What you need to know about flash storage
Flash has long been viewed as a relatively expensive way to service high-performance needs — database and transactional applications that deliver core business systems. Yet in a growing number of cases, the main attraction of flash is something completely different.
Here are four reasons why flash is the future of storage.
Cost. Flash still looks expensive if you compare the raw cost per gigabyte against the same volume of spinning disks. Fortunately, customers are starting to realise that flash delivers much more than just raw performance. When you take into account deduplication, compression and other smart data services that are built into platforms, customers are able to use storage capacity more effectively than even before.
Raw cost per gigabyte is still higher than disk but being able to logically store so much more on the same device has dramatically changed the equation. This opens flash up to many more application use cases.
Capacity. Deduplication and data compression is also helping customers tackle workload density problems. They might not have room in their data centre to house the traditional storage needed for a large virtual desktop environment but flash can greatly reduce that physical footprint.
For example, it’s now possible to deliver an effective 500 Tb+ of flash capacity in less than a data centre rack — while delivering unheard of levels of performance and low latency.
Using less power and cooling also reduces utility bills and is more environmentally friendly. Better performance is just a by-product.
Simplification. From a customer’s standpoint, a viable flash array should offer data services that allow them to take a snapshot of an application or database and hand out as many copies as they want to developers without adding additional storage capacity. This means they can store more information on the same amount of infrastructure. A customer might have 12 copies of an application but doesn’t have to store more than one.
Simplification is also delivered through data services that are designed as a core tenant of the array — native deduplication, compression, data encryption, thin provisioning and so on should all be native and require no administrative overhead for the customer.
Flexibility. An organisation might have a traditional application that has sequential I/O patterns; traditional hard drives are okay for this, although flash is faster. The current day data centre, however, is highly virtualised, meaning almost all I/O is now random in nature. In this case, flash storage is the perfect fit as it thrives on this random I/O.
Think about how you use your computer at work. One minute you might be reading information on a website, then saving information in a file or watching a video. Tomorrow’s pattern will probably be completely different. Now multiply that across 200 or 10,000 people.
Traditional storage has always struggled with the different types and levels of access going on at any given time but flash thrives on it. That’s partly why we’re seeing flash take off now — there are lots of customer use cases with completely random access needs.
One of the pitfalls is assuming that all flash is the same. It isn’t. In fact the use of this term is often where the similarity ends. At one end of the scale there’s enterprise multilevel cell flash that lasts for a long time, is highly durable and has extremely low failure rates. Then there’s consumer-grade flash that offers greater capacity for lower prices without the high levels of reliability. Make sure you know which one you’re buying as failure to do so is likely to have consequences for your organisation.
Features such as compression, deduplication and snapshots mean databases, and consolidated application test/development environments, have now replaced virtual desktops as the primary use case of all flash storage arrays for some customers. A growing number of customers are also using them for general-purpose server virtualisation and private cloud environments.
Small and medium-sized businesses will get into all flash arrays through public cloud services offered by companies such as VMware.
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