The infiltration of flash storage into the data center is well under way by now, but what started as a general movement to increase performance of key applications has diversified broadly to the point that storage professionals need to carefully consider what kind of flash is appropriate for the job at hand.
This is being felt most keenly in the solid-state array (SSA), according to Data Center Dynamics’ Bryan Betts, which only recently has been outfitted with the key management capabilities that enterprises have come to rely on. Functions like deduplication, compression, thin provisioning and replication are now common on the SSA, the result of increased development on the part of array manufacturers and the need of third-party software developers to retool their platforms for flash.
Drive manufacturers themselves are starting to tailor their products to specific applications types as well. Toshiba recently introduced two new models in its HK3 series, both of which are slated for different workloads. The HK3E2 stresses greater endurance for mainstream apps like mail and web service, database functions and general-purpose storage workloads. The HK3R2, on the other hand, is optimized for read-intensive workloads like caching and video streaming. Both are built on a 2.5-inch form factor and both employ the 6 Gbps SATA interface.
Flash technology is also gravitating toward broadly distributed virtual and cloud platforms, where it can not only optimize performance but reduce costs and space requirements in centralized and remote facilities. NetApp, for example, recently teamed up with VMware to integrate the Data ONTAP operating system into the EVO: RAIL platform to create a flash-accelerated, scale-out architecture that the enterprise can quickly deploy in support of virtual application environments. The setup provides a unified management stack and can begin deploying virtual instances within minutes, all the while providing connectivity between public clouds and legacy data center infrastructure for the development of hybrid environments.
This is all part of the winding down of the storage wars that have rocked the enterprise for the past decade, at least when it comes to live production environments, says The UK Register’s Trevor Pott. With app developers increasingly spurning disk storage and even flash arrays in favor of on-server solutions, the roles of various solutions are becoming clear: object storage for bulky cold data applications and flash-based PCIe solutions for the east-west data connectivity prized by development teams. As flash becomes more prevalent, so too do the expectations of what is possible in terms of storage performance, and just as data users today won’t tolerate the half-hour wait that used to accompany archival data retrieval, neither will they suffer the multisecond lag that characterizes spinning media.
This, of course, leads many to believe that the only viable storage solution for the future data center is solid state, no matter what the application. But the fact remains that cost is just as much a factor in enterprise infrastructure as speed, so if a particular function does not live or die by lightning-fast performance, it simply makes sense to opt for a lower-cost solution that provides a more appropriate storage environment.
In this way, most enterprises will be able to produce a happy medium between tape, disk and solid state, as well as local, remote, cloud and traditional infrastructure.
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, Carpathia and NetMagic.