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Flash Storage Pain Points: Uncovering The Truth

  • Solid-state drive storage for the enterprise has had a checkered past. Solid-state drives (SSDs) are also known as flash, though they aren't the same as the consumer flash technology that's found in laptops and other devices. SSDs are much faster than hard disk drives (HDDs) and contain no spinning parts, which means they consume less energy and produce less heat. 

    Today's data center requirements include better performance and better storage to meet the demands of huge and growing virtual workloads. And data volumes are growing exponentially at most businesses. Flash storage can ease some burdens with its speed.

    The knocks on SSDs generally fall into two categories: They're expensive, and they have slow write speeds. Those are both true, though prices have fallen and write speeds have improved -- plus vendors continue to develop ways around write and endurance issues. Today, SSDs are reemerging for various uses throughout enterprise infrastructures, moving beyond storage to bandwidth and performance applications.

    Solid-state technology has gotten smarter and better engineered over the past decade. Today, solid state is available in a range of form factors, which offer IT teams many choices of where to implement the technology. Many current flash products, for example, are used just as read cache or write buffering to take advantage of solid state's natural strengths. Storage vendors have redesigned controllers specifically for solid state.

    Solid state can help IT teams get creative about architecting workloads, and that leads to the question of how IT will choose to use the technology. In addition, there are questions about how best to implement it, and some myths and uncertainties still plague the market. Read on for some clarity.

    (Image: zilli/iStock)

  • Is flash really that fast?

    Solid-state storage may be expensive, but the reason it's got fans is because it's really fast -- often thousands of times faster than HDDs for request responses. Flash is a way to meet increasing storage demands, avoid bottlenecks and improve performance. Enterprises can use solid-state storage as a tier, or plug in SSDs to replace HDDs to speed systems up.

    (Image: Nathan E Photography/Flickr)

  • Flash is too expensive

    Solid-state storage does cost more than its hard-drive counterparts, despite claims to the contrary -- if an SSD is priced similarly to an HDD, it's probably because it's of much lower capacity or meant for consumer use. The cost of solid-state disk has dropped over time, but is likely to remain a pricier option.

    (Image: BullionVault/Flickr)

  • Flash doesn't endure

    It's true that solid-state drives wear out, particularly where write speeds are concerned. There's a finite number of writes each drive can perform. But endurance has continued to improve over time as solid state has matured. Vendors have developed ways to mitigate the "write cliff," such as assigning some cells to do drive cleanup or using drives as read cache only. And there are some endurance specifications in play now, namely Terabytes Written (TBW) and Drive Writes Per Day (DWPD). Get familiar with those when shopping around.

    (Image: jenny downing/Flickr)

  • Flash is hard to implement

    There are actually plenty of ways and places to implement flash storage technology these days, and vendors are folding SSDs into their wares. VMware, for example, requires at least one SSD per vSphere host in its VSAN software-defined storage product. Solid-state drives, or hybrid solid-state drives, can replace SAS or SATA storage. SSDs can be implemented as local memory cache or on PCIe cards -- often very effective since they're closer to the host. There are also plenty of storage array options, both SSD-only and hybrid SSD/HDD.

    (Image: stevendepolo/Flickr)

  • Flash is a niche technology

    It's true that flash technology has some particularly well-suited use cases for enterprises. For example, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a storage-hungry application that can benefit from solid-state storage. High-demand database servers may also use flash to improve processing and output. The new flexibility of solid state means the technology will likely continue to find broadly applicable use cases.

    (Image: mckaysavage/Flickr)