Flash Expanding Its Reach in the Enterprise

    It’s been said by more than a few technology analysts that flash storage shows great promise in the enterprise, but it is unlikely to fully replace disks, or even tape, given the wildly disparate needs of modern data environments.

    Flash is fast, to be sure, but those earlier forms of storage still rule when it comes to capacity and cost, meaning most organizations will undoubtedly pursue tiered architectures for some time.

    But this doesn’t mean flash is only a one-hit wonder in the enterprise. True, many see it as the primary means to introduce high-speed cache to Web-facing and transactional systems, but it will increasingly find its way into mixed-storage environments where it will work closely with disk systems to ensure that enterprises have both the speed and capacity to handle increasingly complex Big Data and rich media loads.

    According to EMC, development of enterprise-grade flash technologies will increasingly focus on full architectural solutions, rather than simple drives that can be used to replace spinning media and a standard array. The company’s “Project X” is aimed squarely at all-flash solutions suitable for extremely large workloads, all while relying on standardized components and interfaces. It’s a good bet that technology from the recently acquired XtremeIO will play a key role in this strategy.

    It’s also quite likely that many of the startups that have invaded (some would say, created) the enterprise Flash space will be gone within the year, according to venture firm Sterne, Agee & Leach. While firms like Pure Storage, Violin and Nimbus drew a lot of attention in 2012 with a wide range of flash developments, the channel is still largely controlled by EMC, NetApp and other stalwarts. The battle in 2013, then, will be over customer access, with the startups having to decide whether they stand a better chance of forging their own channel partnerships or joining up with an established player. In the end, there is probably only room for two or three major flash providers.

    If flash has one weakness, however, it is endurance. According to a recent survey from Smart Storage Systems, improved endurance will be a key factor in decisions to deploy flash solutions. Storage firms should take note, however, that long-lasting drives should not be accompanied by higher prices, as many enterprises are feeling increasingly cost-conscious in the new year. On the plus side, more than half of those surveyed reported already deploying flash in one form or another, usually in an effort to improve performance while maintaining capacity to meet expected peak loads.

    So it would seem that while we are on the verge of all-flash solutions within the enterprise, the all-flash enterprise itself is still a ways away. This is good news for both the flash-centric startups and the established storage providers in that it means diversity of storage technologies will be the guidance force behind purchasing decisions in 2013.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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