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Data Storage

Is It Time to Replace Your RAID Storage With SSDs?

Over the years, many mainstream strategies have emerged to avoid enterprise data loss; redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAID) is but one of them. Despite these developments, a thorough examination of enterprise data storage in the modern era will reveal that solid state drives (SSDs) are increasingly indispensable to storage strategies.

What Is RAID?

RAID is a storage protocol that defines how disk controllers view a pool of disks and controls how data is read from and written to the disks in that collection. The intention is generally, with some exceptions, to make sure data integrity and availability are top priorities. An SSD is a type of individual drive that uses memory instead of spinning magnetic platters to store data.

In the past, RAID installations had dual priorities: to protect data and to squeeze more performance, as measured in input/output operations per second (IOPS), out of a storage subsystem on a server or high class workstation. Some RAID schemes do improve storage performance over and above the speed characteristics you would get from individual drives, whereas others add capacity by stringing together individual drives, or protecting the integrity of data by striping it across multiple volumes, which reduces the overall capacity of the storage solution (because some data has to be mirrored or otherwise written twice) while increasing the ability of the whole storage stack to survive a drive failing.

Understanding SSD Endurance and Over-Provisioning

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RAID was important because drives in the past were almost exclusively mechanical and failed not necessarily often, but relatively consistently over a drive’s life. Since there were many moving parts within the drive, its life was shorter and one could not predict when those parts would fail; therefore, protecting data against these failures with RAID was step one in an important battle.

RAID’s Importance Is Shifting

As SSDs have become more mainstream and enterprises migrate their storage workloads, legacy spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) are making up a smaller and smaller part of the changing storage picture. After all, SSDs are an order of magnitude or two faster than traditional media, and their maximum capacities now rival where traditional HDDs have been all along. And while SSDs can and do wear out, their lives are much longer than legacy disk drives as well, making their in-service dates much more predictable.

Suffice it to say that RAID’s place in enterprise storage has changed, for the following reasons:

  • SSDs are tremendously reliable — much more so than legacy HDDs — thus making failure of any given drive in a RAID system much less likely.
  • Software-defined storage options exist that work differently than RAID, and that don’t require expensive RAID controllers with expensive battery backups, but still allow you to protect against data loss in the event of drive failure.
  • In a time where server-based computing is trying to become simpler and more abstract, complicating the storage subsystem with further RAID controllers adds cost, and perhaps more importantly, another possible failure point.

Many folks choose to use RAID 1, which is drive mirroring, with SSDs alongside other software-defined storage solutions and — critically — a robust, layered approach to data backups. In this configuration, data is written identically to two separate disks by the hardware controller, so if one drive goes bad, the data exists in its entirety on the other drive. While you do not get to use the extra capacity of the second drive, it does provide automatic data loss protection from a drive loss at essentially no performance cost, and a better backup scheme protects against other threats like accidental deletion, ransomware infections and the like.

SSDs in the Future

As storage is increasingly condensed — consider the terabytes upon terabytes of storage solutions a cloud provider must have — vendors are beginning to think about other types of redundancy within storage, including hybrid flash arrays and multinode solutions that provide redundancy not only at a drive level, but at the individual flash chip level. This removes the failure point of the RAID controller from the equation. There are also technologies like erasure coding, where data is split out and written to different chips in a redundant fashion, and new flavors of RAID that are designed with modern components in mind.

In addition, enterprise class SSDs from Samsung are designed for long-term service. These drives are built with Samsung V-NAND technology, making them optimal for 24/7 data center operations under heavy workloads. Samsung SSDs employ end-to-end protection to maintain data integrity across the entire transfer path. The Power Loss Protection feature stores data in the write cache so nothing is lost in an unexpected shutdown. The SSD also tracks its own temperature with the Dynamic Thermal Guard algorithm to prevent shutdown from overheating.

All of this combines to make drive loss — and thus data loss — a very remote occurrence, even as SSDs expand their role as an enterprise workhorse.

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Jonathan Hassell

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Jonathan Hassell

Jonathan Hassell is an award-winning writer specializing in enterprise information technology, including administration, security, and mobile. His work has appeared in Computerworld, CIO.com, Network World, and dozens of other publications.

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