Flash memory is massively disruptive technology. Surely, the companies that make 35mm film for cameras know this. In fact, enterprise storage vendors that are still reliant today on hard disks for performance storage are in a position eerily similar to that of Kodak a decade ago: confronted with a new technology that can dramatically improve what they bring to the market.
Flash provides greater scalability and application consistency while consuming fewer data centre resources than anything possible with disk-based storage. But it’s not as simple as a new broom sweeping older technologies out of the way in an instant.
In the case of enterprise flash, cost has been the barrier to broad market adoption. Flash is expensive and thus most vendors implement it in small quantities alongside disk to aid performance by acting as a cache. A better, more cost-effective way of fixing this is to combine flash with software that makes it more affordable – by using less flash – and more reliable by reducing the volume of data being written.
Flash stores and serves data in a manner that is significantly different than disk. Read-activity is lightning fast, and too many writes can wear out the medium. This is where software becomes key to making enterprise flash work, as it not only delivers affordability, it enables flash to be more reliable at a hardware level.
Real-time data reduction technologies extend the life of flash by reducing the volume of data being written. SSD reliability increases in direct correlation to the number of data reduction technologies. Only some arrays are capable of this – and many more are hybrids of flash and hard disk, which combine the weaknesses as well as the strengths of both and ultimately fall short on reliability.
While the immediate benefit of flash is apparent, there’s a second less obvious benefit worth pointing out. We know that the value of all-flash extends beyond storage and boosts the speed of enterprise applications. To take this argument one step further, consider the fact that a great deal of enterprise software is written to make allowances for the speed restrictions inherent in disk. By removing the HDD lag and utilizing flash a new realm of possibility emerges:
- Application performance sky-rockets
- End-user experiences gain consistency and greater insight as data accessibility soars
- Software-licensing requirements can also be revisited, as more CPU processing is available with the speed regulator (disk) being removed
- …And finally, the reliance on data management and load balancing tools designed to respond retroactively to performance challenges also drops providing a return in operational staff time.
Flash is already causing massive upheavals within the data centre and we’re just at the beginning of a tipping point. Some will take cautious steps, and choose the comfort of a legacy array strapped with flash or the promise of a hybrid. Both of these will help in the near-term. The visionaries will embark on the journey to an all-flash-fuelled enterprise. All-flash storage systems made affordable and reliable by software designed for flash will help these leaders unlock multiple new opportunities and massively increase their competitive business advantage.