The Key to Adopting Hybrid Flash Storage: Improve Endurance

Innovative storage technologies such as flash-based memory are shaking up the world of deep storage, forcing manufacturers to radically transform their underlying architecture. This work, largely initiated by vendors in 2011 and continued throughout 2012, is expected to accelerate in 2013 and reach to the entire stack of computer storage arrays servers.

The appeal of hybrid-based Flash memory, for both businesses and vendors, can be explained by the asymmetry between the evolution of processor performance and memory and the hard drives, which have historically been the key systems storage components.

Over the last year, we saw the early stages of the push towards software-led infrastructure. This phenomenon has several major trends that redefine or significantly influence the world of enterprise storage, paving the way so that 2013 becomes the year when storage-based software transforms the datacenter and servers.

New Approaches to Infrastructure based on Flash

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Wikibon Analyst John McArthur, in a recent article titled “Hyperscale Storage: Not if, When,” predicts that companies’ data will grow to the multi-petabyte range, as video, still images, and audio recordings become more common parts of business communications. The traditional RAID and replication data protection to manage that demand would be impractical.  As a result, writes Wikibon Analyst Scott Lowe, “CIOS must watch hyperscale trends and jump when ready.

Lowe noted that hyperscale can help CIOs improve their services, decrease costs, increase availability and increase capacity and capability as demands grow, even if those demands do not reach the petabyte range.

Prioritization of software-led infrastructure could boost flash storage adoption

Because of their high cost, flash storage systems have been reserved for use on only the most critical data. But if you want to operate a data center efficiently, you have no choice but to use the automatic prioritization. The advent of automatic migration technology could therefore unblock bottlenecks and encourage companies to make the leap to SSD. The development of software-led solutions is further extending the reach of the PCIe and SSD storage in the server.

SMART Storage Systems has unveiled the results of an international survey in this area. According to the survey, 77% of respondents believe that the endurance of flash memory is the key to the widespread adoption of SSDs in the enterprise.

Many companies currently use SSDs in their environment, whether in the form of flash architectures, or in a combination of SSD and traditional hard disk drives. Many consider this the solution to the bottleneck of servers and storage. To find the balance between cost, performance and endurance, many data center managers are moving towards SSDs based on hybrid flash memory storage.

Because SSDs are now a viable option for business performance, cost and reliability have become critical for assessment criteria. However, as IT buyers begin to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this technology, several new initiatives are developed, resulting in server-based flash solutions delivering faster response times in microseconds.

Evolution of the virtualization model

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The evolution of the software-led virtualization model that supports business applications has changed the fundamentals of architecture in servers, storage and networking. The storage hypervisor and storage virtualization are key to releasing the brake materials that hinder the evolution of datacenters. Another major trend on the strategic application virtualization involves the proliferation of flash memory technology.

PernixData has new solution, “Flash Virtualization Platform” (FVP), which virtualizes server-side flash into a scale-out data tier for enterprise data centers. The server-side, scale-out flash virtualization platform runs  completely on software, which provides orders of magnitude more storage performance without making any changes to virtual machines or existing storage systems. So users can now deploy a server-side, scale-out tier for data in motion while leveraging any existing storage system.

Tintri’s flash storage based hybrid architecture is dedicated to VMware virtualized environments through which we can align 22,000 virtual machines (VMs) with 500 VMs per system with 99% hit rate. The objective is to propose a highly virtualized storage infrastructure that the manufacturer proposes to transform the storage layer piloting a software infrastructure built on Flash.

Compellent Technologies, acquired by Dell (automatic ranking), 3Par technology (Adaptive Optimization), EMC (Fast VP), Hitachi Data Systems (Dynamic tiering) and IBM (Easy Tiering) are some other vendors working on hybrid flash based storage solutions.

Analyst Stuart Miniman has an in-depth report on Wikibon looking at how both hybrid and software-led server-based flash solutions hold the promise of delivering greater storage efficiency to data centers.

Migration-intensive workloads, in terms of storage in virtual machines, can demonstrate significant performance and availability as well. Therefore companies must first invest in higher levels of redundancy to ensure no interruptions and business continuity, circumventing performance issues.

Promising Future for Flash

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Flash memory is not new, but historically the cost proved too high for widespread adoption. Flash devices offer a promising solution, and must be integrated into the architectural design. The demand for automatic prioritization of software can optimize the cost-performance by placing and transferring data layer that can provide more cost effective solutions.

Wikibon’s research into the performance differences between true hybrid storage and traditional arrays presented in David Floyer’s latest report, “Hybrid Storage Poised to Disrupt Traditional Arrays,” stated that hybrid flash/disk storage systems can provide significant and direct savings in environments supporting more than 700 IOPs per Tbyte. Floyer predicts that over time flash costs will continue to decrease, and flash-first arrays, either hybrid or pure flash, will become the standard for high-performance storage.

The enterprise storage and the cloud are still dominated by physical components. The plethora of flash-only/flash-hybrid arrays now hitting the market suggests huge potential to change application performance and workflows – but only if the solutions to improve availability and performance are tested and proven.

Flash-based arrays may be ready for prime time, but there are a lot of lingering decisions to make. Enterprises need not be lured into wholesale adoption of pure solid state solutions as an easy panacea to the problem. Price and capacity are critical components in addition to performance, and selecting a solution that delivers all three in a mix that meets a company’s needs is ultimately the right decision.

About Saroj Kar

Saroj is a Staff Writer at SiliconANGLE covering DevOps, social, mobile and gaming news. If you have a story idea or tip, send it to @SiliconAngle on Twitter.