Five Strategies for Using Flash in Your Next Storage Project

By Paul Feresten, NetApp

Flash technology has introduced a new set of options for storage professionals. By deploying flash technology, organizations can take advantage of increased IOPS and faster throughput to significantly boost performance in mission-critical I/O-intensive applications such as file services, messaging, virtual infrastructure and OLTP databases.

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For storage professionals, the challenge is this: How do you deploy flash technology to deliver the right data, at the right time, at the right cost to fit your needs? Performance, as always, is critical. And so is cost – organizations must continue to get the most bang for their buck when investing in new storage infrastructure.

With that in mind, here are five strategies for making smart decisions about using flash for your next storage project.

1. Understand Your Workload
Flash is ideal for optimizing the performance of random read-intensive workloads. Although you may be targeting flash for one or more of the uses cited above – file services, messaging, virtual infrastructure or OLTP databases – it is critical that you also understand the data access patterns of your workloads.

How do you get to that better understanding? Here are four questions to address:

  • What is the read-write mix for the workload?
  • What are the typical I/O sizes?
  • How much is random versus sequential?
  • How large are the working sets for the application?

2. Employ Virtual Storage Tiering
Most automated tiering solutions attempt to continuously move data across physical storage tiers based on data access patterns and a set of predefined policies. This is a complex process that requires design trade-offs for data granularity and the timing of data movement in order to deliver an acceptable level of performance.

An alternative is to use virtual storage tiering. This self-managing approach offers real-time promotion of hot data at the smallest level of granularity, without the need for complex data classification and movement. With virtual tiering, you simply choose the default media tier you want for a volume or LUN (SATA, FC or SAS) and data from the volume or LUN is automatically promoted to flash-based media, on demand.

3. Evaluate Price/Performance at a Systems Level
When evaluating flash technology, it can be tempting to make comparisons at a component level and then extrapolate the results. Don’t fall into that trap. For example, if your system is already optimized for write performance, the primary benefit of flash is typically the acceleration of read performance. What matters most at the application layer is not which subsystem handles the reads and writes but at what speed and cost the data is delivered.

4. Use Flash Pools for Data Persistence
For read caching, there may be no need for persistent data storage on flash – in the event of a failure, the reads can be handled by a failover system. However, you do need data persistence in cases where an application can’t wait for the read cache “rewarming” required by a failover system, as well as for those applications that stand to benefit from the caching of random writes.

Flash Pools use a combination of solid state drives (SSDs) and hard disks to provide data persistence for both scenarios. In the case of high-availability failover events, Flash Pools provide an enhanced level of performance consistency. Because the SSD storage is RAID-protected, it can also be used to cache random write operations in addition to random reads for those applications that are particularly write-intensive, such as OLTP.

5. Deploy Flash With Capacity-Optimized Drives
You should consider Flash Cache and Flash Pools in situations where a disk array provides sufficient capacity but additional I/O is needed. Testing shows that a Flash Pool enables a system with SATA drives to match the performance of a system with SAS drives, while also providing 50 percent more storage capacity; 46% lower price per terabyte and a reduction in electrical power requirements of approximately 27 percent.

Getting Started
The use of flash technology to boost the performance of key applications has the potential to be a game changer for storage professionals. Following the five strategies outlined here, and working with a technical expert from a NetApp reseller partner, is an excellent way to get started.

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