Businesses face significant challenges as they expand services and address business needs through competitive advantages while trying to reduce IT costs at the same time. This is especially true in this economy. The CEO requirements include such areas as driving revenue growth, containing costs and increasing business responsiveness to changes. CI/Os are challenged to support these through alignment of IT and business goals in a cost-effective manner, while building responsiveness and agility into the organization through IT.

From an IT perspective, we must support this not only more efficiently, but with less physical infrastructure. At the same time, we must provide solutions that are drastically faster, cheaper and most critically business agile by being able to react to unpredictable questions and make smarter business decisions.  Leveraging new innovations in IT is one of the most cost-effective ways to meet business needs. And, in response to this, research organizations have been investing heavily in new disruptive technologies within both software and hardware around business intelligence and data warehouse appliances. The goal is to change the game around appliances to allow data consolidation for business agility with better performance, especially around cross-sell and up-sell across subject areas. More importantly, these technologies should reduce cost through floor space and power requirements while performing faster than traditional appliance approaches today.  One key innovation that helps tremendously in achieving these goals is solid state disks (SSDs). They have reached a point in maturity that allows mainstream adoption, addressing a critical limiting factor in data warehouse appliances presented by hard disk disks (HDDs) today.

Traditional Built Appliances

Traditional appliances are based on current state enterprise technology including HDDs.  With HDDs used in warehouse appliances today, heavy restrictions are placed on the vendor appliance designers due to physical moving parts they introduce into the solution, specifically, the spinning disks rotating at a typical speed of 15,000 RPM. These moving parts increase administration costs, limit the I/O capabilities and add a major point of vulnerability while placing additional challenges to the data center power limits. Hence, in order to achieve the business needs mentioned above, appliance vendors are forced to drastically increase the number of HDDs on the order of magnitude more than what we would do otherwise to increase I/O throughput. This adds significant cost of acquisition, and has the side effect of more data movement in the appliance. In addition, it is important to point out that complexity of systems increases exponentially with more moving parts, therefore raising administration costs along with it.

Moreover, this increase in HDDs for disk spindle count to meet I/O demands also results in increased heat generated in the appliance rack(s). This puts requirements on added cooling which have the side effect of increasing the power requirements for the appliances. Today’s data centers are not only being pressured on reducing floor space through consolidation, but also reducing power needs from the data center.

Not only are the increases in HDDs causing challenges in today’s appliances, the greater number of HDDs is also necessitating the need for more I/O controllers, causing another potential bottleneck point feeding the CPUs of the server(s).  In the end, the business driver here is to increase concurrency and responsiveness to business needs on the appliance. To meet demand, I/O throughout of the appliances must drastically increase as the gating factor today. For example, it is now common to see requirements of the business needing to run 1,000s of mining models at the detailed customer level instead of at a segment level.  Today, appliances support this level of complex computation, but more in the tens or 100s of models per day.

The Smart Way of Building Appliances

Driven by the business needs above, there three significant drivers are changing the way we build appliances. The most significant driver is price/performance, while ease of administering the appliance through its life cycle is another key driver. We can always increase the I/O bandwidth boosting performance of current appliances using current HDD technology. The issues then come to appliance price, additional management complexity due to more components, floor space needs and power consumption. Finally, we should not forget about reliability impacted by the collective mean time to failure of all moving parts in the appliance solution as we add more components. As we look into 2009, enterprise Flash technology changes the game with less moving parts and reduced complexity while significantly boosting performance. And accompanied by enhancements in storage class memory, we can then implement enterprise data warehouse appliances with no I/O controllers whatsoever. This brings the complex query computation into the servers of multi-core architecture on new chips versus pushing computation to disks.

SSDs are a core new technology that will bring all these new technologies together. SSD is already introducing serious impacts to the status quo and will challenge the way database vendors build warehousing solutions. It is expected that this technology will be producing game-changing plays in the warehousing appliance market in the very near future.

SSD is based on Flash technology which removes all the traditional requirements that physical moving parts put on appliances. This will revolutionize the architectural design of today's appliances by completely removing the traditional I/O bottleneck. This will be done by removing the requirements for having lots of traditional spinning drives to meet the heavy I/O demands of warehousing applications.  Moreover, it will also remove the need for I/O controllers in typical mid-range warehouse appliances using SCM technology.  As a result, it will address business needs without the side effects experienced with traditional appliances using HDDs.

Not only is Flash technology ready for enterprise play, looking at the business needs and the price-effective architectures possible, it will drastically improve business queries on the order of five to 10 at a minimum. It will reduce management complexity by orders of magnitude, has the potential to reduce floor space requirements on the order of 75 percent as well as also reducing power demands of the appliance on the order of 85 to 90 percent.

SSD will do to HDD what HDD technology did to floppy disk drives (FDDs); as many of us will recall, FDD was a common disk media in the 1970s to late 1990s. But largely, it was superseded by external HDDs as well as USB Flash drives, CD and DVD-ROMs.  As appliance builders, we are driving technology to change the game using Flash technology as the base and building around this for enterprise-class solutions. In addition to hardware changes such as SSD and SCM use of it, we are also driving new relational database management system software changes to exploit these technologies. The RDBMS software changes and end-to-end integration are key elements that will further differentiate between various appliance vendors.

What is Next Beyond SSD?

The CEO and CI/O business needs are heavily impacting current research investment.  Massive multicore architectures are exploiting large distributed memory, which include phase change memory approaches. Furthermore, new software and storage techniques are being explored based on this and other hardware enhancements coming from not only large multicore architectures over massively parallel large memory on commodity hardware, but also exploiting the vector and matrix hardware processing that is now starting to be delivered in commodity hardware.  This type of new technology will further address business requirements while expanding the capabilities and services of data warehouses to meet the ever-growing domain.

One aspect that is not discussed often by warehouse appliances is integration of semi-structured data – this is nonrelationally stored data today.  In fact, 85 percent of a business data is unstructured today. The question will be asked, how do we integrate these, and perform integrated mining and analytics over this integrated data using the same appliance: this is starting to mix the worlds of cloud computing (using open source technology) with traditional RDBMS appliances. 

What does this all mean for the business?

Technology is a key enabler to business, and constantly changing market forces require businesses to adopt quickly, therefore driving the requirement for technology to provide competitive advantages to achieve success.   Data warehouse appliances are evolving quickly to meet this demand, and mainline vendors such as IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft are investing heavily here to provide prebuilt, scalable and agile business platforms for analytics, allowing business to focus on leveraging the technology rather than implementing it. Not only is performance a primary driver, but so is price reduction, floor space needs, and power needs.  In the end, the technology used should be transparent to the business, with us as IT professionals continuously innovating to meet business requirements cost effectively.   

SSD is an innovation that will help change the game for data warehouse appliances by breaking through long standing barriers.  But it is more than just SSD, it is the more holistic integration of RDBMS into SCM, as well as other newer approaches around vector/matrix hardware process of commodity chips, large multi-core chips in a massively parallel architecture, and more than a disruptive technology in the data warehousing market. 

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