The rapid rise of flash to the top of the storage agenda is not surprising, given the advances we’ve seen in this technology over the past few years. Performance has improved by leaps and bounds, and the price decline curve has been steep. Density has been climbing steadily, with 3.84 TB solid-state drives (SSDs) now available. CIOs who haven’t investigated flash for a while may be surprised at just how far the market has come, and how substantial the benefits of moving to solid-state media can be. Enterprise-class flash is now a reality, and it addresses some of the most pressing challenges that IT leaders face.
Flash storage helps organizations achieve the following positive business outcomes:
• Deliver service levels to the business predictably, reliably, on time and under budget. As data loads continue to expand, IT’s ability to meet its service level agreements with the business is under increasing strain. Enterprise-class flash can be a key part of any business transformation. It can greatly improve the user experience. If you’re looking to become more agile and to turn out products faster and cheaper, one way to do it is through analytics applied to massive amounts of data. Flash provides the ability to do that, making data more available so that you can make better decisions quicker.
• Achieve CapEx and OpEx savings. It’s possible to achieve up to a 75 percent reduction in the capacity you need for your application workloads, and a 50 percent reduction in IT staff workloads. Flash can reduce not only overall storage spend but also server and software licensing costs, as well as power and cooling, while reducing storage footprint.
''Enterprise-class flash can be a key part of any business transformation"
• Increase productivity. The operational efficiencies that flash provides can help free up IT staffers to take on up to four times as many projects as they’re currently tackling, and twice as many projects for DevOps staff. In these days of fixed or shrinking budgets, when lack of expertise and resources is often more of a bottleneck than infrastructure limitation, flash can make a huge difference in IT’s ability to get things done.
Flash storage is making significant headway in the enterprise, and companies are starting to move their most performance-hungry workloads to all-flash arrays. These organizations like the performance and cost benefits, and they want to do more with the technology.
At the same time, many businesses that could be capitalizing on flash storage are holding off, perhaps thinking that the technology is not quite ready for enterprise prime-time. If yours is among those, let me point out three features of today’s enterprise flash storage systems that may convince you to take another look:
1. Flash-first architecture can deliver the performance headroom your workloads need – and then some. However impressive the specs on any flash drive may be, the performance of the array itself is just as important. If a controller was designed for traditional storage, it can easily become a bottleneck when applied to SSDs. Fortunately, today’s flash-optimized platforms leverage the inherent strengths of the media to provide consistent, predictable performance levels that can handle the most demanding mission-critical workloads.
In fact, flash storage provides so much performance headroom that it often opens up opportunities that were not envisaged in the original business case. For example, an organization that’s looking to reduce latency for business transaction processing might find that, in addition, a flash system significantly reduces backup times. Or it may find that, because staffs need to spend 50 percent less time tuning up a database, they’re freed up for more value-added activities. When the business is growing but IT budgets are not, the extra performance elbow-room that flash provides can be crucial in keeping core systems functioning efficiently.
If you want the performance benefits of all-flash, but you’re not ready to abandon hard disk drives (HDDs), that option is available too. This relatively new category of converged storage offers all-flash arrays in tandem with high-capacity HDDs. These are true flash-first solutions, and are very different from arrays in which flash capabilities are simply added on to an architecture originally designed around spinning media.
2. Enterprise flash enables massive database consolidation. The speed, density and extreme performance of flash media make it a clear choice to support a wide range of enterprise workloads, ranging from online transaction processing to ERP to client virtualization. Those same qualities mean that you can use flash to consolidate copies of databases onto one array.
Let’s say you have a 10TB database running in production. You need to protect your production environment, so traditional wisdom dictates that you keep it separate from the copy that you use for devs and testing. It’s not unusual for an organization to have 6-8 copies of a database – say 60TB to 80TB of storage. With flash, you can significantly reduce the time needed to spin up non-production environments. And you can reside them on a single array.
You may be thinking – doesn’t that pose a risk to the production environment? Well, it could, but this is exactly why you will want to combine flash’s scalable performance with quality of service (QoS) software, to ensure that the DevOps workloads don’t overrun your production environment. Everything is in one place, the performance impact is not a concern, and possibilities like dedupe and snapshots open up what wouldn’t be possible if the copies were separated physically. Question is – can your flash array provide QoS capabilities? Not all do, so QoS is an important evaluation consideration.
If your organization is in the infrastructure-as-a-service space, it’s worth taking note of these special flash capabilities, which can enable you to ramp up capacity in response to demand spikes and deliver fine-grained, differentiated levels of service to your customers.
3. Enterprise flash provides true Tier 1 resilience and data protection. The need to ensure the integrity, safety and accessibility of enterprise data is a given.
Today’s enterprise-grade flash systems are extremely resilient, offering six-nines availability. It’s true that, until recently, flash has lagged traditional storage in providing the advanced data protection services that businesses need. That’s not surprising; flash is a brand new approach to storage, and it calls for flash-optimized data protection. The good news is that Tier 1 data protection features that have long been mainstays of HDD-based solutions – for example, synchronous/asynchronous streaming and transparent datacenter failover – are starting to permeate the world of enterprise flash storage.
CIOs may need to do some due diligence to ensure that a flash solution provides the right replication capabilities for their needs. But some good options are available, and they will only get better as flash continues to expand into the enterprise.
Easing into the all-flash data center
The rise of flash to market dominance is well under way. We may not be quite at the tipping point for the all-flash data center yet, but we’re close, certainly for the majority of active I/O processing. The movement will accelerate as more and more organizations discover that even if they don’t need flash for its high performance, the productivity and efficiency gains are hard to resist. Moving to flash is not an all-or-nothing proposition, and many organizations will want to ride their tape and HDD installations to full investment value.
It’s an exciting future, no question. Think of how the rise of social media was only possible after the Internet became ubiquitous - transforming our lives. When flash becomes ubiquitous, the possibilities may be just as surprising and transformative for the enterprise. IT leaders should look for ways to leverage flash to support their business’s core objectives.