Deleting Your Hard Drives – Entering a Green Data Center Future of SSDs

For those of us old-timers who muscled 9-track tapes on 10 ft tall on Burroughs B-3500 mainframe computers tape drives, with a total storage capacity of about 5 kilobytes, the idea of sticking a 64 gigabyte SD memory chip into my laptop computer is pretty cosmic.

Disk DriveTerms like PCAM (punch card adding machines) are no longer part of the taxonomy of information technology, nor would any young person in the industry comprehend the idea of a disk platter or disk pack.

Skipping a bit ahead, we find a time when you could purchase an IBM “XT” computer with an integrated 10 megabyte hard drive. No more reliance on 5.25″ or later 3.5″ floppy disks. Hard drives evolved to the point “Fryes” will pitch you a USB or home network 1 terabyte drive for about $100.

Enter the SSD

October 2009 brings us to the point hard drives are now becoming a compromise solution. The SSD (Solid State Disk) has jumped on the data center stage. With MySpace’s announcement they are replacing all 1770 of their existing disk drive-based server systems with higher capacity SSDs, and quoted that SSDs use only 1% of the power required by disk drives, data center rules are set to change again.

SSDs are efficient. If you read press releases and marketing material supporting SSD sales you will hear numbers like:

  • “…single-server performance levels with 1.5GB/sec. throughput and almost 200,000 IOPS
  • … a 320GB ioDrive can fill a 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet pipe
  • … four ioDrive Duos in a single server can scale linearly, which provides up to 6GB/sec. of read bandwidth and more than 500,000 read IOPS (

This means not only are you saving power per server, you are also able to pack a multiple of existing storage capacity into the same space as currently possible with traditional disk systems. As clusters of SSDs become possible through additional tech development of parallel systems, we need to mentally get our heads around the concept of a three dimensional storage system, rather than a linear systems used today.

The concept of RAID and tape backup systems may also become obsolete, as SSDs hold their images when primary power is removed.

Now companies like MySpace will be in a really great position to re-negotiate their data center and colocation deals, as their actual energy and space requirements will potentially be a fraction of existing installations. Even considering their growth potential, the reduction in actual power and space will no doubt give them more leverage to use in the data center agreements.

Why? Data center operators are now planning their unit costs and revenues based on power sales and consumption. If a company like MySpace is able to reduce their power draw by 30% or more, this represents a potentially huge opportunity cost to the data center in space and power sales. Advantage goes to the tenant.

The Economics of SSDs

Today, the cost of SSDs is slightly higher than traditional disk systems. Even with fiber channel or Infiniband supporting large disk (SAN or NAS) installations. According to Yahoo Tech the cost of an SSD is about 4 times that of a traditional disk. However they also indicate that cost is quickly dropping, and we will probably see near parity within the next 3~4 years.

Now, if we remember the claim MySpace made that with the SSD migration they will consume only 1% of the power used by traditional disk (that is only the disk, not the entire chassis or server enclosure). If you look through a great white paper (actually it is called a “Green Paper”) provided by you will see that implementation of their SSD systems in a large disk farm of 250 servers (components include main memory, 4xnet cache, 4x tier 1/2/3 storage, tape storage) you will see a reduction from 146.6kw to 32kw for the site.

Data centers can charge anywhere from $120~$225/kw, showing that we could potentially, if you believe the marketing material, see a savings of $20,000/month @ $180/kw. This would also represent 47 tons of carbon, using the Carbon Footprint Calculator.

Fusion .io reminds us that

“In 2006, U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy, which accounted for about 1.5% of the total electricity consumed in the U.S. that year, up from 1.2% in 2005. The total cost of that energy consumption was $4.5 billion, which is more than the electricity consumed by all color televisions in the country and is equivalent to the electricity consumption of about 5.8 million average U.S. households.

• Data centers’ cooling infrastructure accounts for about half of that electricity consumption.

• If current trends continue, by 2011, data centers will consume 100 billion kWh of energy, at a total annual cost of $7.4 billion and would necessitate the construction of 10 additional power plants. (from “Taming the Power Hungry Data Center”)”

When we consider the potential impact of data center consolidation through use of virtualization and cloud computing, and the rapid advancements of SSD technologies and capacities, we may be able to make a huge positive impact by reducing the load Internet, entertainment, content delivery, and enterprise systems will have on our use of electricity – and subsequent impact on the environment.

Of course we need to keep our eyes on the byproducts of technology (e-Waste), and ensure making improvements in one area does not create a nightmare in another part of our environment.

Some Additional Resources

StorageSearch.Com has a great listing of current announcements and articles both following and describing the language of the SSD technology and industry. There is still a fair amount of discussion on the quality and future direction of SSDs, however the future does look very exciting and positive.

For those of us who can still read the Hollerith coding on punch cards, the idea of >1.25TB on and SSD is abstract. But abstract in a fun, exciting way.

