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Flash Storage: The New Normal

At the Flash Memory Summit, storage experts talk about the growing flash market, flash benefits, and enterprise deployment considerations.

The use of flash storage technology in datacenters is becoming more widely accepted as an alternative to hard disk drive storage, experts say, but considerable planning is required for companies introducing flash for the first time in order for the transition to be successful.

“Flash is the new normal,” Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at DeepStorage, a storage consulting firm, said in an interview this week at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, Calif.  “Flash is moving from tactical to strategic. If it’s going to be strategic, it’s got to be big enough that I can put the majority of my applications on it.”

Today, 80% of storage systems being shipped by major vendors such as EMC, IBM, HP or Dell contain some flash technology along with traditional hard disk drive (HDD) storage, said Marks, a Network Computing contributor.

Generally, flash technology offers faster access to data as measured in input-output instructions per second (IOPS), higher bandwidth as measured in bytes per second, and faster CPU performance, while at the same time delivering lower latency and using less energy than HDD systems, speakers at the summit said.

“[Flash] is here. It’s proven. It’s like why would you not do it?” said Dennis Martin, president of Demartek, a testing lab that sets up actual data center systems -- not just simulators -- to gauge flash performance on a number of applications such as online transaction processing (OLTP), data warehousing, web servers or virtual desktop environments.

While flash has become mainstream, companies new to flash should still run it in a test lab environment before deploying it through the whole data center, Martin said in an interview at the summit.

Flash offers clear performance benefits over HDD storage, but may also create some unforeseen problems without planning ahead, he added. The benefits of flash may be diminished, for instance, if the network creates a new bottleneck. Martin said data centers with only gigabit Ethernet connectivity may have to upgrade to 10GbE to get the most out of flash.

Planning for flash also must take into account the applications being deployed, the processing power of servers, the customer’s use of virtualization and other factors, he added.

As more customers consider flash, vendors are becoming more successful at serving the flash market, Marks said. He described three different types of flash vendors: established companies, startups, and what he calls “upstarts.”

Established vendors are the big players in storage such as Dell Compellent, EMC, IBM, and HP 3Par. Startups in flash include names such as Nimbus Data and SolidFire that are new to the industry and still trying to prove themselves. Startup customers face the risk of the vendor going out of business, he said.

Upstarts, on the other hand, are companies that are also new to the market -- compared to enterprises like IBM and EMC -- but have established themselves as solid businesses, he said. They have cash on hand that, at the current rate they are spending it, should last them two years, which means their risk of going out of business is negligible.

Companies that fall into the upstart category include Pure Storage and Nimble Storage, which have solid reputations with potential enterprise buyers, said Robin Harris, president of StorageMojo, another storage consultancy.

The CFO of a company considering a flash purchase may not know much about the technology "but he can certainly look at a balance sheet,” Harris told Network Computing.

Robert Mullins has covered the technology industry in Silicon Valley for more than a decade for various publications. He has written about enterprise computing including stories about servers, storage, data center management, network security, virtualization, and cloud computing. View Full Bio

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Perfman3
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Perfman3,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/7/2014 | 6:46:14 PM
Know your I/O profile before deploying Flash
Dennis is correct.  IT managers need to test the various flash storage vendors in their labs before deploying into production data center.  Not all application workloads demand the performance (and expense ) of flash.  The key is having the data to know which workloads need flash, which are fine on a hybrid, and which are ideal for traditional spinning disks.  Also, each flash storage vendor uses different types of flash devices, different controllers, different software stacks, and different deduplication and compression implementations.  This can lead to huge (2X to 5X) variations in performance.  Products like Load Dynamix are specifically designed for storage engineers to provide this vendor-independent data, empowering them to make intelligent decisions on flash/hybrid deployments.
ssamara528
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ssamara528,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/9/2014 | 4:38:08 PM
What about Cisco Invicta?
How do you think Cisco's Invicta flash offering stacks up to the others?
MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
8/11/2014 | 4:42:19 PM
flash in the data center
Flash is definitely making headway, but according to the InformationWeek State of Storage report from earlier this year, we're still not close to the all-flash data center becoming a reality.
erise
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erise,
User Rank: Guru
8/13/2014 | 10:23:25 AM
Flash Storage: The NOT so new norm
Flash has been around in the storage arena for years now, I'm impressed this article NEVER mentions a leader in the field, a little known company goes by the name of NetApp.

About the only problem I have with SSD/ flash storage is it's limited by the bus it rides on. Companies like Diablo are working on utilizing the actual memory channel itself as a pathway. This will be a nice push forward in performance, can't wait till early 2015 to try this out.

I do like this news:

http://www.diablo-technologies.com/diablo-technologies-secures-key-u-s-patent-covering-memory-channel-storage-technology/

SSD and storage is already old news, I'd like to hear about what's coming AFTER the SSD.
MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
8/13/2014 | 11:30:49 AM
Re: Flash Storage: The NOT so new norm
Thanks for weighing in here erise. The Diablo technology is interesting. Howard Marks wrote a blog about it last year.
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