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Every good parent knows not to put toys under the tree without thinking about power consumption. There’s nothing sadder than a box for an electric toy with the message, “Batteries not included.” Vast Data, the maker of storage arrays for datacenters, has a similar reminder for datacenter architects. In an announcement made today, the company is celebrating the release of a flash-based storage unit with claims that it will deliver “11 times better power efficiency” than mechanical disk drives. That’s quite a few packages of AA batteries.

“When we work with customers to configure infrastructure, they’re no longer worried about anything other than power per rack,” explained Jeff Denworth, cofounder of Vast. “Some older datacenters only have like five kilowatts per rack.”

Powering the growth of datacenters

Electrical power consumption is increasingly important for datacenter design. Electrical power can cost datacenters several times, first when fed to a circuit and second when it must be removed. Electricity is typically converted into waste heat, which must then be balanced with air conditioning or other cooling.

Poor power efficiency can also limit the growth of datacenters when local power grids are stretched. Green computation advocates also question how the power is generated and whether it leads to additional carbon dioxide emissions. All of these quandaries have made architects more sensitive to the cost of keeping a device plugged in.

Vast Data’s universal storage module relies upon an especially dense model of flash memory from Intel that doesn’t require much power to keep online. The 30-terabyte quad level cell (QLC) solid-state drives from Intel are dense enough that Vast can pack one petabyte in one rack unit that takes about 500 watts of power.

Physical disk drives often must spin even if no one is using them so that they’re ready — and that’s one reason why a similar amount of hard disks would, according to their measurements, take 11 times more power. Vast also compares their QLC SSDs with other forms of flash memory and estimates that its new offering may be 9 times more power efficient than them.

The smaller size is also a benefit for companies that have a limited amount of space in their datacenter. Vast estimates that their systems are about five times smaller, saving real estate, which can be important for some installations.

More intelligence for better workload management

At the core of the Vast approach is a careful use of software intelligence to compensate for the limitations of QLC flash. This extremely dense flash memory can pack four bits per cell and can respond quickly to read requests. Writing the data, though, takes care and a fair amount of mathematics to avoid wearing out cells. Vast claims its software watches for duplicate blocks and uses careful erasure.

Vast is also bringing more intelligence to managing workloads to reduce peak challenges for their storage. In addition, the company is announcing a Universal Power Control option that can juggle CPU jobs to reduce the overall power consumption, so the consumption stays within lower limits. That can simplify building out a datacenter by reducing the need to plan for transient power consumption peaks. Vast suggests that the new planning can reduce peaks by 33%.

Generally, writing new information requires more power and so the system limits the number of CPUs with write access. This can simplify design and make it possible to supply new systems that work in older datacenters with lower power limits.

Vast believes that the new greater density and lower power usage will convince companies to replace their spinning hard disk.

“When you add up the efficiencies, the power savings, the datacenter space savings, and the cost savings, we believe that we finally achieved cost parity with hard drive-based infrastructure and essentially eliminating the last argument for mechanical media in the enterprise,” said Denworth.

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