Monday, March 4, 2013

Storage Memory Tipping Point

The storage tipping point is upon us
Ambuj Goyal 2/27/2013 2:01 AM EST

Keeping pace with the onslaught of Big Data requires a revolutionary approach to storage. It’s well known that the performance of computing has advanced at a much faster rate than the systems that store and retrieve the information they generate.

For many, this game of catch-up has existed since the first digital storage systems were introduced more than 50 years ago. At the time, the concern was no longer about the performance of computing, but about creating a digital storage system that could keep up with it.

Thus began the subsequent watershed moves from paper punch cards to magnetic tape and then hard disk drives—moments that revolutionized computing and ultimately the world in which we live.

Today we find ourselves at another critical technological juncture that once again is demanding a revolutionary approach to storage—an approach that will help it keep pace with not only computing, but with the information onslaught of Big Data.
To understand where the storage industry is headed, one need only look to the reason that computing has historically outpaced it. Unlike the storage industry, computing has continually leveraged and advanced semiconductor trends while storage systems have remained mechanical, with motorized wheels of tape or spinning disks. In fact, computing shifted from mechanical devices more than a hundred years ago, while digital storage, for the most part, remains tethered to technologies born out of the 1950’s.

Not any longer. We are at the tipping point of a new era of computer storage that will witness entire systems based on flash semiconductor memory to handle fast moving, operational data in real-time. Though flash has been utilized in a variety of capacities over the past 30 years and in hybrid storage systems over the past several years, complete flash systems will dominate the landscape in the coming months and years.

All-flash systems will not only provide exponential performance gains over mechanical and hybrid systems, they will help organizations dramatically lower data center energy consumption rates due to their inherent low power-consuming memory and lack of moving parts—no small feat. According to a 2011 study by Stanford University, data centers account for 2 percent of all the electricity consumed in the U.S.

Improved performance, reliability, and durability

To be sure, such systems will be the storage platform of choice to handle ever-growing and increasingly critical workloads such as credit card processing, stock exchange transactions, manufacturing and order processing systems. Even app stores on the web are starting to use flash-only storage.

Such attributes as improved performance, reliability, and durability make flash systems desirable today, but virtually mandatory for the future. That’s because the tsunami of Big Data shows no sign of receding. Researchers predict that the digital universe—all the digital information created around the world—will hit 8 zettabytes by 2015. That’s about all the data found in the U.S. Library of Congress times 800 million.

Today we find ourselves at a tipping point of computer storage, once again, where the challenges of computing are no longer at issue but, rather the storing and retrieving of the information they generate and share.

Through our acquisition of Texas Memory Systems last fall, we have systems that can store almost 24 terabytes of storage in a unit the size of a pizza box, and that provide access to data 100 times faster than mechanical storage. If we were to stack 42 such pizza boxes in a rack, it would provide 1 petabyte of storage, which is more storage than any single operational application requires.
The industry is moving rapidly in the direction of all-flash storage for operational information. Such systems will not only help organizations respond to, and exploit the challenges of Big Data today and tomorrow, but once again will change the future of computing and the possibly the world along with it.
Ambuj Goyal is general manager of IBM System Storage & Networking.

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