Performance and Capacity Tradeoffs and the Rise of a New Class of Storage




The Rise of Performance and Capacity Tradeoffs

Over the past year, we’ve surveyed* our customers a half-dozen times on a variety of subjects – specific product input, technology adoption rates, and even messaging.   With over 1,200 customers across nearly every major industry, we consistently get strong, statistically-valid results.  I am grateful to our customers for their direct, meaningful, and insightful comments.

Towards the end of 2010, we conducted a survey in an attempt to quantify a market dynamic that we’ve been watching – the compromise between storage performance and capacity.   It seemed that vendor solutions were oriented towards only one of the axes — performance-starved, capacity rich solutions (commonly referred to as “cheap and deep”) on one side, and the emerging, primarily memory-based solutions that offered blazing performance with very little capacity (at a staggering cost, no less) on the other.

We were eager to understand our customers’ point of view on this phenomenon.  Over a four-week period, we logged 198 respondents from around the globe.  The majority of these respondents provided a direct reflection of the broader market, using multiple storage vendors in their environments (our hypothesis is that a pure ISE environment would not experience much of a tradeoff at all).

Application Impact on Storage

First, we wanted to understand the application landscape: what applications would have the greatest impact on storage in 2011?   No real surprise in terms of the leading response of Server / Data Center Virtualization.  As more, varied workloads are housed in a shared storage environment, performance invariably suffers in systems incapable of multi-tenancy.   Database / data warehousing and Exchange / messaging were next on the list.  Given the upgrade cycles for the Oracle, SQL, and Exchange, this too was largely expected.

Perhaps the real surprise in the responses was the ranking of cloud near the bottom of the list of applications having the greatest impact on storage.  Regardless of industry hype, it ranked below desktop virtualization and business apps like ERP and CRM.  This will be a fascinating stat to track over the next 12-18 months, particularly as the concepts and implementation models for cloud / private cloud become better understood.

Storage Concerns

Next, we asked about the biggest concerns regarding storage in the data center.  Three responses were closely grouped.  Cost and performance were nearly equal in their weighting, with capacity growth third.  We’ve passed a major inflection point in the storage industry when capacity growth is no longer the most pressing issue.  Perhaps this is an indication of more aggressive use of data reduction techniques, particularly in the secondary/tertiary data stores like backup and archive?

In any event, two-thirds of respondents agreed that storage performance hasn’t kept pace with capacity growth.  And that widening gap is precisely what Xiotech’s current and next-generation products address.  More on that in a separate blog.

It is interesting to note that, in spite of the response to the previous question, when asked “How are you evaluating cost of storage?” the majority still answered with a capacity-orientation of $/GB.  A performance-oriented measure, $/IOPS, was second, ahead of TCO, ROI, and energy efficiency.  Though encouraging, it is still symptomatic of industry resistance.  Until all vendors provide complete, fully transparent performance numbers based on industry-standard benchmarks, end-users will be left with apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Performance Requirements

Once the initial hypothesis of “performance has not kept pace with capacity growth” was validated, we were curious exactly how much more performance is needed to keep pace with their applications.  In other words, how wide is that gap?

The answer was loud and clear: a LOT more performance.  Over half needed at least 2X more performance.  40% of the respondents needed at least 5X more performance.  And 19% needed at least 10X more performance.

Welcome to the age of the performance-starved application.  In the world of customer-facing applications, that translates into everything from poor customer satisfaction to lost revenue.  Even internally, as more IT organizations define service-level agreements with their lines of business, those performance gaps quickly escalate into satisfaction issues.

Solid State

Fewer areas of storage have experienced as much hype as solid-state storage, so we were eager to understand the state of adoption in our customers.

In terms of adoption rate, the answers indicated that we’re still very early on, with only 9% in-use or currently evaluating the use of SSD.  Another 8% responded that SSDs were in 2011 plans.

Of those who’ve adopted/currently testing SSDs, over half were using SSDs as part of a storage array.  Less that 25% were deploying memory cards added to servers.

We were interested in the barriers to entry for SSDs.  Cost was the number one response, at 83%.  The lack of proven technology was second (36%), while capacity was third (20%).

As with the cloud response, these answers will be interesting to track over time, particularly as new innovations and price points are reached in solid state storage.  Again, more on that in a separate blog.


The responses to our end-of-year survey underscored the unfortunate reality in most enterprise storage: the performance/capacity tradeoff is a very real phenomenon.  Given the rise of performance-oriented applications like virtualization, database/data warehousing, and messaging, this tradeoff represents a significant burden on storage budgets.

Performance challenges in storage are too-often overcome in costly ways: over-provisioning and ‘short-stroking’ drives, in order to maximize performance; or purchasing SSD-based solutions that increased the $/GB by a minimum of 5-10X.

Xiotech’s ISE Storage Blades were designed to eliminate this tradeoff, translating into dramatic savings through useful IOPS and usable capacity per rack unit.  Learn more about the future of storage at

* Thanks to our partner TechValidate ( for helping conduct these surveys with the utmost respect and care for our customers’ time.

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