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The Maturing of Flash Storage

The Maturing of Flash Storage

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It’s interesting reading the comments that we’re added to my post of last week, discussing the summary of all flash arrays, initially started by Vaughn Stewart and continued by HP storage guy Calvin Zito.

Unsurprisingly, most of the negativity came from EMC and their resellers, who are defending a late entrance into the market.  They have focused their comments on the technical excellence of their solution, rather than discussing what customers actually want.  Let’s move on from that; over the last 5 years since flash became part of mainstream enterprise storage, we have seen an evolving picture.  how have things changed?

The first wave of solutions targeted those tricky to fix applications like high performance Oracle databases, where low latency and/or high IOPS was needed.  These were niche requirements and played well into solutions that added flash to existing products. EMC had success with DMX\VMAX and their solution improved once block level tiering was available.  Netapp, due to their architecture has achieved better results with caching, initially with PAM cards and later with SSD caching layers.  Violin Memory Inc was initially successful as they were able to fix problems with applications that couldn’t be solved in any other way than buying lots of disks and short stroking them.  Features such as de-dupe and replication were less important or could be mitigated in other ways.

Wave 2 of flash deployments has seen a widening and maturing of flash usage.  Customers are running higher density workloads than ever before, due to faster processors and widespread use of virtualisation. Processor performance continues to follow in line with Moores Law and transistor scaling.  Consequently, high density apps need high density IOPS.  While disk capacities have increased, IOPS/TB as a ratio has dropped and will continue to do so.  Quite simply this means that flash will become more mainstream in enterprise solutions as hard drives fail to deliver on increased performance needs.

There are two ways to go at this point.  Pick an all flash solution that has been designed for the purpose, or look at the evolved solutions from existing vendors.  The all-flash vendors such as SolidFire, Whiptail, Kaminario, Pure Storage, etc offer viable solutions, all with slightly different use cases.  The established vendors have taken two routes; either adding flash to existing products or acquiring/building.  EMC, IBM and NetApp have acquired technology, with NetApp using their acquisition as a stopgap while they develop a brand new technology from scratch.  HP and Hitachi have chosen to amend their existing product lines to support flash and retain the existing benefits of features such as replication, management and data mobility.

The Architect’s View

So what is the right product to choose?  Well, there is no pure definition of an all-flash array; it’s not a unique category on its own.  It really comes down to customer requirements;  for example, sometimes integration into existing infrastructure may be paramount and if you’re already a 3PAR or Hitachi customer, then this may be the best solution.  There may be constraints on space, or requirement to only use a global supplier, in which case the options will change again.  It’s more important to look at requirements than choose a technology for the sake of it.

Footnote:  Just a quick shout out to the hybrid guys out there – their IOPS density makes them great choices at the moment.  Their longevity will be based on how well they can keep up as centralised workloads increase over time.


Comments are always welcome; please indicate if you work for a vendor as it’s only fair.  If you have any related links of interest, please feel free to add them as a comment for consideration.

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Copyright (c) 2013 – Brookend Ltd, first published on http://architecting.it, do not reproduce without permission.


About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • klstay

    Lord help us we are a NetApp shop probably for the foreseeable future. When we first brought them on the ‘demanding enterprise apps’ was solely SAP and that ran AIX/POWER with a DS8k as it should IMHO for that compute platform. NetApp was for SMB and a few very light historically block type loads. Now everyone wants to run Exchange and Sharepoint and all the VMs and VDI on WAFL over NFS and scratch their heads when the controllers are a sea of back to back defers… NOT BUILT FOR THAT!

    As I have stated before, right now I like 3PAR and HDS just because they are proven reliable and definitely not going anywhere. That does not stop me from ‘geeking out’ over Pure and if they are still standing in a couple of years then maybe.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/maddenca Chris Madden

    Nice post! Just thought I’d add that one overlooked benefit of using existing arrays with SSD attach (vs AFA) is the flexibility to easily move/extend/expand onto those lower IOPs/GB (and $/GB) media types as requirements change. Indeed it all starts with requirements…

    Chris Madden, Storage Architect, NetApp EMEA

  • http://www.BarnesFamily.com/ davebarnes

    Using the Adobe Flash icon for flash memory makes zero sense to me.

    • http://thestoragearchitect.com/ Chris M Evans

      At least it’s vendor agnostic….

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