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Quick as a flash

Quick as a flash 

HP believes that flash-based storage is the way of the future, and its new projects are designed to help companies make the transition from mechanical hard drives to the flash-based model, which can be up to 100 times faster than other forms of data storage. It also consumes far less power and combines the capacity of several storage units into a single device, making it more cost-effective.

In an exclusive interview with IT in Canada, Craig Nunes, VP of worldwide marketing for HP Storage, discusses the advantages of flash-based storage, and why many businesses are giving heavy consideration to making the switch.

IT in Canada: What might prevent an organization from adopting flash storage?
There are three major barriers to flash storage. I think everyone understands the performance of flash, and if you are an optimized flash platform, you’re going to deliver very low latency. But what might prevent an enterprise from going there?

I think the first issue is cost. I’ve stood in front of many users and asked, “If you could get flash (storage) at the same cost as spinning disk, who here would buy flash?” Every single hand in the room goes up. But the issue has been affordability. The milestone we achieved in June with the all-flash array, and now across a platform, a customer can buy usable flash capacity for the same cost as a 15,000 RPM spinning disk drive.

The second issue revolves around Tier 1 capabilities. A lot of people want flash to accelerate critical transactions to drive revenue or highly virtualized environments where they’ve done a high amount of consolidation, and a problem with flash would severely impact the business. Flash platforms don’t have the enterprise flash data services replication and single-system resiliency to handle component failure gracefully without a loss of performance. Because of that, people believe that the platforms are not ready for their data.

The last issue is part of the Tier 1 discussion. If I’m going to use flash instead of mid-range and high-end arrays, a mid-range are is often configured with 140 TB of disk capacity, and a high-end array might have over 400 TB of capacity, the average flash array today has about 30 or 40 TB of capacity. To really match up, you wind up having to deploy many of these things, your management headaches increase, and you end up creating a real silo across your data centre, and one of the things we’ve invested in is delivering a level of scalability that allows a customer to deploy this.

We have an all-flash platform that is scaled to about 460 TB of raw storage capacity, and after duplication, there is 1.4 PB available. We think that’s a great alternative between the affordability at $2 per usable gigabyte, built-in Tier 1 HA features, and the scale that a data centre needs.

ITIC: How can flash storage help businesses reduce operating costs?
CN: For your IO-intensive workloads that require a large number of IOPS, you can think of it this way: A disk drive is going to contribute a few hundred IOPS to the performance that you need, and you keep adding those, assuming that there are no other bottlenecks. You just add enough disk drives to get to whatever performance level you need. You can actually replace a whole load of disk drives with a single flash disk, so in your data centre, which will translate into a large reduction in floor space, power and cooling requirements. That alone is going to provide you with great benefits. It’s a great opportunity for consolidation, and this will also help you from a management perspective.

The final (element) is software licensing, which many businesses classify as an operating cost. This might be a bit surprising. In large Oracle environments, Oracle licenses are priced per CPU. If you can deploy infrastructure that is more powerful or robust, you will accelerate your database workload, and you’ll actually be able to do that using less server resources. Because your Oracle licenses are tied to those server CPUs, your Oracle licensing costs, which are often the majority of your database deployment costs, can come down significantly. We’ve seen as much as a 30 per cent reduction in Oracle licenses by deploying high-performance infrastructure with servers and flash together.

Depending on where the customer is in terms of what they’re deploying within their data centre, there are a number of ways they can take advantage of flash and reduce operating costs.

ITIC: What advantages does flash storage have over traditional storage formats?
CN: From a performance perspective, you’re going to pack many more IOPS into a single flash drive. The disk industry has been very focused on adding capacity to an individual disk drive, but it’s been very challenging with the rotational latencies of a disk to really do much about the IOPS per disk over the years. We can look back as much as 20 years ago, and the size of disks has grown dramatically, from a capacity perspective. IOPS performance hasn’t really changed, and the game-changer with flash is a huge improvement in IOPS in a very small form factor.

Flash also has a nice power profile, especially since it’s replacing so many drives, which is also a nice benefit. For as great as flash can be in terms of performance, power and density, one of the concerns with flash is the wear-out of flash drives. What happens with a flash drive if you write the same part of the drive many times, eventually, that part of the drive wears out. There is a lot of concern over how people manage that within their infrastructure; would they start losing a number of flash disks (as a result)?

