New Flash, a Lot Like the Old Disk

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    Software-Defined Storage: Driving a New Era of the Cloud

    You can’t find too much to complain about when it comes to Flash storage in the enterprise. Sure, it’s more expensive than hard disk, but it’s faster, more scalable and lends itself to modular and in-memory solutions that are more in sync with Big Data and other emerging trends.

    Still, it’s funny that the more that Flash vendors aim to make their products palatable to the enterprise, the more disk-like they become in their functionality.

    For example, Violin Memory just launched the Concerto 7000 all-Flash array, which is chock full of tweaks to give IT the feeling that they are getting Flash performance out of a traditional disk array. The system’s software supports synchronous and asynchronous replication, snapshots and thin provisioning, not to mention continuous data protection and LUN-specific encryption. At the same time, the array provides up to 70TB of storage across three racks within a power envelope of 500W per rack. Performance has been clocked at 500 sustained IOPS with less than 0.5ms latency.

    Flash vendors are also hoping to shed the technology’s reputation as a high-end solution. Dell recently unveiled the SC4000 array, which combines Compellent and EqualLogic technologies in a mid-market solution. The first release is the SC4020, which holds up to 400 TB in a 2U, 24-drive package that supports both iSCSI and Fibre Channel. Even with the high-end capabilities of both the Compellent data management and EqualLogic iSCSI engine, the price is under $25,000—more than 70 percent less than a conventional Flash array.

    It’s a well-known secret, however, that a speedier drive is of little use if it still connects to the wider world through the same old interface. That’s why companies like Intel are busy figuring out ways to turn the PCIe bus into a more robust networking platform. The company’s newest DC P3500, 3600 and 3700 drives combine support for the new PCIe 3.O format with Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) capability in the controller as a means to up the performance in everything from laptops to on-server memory systems. Intel says this configuration provides a six-fold performance boost over conventional disks, which in turn leads to more efficient processor utilization and greater adaptability in highly dynamic workload environments.

    Still another problem with integrating SSDs into legacy environments is the need to make changes in surrounding infrastructure and even applications themselves in order to gain the highest Flash performance. SanDisk is hoping to address this challenge through its new ZetaScale software stack, which seeks to improve storage access for key applications like in-memory computing, advanced analytics and NoSQL database management. The system is hardware-agnostic, easily deployable and can provide applications with the advanced parallelism and Flash-specific APIs that they currently lack. It works across multiple Flash solutions, including SSDs, DIMMs, PCIe memory and NVMe, and can even help in-memory apps expand from DRAM to lower-cost Flash solutions.

    The ulterior motive in all of this is to make spinning disks obsolete. The more that Flash can deliver in terms of enterprise functionality, the less reason IT has to deploy slow, less efficient storage technology.

    Most enterprises might not be ready to go all-Flash just yet. But if it is able to deliver on performance and then throw in advanced storage functions that are in consistently high demand, the argument for continued support of standard disk drives could become very shaky.

    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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