The three things you should know before choosing a flash solution

Over the past five or so years flash has come seemingly from nowhere to dominate conversations about enterprise storage. But where the technology has evolved rapidly over the intervening period, debates about flash have largely remained static: often amounting to little more than technology tire kicking.

Let’s move the conversation forawrd and close the chapter on what flash is (we all now get the message: flash is fast) and move on to what flash does. Let’s move on from the technology to the use case.

With around 105 vendors all touting different versions of flash, it is vital that this shift in focus happens sooner rather than later if businesses are to avoid investing in systems that do not actually address their needs.

> See also: Connecting the dots: why storing your data in isolation is the biggest customer service mistake

There are three flash essentials that every business should know before they begin the all-important procurement process. 

The economics of flash are changing

When flash first hit the storage scene it was much more expensive than its disk alternatives. As with all technology however, price points have come down over time, helped to a large extent by deduplication (dedupe), compression, and space-efficient snapshot technologies, which help businesses to get the most out of their flash investments.

The good news for businesses is that the economics of flash are set to improve further. This is largely down to a sort of Moore’s Law effect whereby the amount of storage capacity on each flash Solid State Drive (SSD) increases over time, bringing down the raw cost-per-gigabyte.

This will continue to be multiplied by the effect of space-efficient snapshot consolidation, dedupe and compression technologies, making flash a highly cost effective option for many types of storage.

This is not to say that the debates around flash, disk arrays, hybrid arrays and hybrid clouds are over. Sure the cost of flash is decreasing, but so too is that of disk – and dedupe and compression technologies work as well for disk as they do for flash.

The changing economics of flash is far from exclusively being a conversation about the relative cost of one type of storage over another. It is important because it means businesses today have more options available to them than ever before: including all-flash.

As we shall see, the implications of this evolution are that businesses need to make sure that they are asking the right questions of vendors to ensure they get a storage system that is fit for purpose.

Software is getting smart

So how can customers ensure that they are asking the right questions? Well, the first step is to forget about flash as a storage medium: the key to a successful flash implementation is to consider the application outcomes.

Flash SSDs are merely the building blocks – it’s how you arrange the blocks, where you put them and how you use them that really count. Software is therefore a key consideration of any successful flash implementation yet it is not a subject you see discussed often enough in the context of flash.

Software is the catalyst of flash. It is what brings flash to life and enables businesses to use the medium in innovative ways.

Take tiering. There has already been lots of innovation in the tiering space for HFAs and AFAs but smart software is taking it even further. New smarter tiering software enables systems to automatically orchestrate between real-time caching and back-end drives (Flash and spinning disk) to balance the needs for both performance and cost. 

The new economics of flash are such that it is now also possible to tier between different types of flash. This is an interesting dynamic that makes ‘all-flash’ and ‘hybrid flash’ propositions highly compelling.

Software holds the key to this tiering, allowing enterprise users to dynamically move data up and down the stack at will.  It will also be increasingly important in moving data horizontally, across platforms.

By treating all hardware as nothing more, nothing less than a pool of resource, smart software will ensure that businesses are getting the most from their systems both in terms of economics and performance.

Another new example is integrated copy data management. IDC estimates that >60% of all enterprise storage is copies of production data repurposed for development and test, data protection, or downstream analytics.

Some new storage platforms offer flash-optimised copy services that enable instant, writeable, full-performance, and totally space-efficient snapshots. With these, many application teams are innovating new workflow agility and business processes because they can now make as many copies as they want as frequently as they want, with no capacity or SLA risks.

Let the application lead procurement

The new economics of flash and the emergence of smart-software mean that businesses can do almost anything with their storage systems. Indeed, so vast is the range of options this opens up to businesses it is no wonder that many find the whole subject bewildering. So what can they do?

Again, the key lies in ensuring they ask the right questions. Any question that starts with the hardware and works inwards to the business is wrong. The starting point of any flash implementation must start with the end user business asking what they want their application to do, and what they need from a hardware and software perspective to meet these aims.

Indeed, this is the single most important flash essential: that the end customer must ‘own’ the applications side of the conversation, not the vendor.

> See also: How will I read my data in 100 years? Answering the long term storage challenge

Once the application is understood, then a flash strategy can be created. Very few businesses are sitting down and saying: ‘this is how I am going to deploy flash in my business; this is the type of flash I want. This is how my application writes, this is how it reads.'

'This is the latency and the response time I want and I need an infrastructure that delivers that.’ Indeed, many businesses that bought their system some time ago find that it is not doing what they want it to do in the manner they want it to. This is because the start of the journey was wrong – they got that first question wrong.

Businesses must not, therefore, buy flash in the same way they have always bought storage (i.e. on price per gigabyte, deduplication and compression considerations). Instead businesses need to have a clear and defined application transformation idea of what your business is doing and where it is going and only then consider which technologies will best meet their aims.

Flash everywhere

Now that we are beyond the point of wanting to know what flash is, we can see that at its heart the flash story is not about the medium: it is about what you can do with it. Businesses now must ask themselves what their strategy is to develop flash in all its forms across their operations in a way that suits their business objectives.

For flash has a place everywhere in the business, from OLTP databases and big data analytics tools right into the server.

Exactly where and when it will be used depends on one thing and one thing alone: the requirements of the business’ applications.

Sourced from Sean Horne, CTO UK&I, EMC

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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