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All-flash storage will dominate, eventually

It seems clear that all solid-state technology will become common in primary storage systems soon. In our IT client engagements, we see many companies including the transition to all solid state in their storage strategies.

As with many new technologies, there are both compelling reasons to adopt solid-state storage and valid reasons for waiting.

The reasons for using flash as primary storage include:

Performance – As a memory-based technology, flash eliminates latencies seen with electro-mechanical devices (hard disk drives). The performance bump is especially noticeable for random access to data and the time to first byte of transfer, and changes the value from storage by accelerating critical applications.

Reliability – Improving the reliability of the technology has been a hallmark of storage vendors and this continues with flash-based storage systems. Without the mechanical wear and the heat generation, solid state inherently is more reliable.

• Longevity – With greater reliability and intelligence added to manage page erases, the flash storage systems have been given longer warranty periods by many vendors. Customers are beginning to budget for a longer lifespan for flash-based storage systems than mechanical-based storage systems.

• Power, space, cooling – Flash storage systems require less power and cooling for a given capacity than a system with disk drives and are more efficient in space usage.

• Data reduction – Most of the flash-based storage systems include compression and/or deduplication. The data reduction exploits the performance of memory-based technology and provides the benefits of reducing the cost of data stored while contributing to the page erase management for flash.

Another advantage comes from the fact that many of the flash storage systems are scale-out architectures. Scaling out not only allows the capacity and performance to scale in parallel, it changes the acquisition model for storage. Additional capacity (without reducing effective performance) is added to the storage system when needed. With the continuing decline of the price of flash storage, the additional storage is less expensive than the initial purchase.

So when will flash systems become predominate as primary storage rather than used for particular applications such as virtual desktops? The triggering events for change are usually technology updates, new applications or major deployments such as a new site. However, several factors make people hesitate from making a transition:

• Operational changes are difficult to make because they require additional effort and introduce risk. These changes could include script changes and training. Consequently, flash storage systems that have evolved from existing architectures have less of an impact on the requirements for operational changes than new architectures built for flash.

• Not all flash systems can handle advanced capabilities such as stretched clusters and multi-site replication that are part of many IT operations. This removes them from consideration for primary storage, and relegates them to specialty usage.

• Vendor product support and system maturity are always a consideration for enterprise environments when considering primary storage.

The use of solid-state arrays as primary storage will bring an increase in the average size of the systems deployed. Significant capacity increases beyond the early use cases of application acceleration (primarily databases), server virtualization data stores, and VDI will be the bell-weathers of the transition. Actual primary storage capacity size changes may also be affected by another IT trend – moving data for non-tier one applications to less expensive storage platforms with different performance and data protection requirements.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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