 1950s, but that didn’t scare NetApp’s Matt Swinbourne.

The systems engineer boldly declares that mechanical disk – the high speed versions, at least – is dead. But what killed it? Flash.

Before we get into Swinbourne’s high-octane rantings, let’s first take a look at that other casualty of the fast-moving data storage industry. You know what’s coming next: tape.

Since as far back as around 2000, the news of tape’s death has been greatly exaggerated. That’s because the bloody stuff, for all its foibles, just persists in hanging around in dank data centre dungeons year in and year out.

So what gives, Mr. S?

“It’s simple economics. To achieve the data throughput performance of a single flash-based disc, you’d need several hundred high-speed disks working together,” says Swinbourne.

Nice bombshell. And there’s more fancy economics, or rather economies, too. Of scale.

Like many things in the IT industry, what was once heinously expensive soon becomes almost laughably cheap as economies of scale kick in and products become commoditised.

We’ve seen that happen with hard drives, big ones of which can be had for the price of a couple days’ grocieries.

So too with flash disk; the stuff is popping up everywhere, from enterprise arrays through to PCs and of course those gadgets you stick into your USB port.

Remember how expensive they once were? No, we don’t either, that’s how long ago it was that anyone in the IT industry actually paid for one.

Where high-speed and high-throughput is required in tiered storage environments, flash beats spinning disk where it matters most: cost/performance.

When an economic reason for killing something is advanced, expect CIOs, with the blessing of their CFOs, to sharpen the knife.

*Hot on the heels of Swinbourne’s obituary for high-speed disk, NetApp has announced the first product in its all-flash line: the EF540 flash array. It provides >300,000 IOPS, submillisecond latency, and 6GBps throughput. Useful for building an all-flash array or serving as an intelligent caching device, it provides performance which can be achieved by the combined work of 1,000 15k drives in 2U.

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