SSDs and the Cloud
From time to time I become involved in discussions about where SSDs are making an impact in the consumer market and what I think is going to happen. The biggest knock that I hear about SSDs making serious inroads is: Consumers buy computers based on specs, most just won’t accept a computer with less storage at the same price as one that has more. The details on the SSD benefits are lost on this mainstream market and disks can maintain a price per GB advantage for a long time in the future.
I attended a marketing presentation by David Kenyon from AMD recently and he pointed out something about computer marketing trends that I found insightful. The use of specs as a computer differentiator is becoming less prominent. The look and feel and the fitness for a particular use case are becoming more important selling points. The reduced prominence of specs started when the clock rates of CPUs stopped being promoted and instead the family name and model number were used. If you look at Apple products, it is hard to even find the specs until after you have selected the make you want and are trying to decide on a model.
Part of the shift towards use case based computing is a fragmentation of computing resources into multiple devices. People have many devices – laptops, work desktops, home desktops, tablets, and smart phones. Having devices that are accessible and convenient for a particular use is a wonderful thing. But there is one major headache that comes with this – having access to your data from a particular device that you would like to use is a pain. A Kindle is great to dive into a book on a quiet afternoon, but it is relatively inconvenient to take with you all the time. Being able to pull out a smartphone in a waiting room and pick up reading where you had left off is what people want. Multiple device shared access has already happened with email and it is just a matter of time until the rest of private data goes the same route. The access to data without physical device dependence is what cloud storage is all about.
So what does this have to do with SSDs? Besides the lower prominence of specs, using more and more devices makes it clear that having a bunch of storage on any particular device just isn’t valuable. The data needs to be accessible from the other devices. Consumers are not going the go through the hard work of setting up data synchronization though. They will eventually pay to have it done for them, by whoever wins a monopoly over access to user’s data – Microsoft, Google, Facebook, or someone new. Soon, their data is going to end up in a datacenter somewhere that all of the devices can access. There may be a full copy of everything on the computer at home, but even this could fall by the wayside. In this environment, having a disk in any of the devices is just crazy. This is simply because at low capacities, SSDs are cheaper than disks! They are also higher performance, lower power, and have a malleable form factor.
There has to be a pretty robust high-speed network available almost everywhere for this to work, but that is clearly not that far off. Once the network is in place the service offerings and vendors will coalesce to develop a clear standard and price model. At that point consumer disks will move to the datacenter. This may sound like too much complexity to occur quickly, but the benefits that come from easy access to your data and the profits that will be bestowed on the vendor that becomes the gatekeeper are just too great to prevent it from happening.
If this framework develops, the total disk capacity will grow more slowly as the efficiencies that have developed in the enterprise storage arena are brought to bear – just in time provisioning, deduplication, and compression. (Just imagine how much unused capacity is isolated on all of the disks in the consumer computers today.) In the not too distant future, having a disk in your computing device will be the exception to the norm.
An aside on cloud computing frameworks, data, and network bandwidth
The biggest issue with cloud storage is the network bandwidth. I don’t mean to suggest network bandwidth needs to be high enough to use cloud storage remotely – that may never happen. Today, the data in successful cloud services is being fragmented by application. Keeping the data and the compute resources close gives a big benefit in reducing the network traffic needed for processing. The drawback is that data behind the scenes is handled differently by each service provider and managing credentials for each separate service is difficult. In effect it is creating a data management nightmare for the user. This fragmentation is bad for users – they want an easy way to access and control all of the data that belongs to them.
The efficiency of having the data near the compute resource is huge, but there is no real reason that the data has to fragment and move to the service providers. With the proper cloud computing framework, the applications could just as easily move to the data’s location and run in the same datacenter. This would provide the same benefit but make it easy for the user to see and mange the data that belongs to them. I don’t see an easy way to separate cloud storage from cloud computing – but at the end of the day the data is what everything else depends on and frameworks have to account for this.