Flash Storage Architecture: What's Available and Why It Matters

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Continuous Tiering Hybrid

The last architecture – and the newest – is the continuous-tiering-hybrid architecture. This architecture differs in several fundamental ways from both post-process-tiering systems and caching-hybrid systems.

  • Data in these systems is deduped and compressed in real-time, before it gets placed on the first tier of media. This greatly expands the usable capacity of the system, while maximizing utilization of all tiers.
  • All data in the normal case is initially written to the primary media tier. Because of this, continuous tiering hybrid systems that use flash and disk can deliver write IOPs and write latency performance similar to that of all-flash systems at a significantly lower cost.
  • Rather than tiering data on a schedule, continuous-tiering-hybrid systems automatically tier data continuously based on workload changes. Therefore the hot data is immediately moved to the fastest media available. To enable this instantaneous reactivity to change in workloads, the tiering is fine-grained – with "heat" being maintained for very small blocks of data (as low as 8K).
  • The tiering is media aware. To ensure that write and read-back performance of the slower tiers is not affected, data movement is optimized to the properties of the specific source and target media. This allows continuous-tiering-hybrid systems to support multiple media tiers and allows for easy integration of new types of media, future proofing the system against changes in the media landscape.

Of course, outside of a flash storage system's architecture there are other factors to consider when purchasing a system, including how users recover data on the system, how they clone data from the system, how well the system integrates with virtualization environments and applications and how easy the system is to deploy and manage. Nonetheless, a flash storage system's basic architecture is a key factor in determining whether it can deliver the storage performance users needs at a price they can afford. In shopping for flash storage systems, customers need to ask vendors whether their system's architecture has been designed to fully leverage the latest data media, processing and networking technologies to maximize price/performance, or if they are employing a simplistic or antiqued architecture that fails to take full advantage of these technologies.  

Everyone in the storage market is excited about flash. As well they should be. Flash can deliver much better performance than spinning disks. In addition, the cost of flash media is starting to come down to a level where all enterprises should consider adding flash-based storage to their enterprise storage infrastructure.

Yet amidst all this excitement there is also confusion. In particular, as vendors introduce a variety of all-flash and hybrid-flash storage systems, many storage administrators are confused as to the differences between the systems, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each of them. Almost all current products in the flash storage landscape can be broken down into four different types of system architectures – all-flash, post-process tiering hybrid, caching hybrid, and continuous tiering hybrid – each with its own unique characteristics.

By comparing flash storage architectures side by side, storage administrators can better understand what flash architectures – and by extension what flash products – make the most sense for their particular set of applications. In doing so, they are likely to find that while flash has improved enterprise storage system performance, until recently storage system architectures have failed to keep up with media and other technology advancements, and fully leveraged these technologies to deliver better performance while minimizing data storage costs.

In this slideshow, Jacob Cherian, vice president of product strategy at Reduxio, takes a closer look at the four flash storage architectures currently on the market.


Related Topics : Fujitsu, Storage Virtualization, Desktop Virtualization, Virtual Tape Library, InfiniBand

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