We’ve invested a lot in this area, and have an approach which we call system-wide striping and Adaptive Sparing, and what that effectively allows us to do is do a really sophisticated amount of wear leveling so that the drive wears very evenly, and you don’t have hot spots on your drive that fail and ultimately lead to a drive failure. We’ve been so successful with that approach that we are now offering five-year warranties on our flash drives, even on our commercial MLC drive technology, which is our most affordable (product). What a customer now gets with flash media is performance density, and they don’t need to worry about a trade-off in reliability.

ITIC: How easy is it for businesses to implement flash storage?
CN: There are a few ways to go. You can go out, buy a new platform, and bring that into your shop. You might need to learn storage operating system. All of the storage platforms in the industry, with the exception of 3PAR, were a net new operating system within the data centre. Even from other large storage vendors, their flash platform is a fundamentally different architecture. You have to learn a new way to manage the system and integrate it into your environment.

One of the things we’ve done differently here is because we have an optimized, all-flash array that runs precisely the same architecture and operating system as the rest of our primary storage portfolio, customers familiar with a high-end or entry 3PAR system will be very familiar with that 3PAR all-flash platform when they deploy it. From that perspective, it’s going to be very easy for them to take advantage.

We take that one step further with (today’s) announcement. Let’s say you’re tight on space or you’ve just made an investment in a 3PAR platform that isn’t the all-flash platform. In effect, what the announcement is allowing that customer to do is simply add a few SSD drives. You don’t need to go out and buy a new 3PAR array. In fact, if you already bought an array that has an existing SSD drive, what the announcement effectively brings to customers is full hardware-accelerated in-line block de-duplication.

Think of it as data compression on the hardware you’ve already acquired. You can begin to take advantage of flash in bite-sized chunks as your applications need, and add flash a couple of terabytes at a time, if you desire. It’s a very easy, low-risk way to hop on that flash on-ramp and take advantage of the value of flash, and that’s what you have going on across your data centre or enterprise.

ITIC: How can flash storage help enterprises to improve their efficiency?
CN: From an efficiency perspective, I think there is a tremendous focus on flash specifically as a concept of data compaction. We have various different technologies that allow you to run a lot of different application data on a very small amount of flash disks. That, fundamentally, is going to drive a load of efficiency, not just on the disk itself, but in terms of the number of drives and arrays that a customer has to procure.

The approach we’ve taken with our de-duplication technology is going to allow you to land a great deal of application data in a very small footprint. That’s going to make your flash investment more affordable, and will also save a whole lot of data centre space.

As an example, there a number of our customers who are considering replacing a traditional high-end monolithic storage array with flash. They were running auto-tiering to try and accelerate things as much as possible. With the affordability of flash and the Tier 1 features on 3PAR, they’ve realized that they can actually advantage of all-flash instead of buying a new high-end storage array. We found not only is there a upwards of 75 per cent in cost savings in that new array, but also in the footprint. We have seen three racks of gear come down to just four rack units in a rack. This equates to about seven inches in a rack and a shelf or two. Suddenly, you’re bringing out a tremendous amount of data centre space, and taking care of equipment that has such a streamlines form factor is easier than managing a big, traditional monolith.

ITIC: What are HP’s future plans for flash storage?
CN: A big priority for us is to continue to drive down the cost per useable gigabyte. It’s not just been through our de-duplication and thin technologies. We have had multiple generations of hardware that we’ve rolled into the platform, and our latest is a nearly 2 TB commercial MLC drive that brings great economics to the disk array. We’re the only platform in the industry right not to offer this 1.9 TB commercial MLC drive.

You can expect HP continuing to drive the cost down below $2 per usable gigabyte. You’re also going to see more capabilities as we build on our quality of service and Tier 1 feature set, and a great deal of investment around the management and orchestration of vis-à-vis OpenStack around HP’s OpenStack Helion, thereby really delivering more customers a terrific hybrid cloud experience with their 3PAR flash platform. There a lot of exciting things coming, and we’re certainly hopeful about them.

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