Flash Gaining Enterprise Prowess

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How much Flash-based storage can we expect to see in the enterprise in the coming years? Quite a lot if the size and scale of some of the latest systems are any indication.

It seems likely that many organizations will start to place increasingly heavy loads on the Tier 0 layer of storage, which is quite an accomplishment for a technology that only two years ago was largely seen as a high-speed, albeit expensive, adjunct to traditional storage media. Indeed, the overall Flash memory market is now more than $25 billion, even though enterprise applications represent only a small portion of the technology's overall reach.

But that was before companies like Nimbus Data Systems started pushing Flash into the multiple terabyte range. The company just released the S1000 storage system capable of scaling up to 250 TB and outfitted with a 12x 10 Gbe network controller. Clearly, the company has HPC applications in mind here -- everything from astrophysics to bioengineering, but it also can be applied to smaller-scale enterprise applications by virtue of its built-in multi-protocol SAN/NAS capability.

Labeling Flash as a "disruptive" technology overlooks the fact that it can provide highly effective solutions to some of the enterprise's most vexing problems, said TMCnet's Ed Silverstein. For instance, Virident Systems offers a new server-side SSD, the tachIOn, specifically targeted at heavy data applications like rich media, Web 2.0 and data analytics. With its longer lifespan, end-to-end error correction and improved management, the techIOn is designed to lower lifetime costs and increase performance vs. traditional media.

Flash memory is also helping break down the barriers found in multi-tiered storage architectures, eliminating a lot of redundant networking infrastructure in the process. A company called Nimble Storage has released the CS-Series storage system that combines primary and secondary storage on a single platform. The system features a proprietary design called the Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout (CASL) architecture that provides a common framework for Flash and SATA disk drives. New compression algorithms aid in preserving memory, and functions like deduplication are exceedingly fast because all disks are managed under the same architecture.

Despite these gains, it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing the "all-Flash" enterprise any time soon. Traditional media still has a number of advantages when it comes to bulk storage and certain data-heavy applications. But Flash is increasingly finding its way into more areas once exclusively reserved for hard disks. And as deployments increase, expect prices to come down -- so much so that cost parity with hard disks might arrive sooner than many people expect.