How do you feel about the demise of disk? Too soon to consider? Ready to install?

John Savageau, Long Beach

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

6 Responses to Deleting Your Hard Drives – Entering a Green Data Center Future of SSDs

  1. Jameson says:

    I personally think we are at least 24 months, or more away from seeing SSD prevalance in the data center. We need to keep in mind that traditional spinning platters have seen a bump in performance (due to increased platter density and higher rotational speeds and more intelligent firmware) and the fact is that there is still margin on spinning disks, that can be shed (somewhat) to fight off the invading SSDs. The most compelling argument for traditional hdds is that capacity will be far, far more inexpensive per GB than SSDs.

    I would anticpate (what IMHO is) a natural segmentation whereby SSDs will be used in high IO applications such as DB servers, etc. and HDDs will be used primarily in large storage arrays. The move to 32 and ultimately 22nm processes at the fabs will be interesting in packing the densities higher…..but I think the long term solution for SSDs will be to add more chips and not increase the density. Doing so will necessitate intelligent wear-leveling at the controller level as well as advanced stuff like TRIM.

    Exciting tech for sure, but short of faster boot times and scorching DB performance….I don’t expect to see too many High Def video files of ‘the office’ sitting on SSDs…for a while anyway.

    • johnsavageau says:

      I think the pricing issue is still pretty real, except that if you are able to reduce the eletrical draw to the point indicated in the MySpace articles and vendor documentation it might pay for itself quicker than anticipated.

      Also looking at how quickly SSDs are scaling, and the complete integration of SSD i/o into what used to be disk-based SANs and NAS, it is becoming obvious that spinning disks may have some competition.

      I also have this sick vision of SSDs being scaled in not a linear form, but in a 4 dimensional form – assuming there is no inherent I/O limitation or reason why SSDs cannot interconnect at more than one dimension.

      In my mid-50ish semi-fossilized mind there is also a thought limitation on being able to separate in thick black lines the difference between processors, system memory, SSDs, and other levels of interconnection.

      When will we see Brocade come out with a card that fits into the layer 2 switch which makes fiber channel over Ethernet obsolete? Just plug a 10TB SSD card into the switch, and configure it as cloud storage capacity. Make that part of an Internet exchange point, and then CDNs will no longer need to support disk systems in data centers.

      I wish I was 40 years younger so I could see what is going to happen in 20 years…..

  2. vburke says:

    The numbers I’ve seen for the MySpace 320GB PCIe SSDs is $7K each, 2 in each server for a total of $14K per server. If they’re gaining $20K per month, they’re going to have a hard time paying that back before the servers are ready for refresh.


    • johnsavageau says:

      The only numbers I had to go on were the numbers in their press release. However my calculations on the power, the cost they would normally pay for disk systems, the cost savings in data center cabinet space required to house the smaller form factor – all still looks pretty attractive to me.

      Here is a link to the original article that piqued my interest:

      Most comments I have received still mention the cost as a limiting item when considering SSD implementations. I personally would have considered quality and potentailly failure rates as a bigger concern – but that just goes to show it is good to listen!

      Thanks for the comment

  3. Sam Leach says:

    “Data centers can charge anywhere from $120~$225/kw”. These number sound very wrong. The average cost for per kilowatt-hour of electricity in the US is $0.10. That would be a 1700x markup. Throw in cooling, etc. and MAYBE you get 10x the average cost … “$120~$225/kw” needs clarification.

    Also, note a disc drive uses about 10-15 watts per hour (that is watts not kilowatts). 12.5 watts/drive is only about 9 kwh/month/drive or ~$1/month/drive.

    A typical high end server uses about 15x that for the processor, memory, etc. So the storage is a small part of the overall carbon foot print and electrical costs.

    • johnsavageau says:

      Sam – in the old days in locations such as Los Angeles, the going rate for power was at the breakered amp, and we charged (I come from the data center community) $10/amp. At 120v, at 20 amps (even considering the NEC limitation) that would run $200/month. 208 or 208Y would have an additional charge.

      20*120= 2400 wats, or 2.4kwH. The going rate adds a premium to accomodate the cost of air-conditioning, UPS, and other associated mechanical/electrical equipment management and support for the individual breaker.

      Now most data centers have moved from breakered amps to usage-based billing. There is a bit of premium added due to the loss of static revenue generated from the breakered amp.

      Many users would get a 20 amp breaker, pay for the entire breaker, and only use a small fraction of the breaker.

      For an industrial user in LA you will get around $.09/kw as a raw price.

      Every city is of course different, with Washington (state) and Virginia being amoung the least expensive locations for power.

      Hawaii ($.29/kwH), New York, Washington DC, and Chicago tend to run much higher.

      So in short, you are not only paying fort the power used, but the entire mechanical/electrical infrastructure asupporting the power.

      Hope that helps


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