The Three Biggest Misconceptions About Flash Storage

By Mark Welke, NetApp, Senior Director of Product Marketing

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As flash storage has become more robust and affordable for enterprise environments, IT teams are using it to solve some of their most pressing performance challenges, such as OLTP, databases and desktop virtualization.

However, we continue to encounter some common misconceptions about flash storage and how to use it to achieve the best results. The following are a few of the biggest misconceptions that I run across
when talking with companies looking to leverage flash technology to increase storage performance:

Misconception No. 1: It’s All About Maximizing IOPS
For some applications, it’s all about minimizing latency rather than maximizing IOPS. This is why it’s important to understand your applications’ true latency requirements before selecting a flash storage solution. For example, an OLTP application that needs latency to remain under 1ms at all times will typically require an all-flash solution even when the IOPS requirements are not very demanding. However, be prepared to consult a database performance expert if this is not your area of expertise -- after further investigation, you might discover that latency delays initially thought to be caused by the storage layer actually lie elsewhere.

If you’ve already identified a need for more IOPS, then the question to ask is: How many IOPS will you really need?

Keep in mind that IOPS is a generic term that is meaningless on its own. When comparing solutions, you will need to specify the following:  IOP size, read/write mix, whether the workload is sequential or random, your latency requirements and which data management options you plan to use, such as Snapshot™ copies, compression and deduplication. By defining your IOPS requirements, you can avoid some common pitfalls, such as application owners who are misinformed about their true IOPS needs and vendors that provide only “theoretical” IOPS results achieved in unrealistic test environments.

The good news is that a storage expert can help eliminate the guesswork by monitoring the I/O activity on your storage system and recommending an optimal flash footprint to meet your specific needs. For most of our customers, we’ve found that a hybrid approach that combines disk with a small amount of flash can usually meet their performance needs at a much lower price than heavily hyped all-flash arrays.

Misconception No. 2: Flash Wear-Out
It’s been well documented that flash media has a finite number of program/erase cycles, and this has raised concern about flash wear-out. However, for the most part, flash wear-out is already being handled in firmware, and it is mainly a concern for the chip companies that supply the storage industry with flash components. NetApp has shipped over 75 petabytes of flash storage capacity during the last few years, and we closely monitor the flash wear levels across tens of thousands storage systems, but we have yet to discover a single system that has approached a critical level of wear. This suggests that if you are spending a lot of time investigating flash wear-out, you are missing the forest for the trees.

Misconception No. 3: Only New Storage Systems Are Optimized for Flash
It has become relatively easy for companies to incorporate flash media into storage hardware designs, as evidenced by the dozens of startups attempting to cash in on the flash technology trend.

However, the long pole for any new enterprise-class storage system is the time required to develop enterprise-class software and validate enterprise-class reliability. This is why NetApp has optimized existing product lines in order to deliver flash-accelerated solutions. Our customers benefit from not only the impressive performance gains made possible by flash, but also from years of testing, hundreds of millions of hours of production runtime and a full suite of industry-leading data management software .

When it comes to performance, you should compare your options based on testing conducted in your own data center and supported by industry-standard benchmarks -- not based on architectural debates between vendors. Likewise, reliability comparisons should be made based on runtime data and a company’s track record rather than on promises and optimistic assumptions.

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NetApp Flash Solutions
NetApp offers a broad range of flash-optimized storage solutions, including hybrid flash arrays, server-side flash and all-flash arrays. For more information, visit our Flash Technology page.

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