Enterprises Warming Up to All-Flash Arrays

Arthur Cole

Ask most enterprise managers if they are willing to introduce all-Flash storage arrays into their data centers, and the answer is "sure." Ask them if they would ever swap out their entire disk-based infrastructure in favor of full Flash dependency, and the answer is a near-universal "no way."

And yet the day may come when disk, although cheaper, will no longer enjoy its status as the most prominent storage medium in the enterprise. As tape-based storage has amply demonstrated, low-cost is not the only determinant in selecting storage. Things like speed, flexibility and overall feature sets have a lot to do with what storage goes where and how it is used.

For new companies like Skyera, Flash represents a means to break down some very thick walls that EMC, HP and others have erected around the enterprise fortress. The company says its SkyHawk system provides native solid-state storage for $3 per GB — still high compared to magnetic disks, but a slightly less than many rival SSDs. As for overall capacity, the company is talking about 44 TB in a single rack unit that also includes the Flash and RAID controllers, as well as the storage blades and network interface. The company builds its systems around multi-level cell technology, but claims to provide improved longevity with advanced controller software.

Specs and pricing are all well and good, but storage managers have also grown fond of the feature sets that traditional storage vendors have built up over the years. However, that distinction is starting to blur as firms like Violin Memory add tools like deduplication and thin provisioning to their all-Flash arrays. The new software for the 3000- and 6000-series Flash Memory Array is based on coding from Symantec, which is said to be working with other Flash array manufacturers to bring advanced features to their platforms.

Meanwhile, HP is out with an all-SSD version of the 3Par P10000 array, aimed at top-tier applications in cloud environments and virtualized data centers. The system lists at a cool $350,000 and can hold more than 500 SSDs per array, giving enterprises the ability to scale storage to extreme levels in only a fraction of the footprint required of traditional arrays. The system can be equipped with 3Par Adaptive Optimization for automated tiering between SSDs or magnetic disks.

Performance-wise, it's hard to argue against solid-state storage. When AMD added 6 TB of NAND Flash storage from Whiptail into a virtual server test environment, it saw latency drop 50-fold and overall performance jump by 40 percent. The system delivers 86,000 IOPS, compared to about 6,000 on a traditional Fibre Channel SAN.

As I mentioned, though, few organizations are looking to replace disk-based storage entirely. Still, it's difficult to imagine the CIO who is not impressed by the performance levels that Flash is putting out. Tier 0 and tier 1 data will certainly be the beneficiaries of solid-state storage, but as the technology gains market share it probably won't be long before faster throughput and lower power consumption start to make sense for less critical applications as well.

Like tape, disks won't go away entirely, but it won't be the first medium that storage managers think of when deploying additional capacity.



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