Three Options for Optimizing Flash in Your Storage Infrastructure

By Paul Feresten, NetApp

Flash is a game-changing technology for the storage industry. When combined with intelligent caching software, flash can speed access to critical data and improve the efficiency of your entire storage infrastructure. With flash-optimized storage, you can accelerate application performance by up to 90%, scale virtual desktop configurations to 50,000 seats, and reduce capacity, rack space, and power requirements by over 50%.

For storage professionals, the challenge is this: How do you deploy flash technology in a way that delivers the right data at the right time and at the right cost to meet your application needs?

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This article considers three options for building a flash-optimized storage infrastructure to accelerate application performance while keeping within your budget: hybrid flash arrays, server-side flash and all-flash arrays.

Hybrid Flash Arrays
Hybrid flash arrays are the most cost-effective approach for adding flash to your storage architecture. With hybrid arrays, multiple applications can share flash memory that either resides in the storage controller or is incorporated into the back-end array as solid-state disk. Because of this, it is the preferred approach for accelerating performance for a diverse set of workloads, including file services, technical applications, and general-purpose virtualized workloads.

To simplify data management for a hybrid array, you need intelligent caching software to automatically identify and store the “hot data” on flash while using slower, lower-cost disk drives in the back-end array to store colder data. The following questions should be considered when evaluating the software component of a hybrid array solution.

  • Does it offer real-time promotion of hot data at a granularity that optimizes performance?
  • Is caching fully automated, with no need to set policies, thresholds, or time windows for data movement?
  • Does it offer deduplication awareness to increase efficiency?
  • Does it allow you to dedicate flash resources to specific datasets in order to achieve your performance goals?

Server-Side Flash
When combined with intelligent caching software, server-side flash can turbo-charge performance for business applications such as databases and e-mail servers by automatically placing the hottest datasets in a local server cache for fast access. This approach also frees up server resources and off-loads I/O from storage networks, providing additional headroom for performance-hungry business applications.

Unlike host-based solutions that treat flash as direct-attached storage and create new data silos to be managed, server-side cache solutions can leverage the built-in data management capabilities of a back-end array. For example, data protection can be automated using the same software and processes as those already in place for back-end storage.

 To fully benefit from server-side flash, look for the following features.

  • Intelligent caching software that automatically detects and corrects coherency conflicts with back-end storage to prevent data corruption
  • Cache persistence that maintains application consistency and high performance levels, even in the event of server and VM reboots and crashes
  • Hardware-agnostic software that lets you select from a variety of PCI-e flash card and SSD vendors

All-Flash Arrays
All-flash arrays offer a combination of high performance and flash storage capacity for applications that require extremely high levels of I/O and cannot afford even the slightest delay in accessing disk-based data. For example, a high-end database application that requires in excess of 200,000 I/O operations per second would be a good candidate for an all-flash array in spite of the higher cost involved with this approach. You should consider an all-flash array when all of the following requirements exist.

  • Performance cannot degrade in the event of a cache miss.
  • The capacity needed for the application working set exceeds the flash capacity of a hybrid array or server-side caching solution.
  • The solution must scale to support hundreds of thousands of IOPS.

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NetApp Flash Solutions
NetApp® offers a broad range of flash-optimized storage solutions designed to increase application performance while controlling costs and simplifying data management, including hybrid flash arrays, server-side flash and all-flash arrays. Our flash-optimized solutions will enable you to meet service levels and achieve greater storage efficiencies by delivering the right data at the right time and at the right cost.

For more information on NetApp flash solutions, visit our Tech OnTap® community for monthly updates on best practices, technical case studies, and in-depth interviews with engineering experts.

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