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Sep 20 2019

Death of Enterprise SAS drives

In the past 5 years, SSD prices have fallen and their overall acceptance and reliability have gone up multifold. At the same time traditional spinning drives have seen marginal growth in capacities, speeds or performance. While the latter continues to be reliable and stable, I see we are at an inflection point where customers as well as vendors are going to migrate to Flash at a rapid pace.

Though there are SAS drives that spin at 15,000 rpm providing much better performance over their slower siblings which clock 7200 rpm and 10,000 rpm, they have proven to be less reliable. In fact vendors such as Netapp has even removed them from their offerings a few years back.

Are SAS drives spinning at 10k rpm in line for extinction? Well more or less. I am only able to see just one market requirement they may continue to address, which SSD (Flash) still may not make the best sense. That’s in select systems such as parallel File Systems where you need a large throughput.At the same time SSD capacities have reached 30 TB. And unlike spinning drives which at higher capacities tend to be slower, larger SSD drives are generally faster than their smaller cousins.

With technologies such as NVMe and the new u.2 interface, creating consistent iOPs in excess of 100,000 is easily achieved with just one drive. And there are drives already shipping which can scale up to a million IOPs.For the longest time, customers stayed away from Flash because of exorbitant costs. Today the prices of an enterprise SAS drive clocking 15k rpm and an enterprise Flash drive are very close, than no one should be buying another SAS drive.Nearline SAS technology where larger capacities are achieved should be around for a longer time. There are specific use cases where these drives will be in demand.

Among major SSD manufacturers it looks like Intel, Samsung, Western Digital among others are fast abandoning the SATA interface drives are trying to move the standards to NVMe. Spokespeople of Western Digital have gone on record to state so publicly.

However, at Netzary we still see huge demand for SATA based SSD drives. We are urging our customers not to throw out their old servers, and look at merely moving their SAS drives to Enterprise SSD SATA and see three to four times performance improvement. And we are promising that at the same cost at which you would buy 10k or 15k rpm drives from a vendor such as HP or Dell.

However, there’s little doubt that NVMe is the future of Flash. They offer roughly 3 times the performance of traditional SATA based SSD drives. However present costs means there’s a significant gap between SATA based SSD and NVMe.

By 2020, I believe most server manufacturers would start shipping entry level servers with Enterprise Flash drives. Present cost of a 500GB /1 TB SATA Enterprise SATA drive is less than Rs 5000 ($70), and I see the cost of 960 GB SSD SATA at the same range by mid 2020.
In my humble opinion future servers will have SSD SATA at entry level, and NVMe drives for mainstream and high performance. In select cases where large capacities are required with lesser performance, Nearline SAS will be the answer.

In other news, Netzary has started building custom server and storage boxes based on superbly crafted hardware from Super Micro. We are currently shipping an All Flash micro storage with RAID 10 enabled providing 4 TB of usable storage for as low as Rs 225,000 with all SAN/NAS protocols supported. This can serve  an organization of upto 200 users comfortably. And at Rs 4,00,000 we are offering a 12 TB Flash server.


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