Good-bye -- and good riddance -- to spinning disk

Life will be much improved after we've cast off the shackles of ancient storage technology

A few weeks back I wrote about the need for widespread, ultra-high-speed broadband Internet and how unforeseen technologies, companies, and entire industries would exist if only we had a critical mass of 100Mbps or gigabit Internet connections. Sadly, many people don't understand this. It's the same shortsightedness that led to the thinking that 640K of RAM was enough for anyone or that the world needed only four or five computers.

Along those same lines, it's becoming clear that within a decade, we may find ourselves in a post-storage world. By this I do not mean a world that lacks any form of persistent storage, but a world devoid of the painfully outdated yet ubiquitous spinning disk.

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I've been saying for years that modern servers should completely dispense with local disk. Imagine a completely redesigned server platform that has no facilities for local disk at all: no cages, no additional fans or cooling apparatus meant to deal with hot spinning drives. The option of booting from a 1.8-inch SSD or an SD card or via PXE or Fibre Channel or iSCSI is far better than relying on the dinosaurs of IT, the local hard drive. The rise of concepts like VMware's software-defined data center will move IT in that direction due to the simplicity and reduction in cost and administration. As we lose the concept of fixed-purpose servers, we also dispense with the notion of local storage in its entirety.

Here in the first few weeks of 2013, we've already seen terabyte SSDs hit the market for under $600. This capacity and price point were unthinkable even a few years ago. The performance and reliability of SSDs continue to increase, year after year, and it's not hard to envision extremely affordable, blazingly fast, and ultrareliable SSD storage arrays that all but eliminate many of the classic problems presented by spinning disk.

Yes, you can outfit traditional storage arrays with SSDs right now, but the capacities are much smaller than spinning disk, and the cost is prohibitive in many cases. This has led to the development of tiering technologies that make the best use of SSD, SAS, and SATA disks based on workload profiling. But those technologies are end runs around the problem of spinning disk offering large capacities for lower prices, albeit with a significant performance and maintenance reduction.

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