Many IT professionals assume that the high cost of flash-based systems takes them out of consideration for their own data centers. However, Hybrid Flash Memory/HDD Storage Arrays drive down the cost of flash-level performance by intelligently leveraging flash for speed and traditional spinning disks for cheap capacity to achieve an ROI and Return on Assets that makes them a compelling value for many businesses. In other cases, the low power and low latency of an all-flash array are the best fit for the needs of the business and achieve an acceptable ROI.

Solid state memory/storage is beginning to displace traditional hard drives as the high performance I/O tier in the data center. Cold storage technologies, such as tape and optical disk, are beginning to displace HDD on the bottom performance tier of large capacity low-power storage. Together, these trends will shrink the role of traditional hard drives.

For many corporate data centers the new sweet spot for cost-effective yet high performance storage systems is the Hybrid Flash Memory/HDD array. Others are ready to embrace an all-flash environment–at least for certain purposes or specific corporate initiatives like VDI.

A wide variety of current business IT needs are hampered by legacy storage architectures/systems, including:
  • Business intelligence/analytics to extract more value from existing data.
  • Server consolidation through virtualization.
  • VDI to reduce the ongoing costs of maintaining/upgrading a fleet of desktop computers and also to enable BYOD in a secure way.
  • Enterprise database performance.
  • Enterprise collaboration.
  • Need for additional processing and storage, but data center(s) already at full capacity for floor space, power, or cooling.

A new generation of servers built for virtualization now supports up to 16 processor cores and 768GB of RAM in just 2U of rack space. This new generation of servers achieves 4x the processor capacity and 4x to 20x the RAM capacity per rack unit.  Traditional storage systems had trouble feeding enough data to the older generation of servers to keep CPU’s busy and represent the single biggest obstacle to data center efficiency. The new generation of servers almost demands a new storage paradigm.

Flash Memory Storage Arrays and Hybrid Flash Memory/HDD Storage Arrays finally are bringing performance improvements to the I/O subsystem that keep pace with the other performance elements in the data center. Arrays that incorporate flash memory bring compelling benefits to the data center, including:
  • Enabling 2x virtual machines per host by eliminating time when CPUs are waiting for data. This doubling of virtual machines per host is often achievable even in older server environments.
  • 10x to 100x improvement in IOPS. Many flash arrays and hybrid arrays provide 100,000 to 1,000,000 IOPS along with much lower latencies than traditional arrays. The result is a substantial improvement in application performance, especially during I/O spikes caused by unpredictable virtual server loads or VDI boot storms.
  • Reduced power consumption and heat per TB per rack unit that multiplies the effective capacity of existing data centers.
  • Reduced management overhead through unified storage and simplified deployment and management tools.
Historical Drawbacks to Flash Memory-based storage systems:
  • Longevity/reliability of flash memory media. This problem has been resolved by a new generation of storage controllers specifically designed to address the weaknesses of flash memory.
  • Cost of flash memory. This is being addressed in a variety of ways, including using flash memory as cache in front of HDD or as a high-performance storage tier with HDD as a second tier.
  • Bang for the Buck (ROI). Initially there were very few use cases that could justify the cost of flash memory-based storage systems. Today there are a growing number of use cases where flash or hybrid flash/HDD arrays have an ROI that makes sense in even the SMB/SME space.

There is lots of innovation going on in the data center, including lots of uncertainty about how and when cloud solutions will displace a significant percentage of the need for corporate data center capacity. The temptation is to wait for things to shake out to some kind of “end state”. Instead, savvy businesses are discovering that they can get an acceptable ROI and substantially improve their overall return on assets by adding flash to their data center storage environment.

Elements of ROI:
  • Increased performance to achieve business goals.
  • Reduced software licensing costs. Many applications are licensed per core or per server. The low-latency and high IOPS delivered by flash memory-based storage systems means that fewer cores/servers are needed to handle the same workload.
  • Reduced power and cooling demands.
  • Reduced storage footprint.  Flash delivers high IOPS/rack unit. Some hybrid flash/HDD arrays also multiply storage capacity per rack unit by combining data compression and deduplication with large capacity spinning disks.
  • Increased data protection through integrated snapshot/replication.
  • Decreased storage management overhead (people time) through simpler management tools.
Four scenarios where it makes sense to take a fresh look at storage now:
  1. New business/IT initiatives in any of the high I/O demand areas that are likely to be hampered by the performance characteristics of the current storage infrastructure.
  2. Companies that are virtualizing servers for the first time. Smart moves now can VDI-proof (and otherwise future proof) your storage environment.
  3. Virtual infrastructure refresh – servers and/or storage are 3+ years old and are becoming a maintenance/reliability concern.
  4. A company is considering building another data center because they are out of space/power/cooling capacity in current facilities.

If any of the above are scenarios are true for your organization, it is time to take a serious look at Flash Memory or Hybrid Flash Memory/HDD Storage Arrays to address your data center requirements.

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DCIG, Flash Memory, Storage Systems

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