Assessing the All-Flash Storage Equation

Arthur Cole
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Study Shows that Hybrid Storage Plays a Crucial Role in Mitigating Virtualization Issues

Amid all the talk about the cloud, hyperconvergence, software-defined everything and digital transformation, it is getting difficult to make infrastructure decisions in the here and now.

On one hand, the enterprise needs to face these emerging developments with their eyes open and a strategy that incorporates new technologies as quickly as possible. On the other, most applications still rely on traditional infrastructure that requires maintenance and refreshes in order to remain as viable as possible.

This is particularly true of storage, where Flash media is increasingly supplanting disk storage in production environments.

According to IDC, the overall storage market was flat during the second quarter of 2016 at $8.8 billion in revenue. But as Infostor’s Pedro Henandez notes, a breakdown of the numbers shows that Flash arrays are quickly gaining in popularity, particularly all-Flash systems, which jumped an eye-popping 94.5 percent to take in $1.1 billion. As well, hybrid arrays saw a 26.1 percent gain to $2.3 billion. Also interesting is the fact that original design manufacturers (ODMs), which were on the rise in recent years selling generic components to hyperscale providers like Google and Amazon, saw a 21.5 percent year-on-year decline while traditional manufacturers like HPE saw reasonable gains.

This could be a crucial moment for Dell-EMC, of course. The company matched HPE in sales, although this represented a 5.5 drop for EMC compared to 2Q 2015. But the now-combined company has come out swinging with the new VMAX 250F all-Flash array, which features new management software that the company says will change the economics of Flash storage. The HyperMax operating system features tools like inline compression, non-disruptive migration and asynchronous third-site support to lower storage costs and extend storage environments across great distances. Meanwhile, the array itself scales to 1PB and delivers more than 1 million IOPS with sub-millisecond latency, all within a half-rack footprint.

Fujitsu is also out with a new all-Flash array, the Eternus AF, which is available in a 24-drive configuration with an effective capacity of 460TB, or a 96-drive system that scales up to 1.8PB. The platform is outfitted with a number of automated quality-of-service features designed to reduce admin and maintenance requirements, and it offers seamless connectivity to existing Eternus DX disk arrays to provide a smooth upgrade path to high-speed computing. The system is optimized for mixed workloads ranging from database and analytics support to VDI and Big Data.

While these new arrays are impressive, enterprise executives should still take care that their storage spend is going to the right technology for the right reasons, says The Register’s Dale Vile. Flash is best when applied to high-speed data loads, but as costs come down, it is quickly turning into a more general-purpose solution. This can make it difficult to assess various solutions based on capacity, reliability and other metrics because of the many ways in which they can be measured. Capacity, in particular, can be difficult to nail down because it relies a great deal on the way in which each vendor handles media degradation, dedupe, compression, and even what type of Flash is employed. Add to that the speed at which Flash technology is evolving and the enterprise can easily find itself in a jam when looking to upgrade its storage capabilities for the new digital era.

Rarely, however, does technological evolution proceed on a determinate, predictable path. Flash is most definitely faster than disk, which alone justifies its higher price for applications that live and die by the latency of underlying infrastructure. But it isn’t the answer to everything, and a prudent enterprise would not deploy Flash for routine, back-office functions any more than a trucking company would buy a fleet of Lamborghinis to ship goods across the country.

Despite the rapid uptake of one storage technology over another, the enterprise is likely to maintain a highly diverse storage ecosystem for some time to come.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


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