For one thing, flash storage uses less capacity and physical space while performing more I/O operations per second with lower latencies. This not only boosts productivity and reduces capital expense, but it also helps organizations save money with lower power consumption and the ability to consolidate more applications onto fewer machines. These benefits have led to the rise of flash-based storage in Canada, with increasing numbers of Canadian enterprises moving away from traditional spinning disks.
“Hybrid and all flash array revenues exceeded traditional spinning disk in Canada in 2015, a trend that IDC sees continuing throughout our forecast period. By 2019, all flash arrays will make up over 25 per cent of the storage array market, and ‘disk only’ solutions will essentially cease to exist,” says Dave Pearson, Enterprise Storage Research Manager at IDC Canada.
As a relatively new technology, flash-based media costs more than traditional spinning disks when compared gigabyte-for-gigabyte. As a result, flash storage is often reserved for use only with high-performance applications, or as a precious resource for only a subset of application data.
However, rapidly dropping prices and new flash-efficiency boosting technologies are moving flash-based enterprise data storage into the mainstream. Combine these savings with increased performance and user experience benefits, and flash storage has an impressive ROI.
“With flash media prices falling 2.5 times faster than disk, its value proposition only grows. It is no longer only suitable for ultra-high performance workloads, but rather is providing value to every form of primary storage in some capacity,” Pearson says.
But where is the best place to start bringing flash into your environment?
There are three ways you might think of deploying flash storage:
- Traditional Hybrid Flash Arrays: This type of storage system combines a small amount (typically less than 10 per cent) of flash media with a majority of hard disk drives (HDDs), using block-level tiering to deliver better performance than HDDs alone with equivalent cost.
- All Flash Arrays: Using nothing but solid-state drives (SSDs), all flash arrays give you the best performance—including lowest latency—possible from a storage system. Compaction technologies like deduplication and larger-capacity SSDs can bring all flash costs close to HDD levels.
- Converged Flash Arrays: This new class of storage array features a flash-first design that pegs entire applications or data volumes to flash like an all flash array, but also supports HDDs for greater scalability and the ability to place some data on spinning drives—for example, as that data ages.
But how do you figure out if flash is right for you, and if it is, what sort of flash array do you need? Here’s an intro to these three types of flash arrays and how they may fit in your environment.
Traditional Hybrid Flash Arrays
Available for years, the goal of this type of system design is to get the performance of flash, but only use premium flash-based media sparingly, so you could lower total cost and also tap into the larger capacities available on HDDs. Most disk arrays include auto-tiering capabilities to tap into SSDs as a premium data tier. Hybrid flash arrays offer a price per GB that is generally more than HDD-based storage arrays, but far less than all flash storage arrays.
The challenge with some hybrid arrays is that they aren’t appropriate for all workloads. For example, they do not deliver predictably high service levels and low latency. If data is on flash, then life is good, but if application data is sitting on an HDD tier, this can result in lag time for end users. Why? Because hybrid arrays use different algorithms for balancing data placement across flash and HDDs. How well these algorithms will do often isn’t known until the array is used in production. Also, over time the efficiency and effectiveness of data placement may vary when application workloads change or more data is added to the storage array.
One recent variation that has been deployed for arrays that support flash caching is combining auto-tiering with flash as a cache. By adding flash as a cache, some of the challenges around auto-tiering can be mitigated. This way, data in a cache can be quickly accessed by the host even if it’s in a cold tier.
All Flash Arrays
When performance matters most, nothing can beat an all flash array built on a flash-optimized architecture. HPE 3PAR StoreServ Storage arrays, for example, can deliver consistent performance and, when combined with the right data services, do so without compromising resiliency, scalability, or data mobility. September 2015 marked the five-year anniversary of HPE’s acquisition of 3PAR, and the company’s core legacy of developing innovative services has continued to gain steam in the intervening years.
HPE 3PAR StoreServ Storage Array
And don’t get fooled by perceived higher initial costs of flash. According to a report from Wikibon Group , flash “will become a lower cost media than disk … for almost all storage in 2016, as scale-out storage technologies enable higher levels of data sharing, and lower storage costs.” The report goes on to predict that in six years, the cost of data centre storage will be 40 times lower than today and will be flash only.
However, there can still be a performance bottleneck depending on the system design. This is why simply filling traditional dual-controller arrays designed for HDDs with flash drives is not the best idea. You will overwhelm the ability of the storage controllers to keep up with the SSDs, resulting in architectural bottlenecks that act as a performance throttle. Because of this, newer flash arrays may vary widely, not just when it comes to performance, but also in the consistency and predictability of that performance. Multi-controller, scale-out designs are in favour as they provide greater ability to keep up with performance demand.
Converged Flash Arrays
A newer concept in the flash world, the converged flash array is a category of all flash array that can accommodate disk media as well. By utilizing a flash-first design and associated data efficiency technologies to reduce the cost of flash, organizations are putting complete applications and data volumes on flash and leaving them there. However, for secondary applications and older data, sometimes enterprises still desire HDDs within the same system. The ability to deliver both in a single system offers the performance and latency of an all flash array, the affordability of a hybrid array, the agility of a unified array (with support for block workloads, file shares, and object access), and the scale and resiliency of a high-end array when the right data services are applied.
Which of these is right for you, of course, depends on your particular needs. For a more in-depth buyer’s guide, click here.
Charlie Atkinson is Vice President Enterprise Group and Managing Director at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Canada. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @CharlieMeansBiz.
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