Flash Forward

With huge performance gains, and the cost per GB steadily decreasing, flash storage is now looking like a viable option for many enterprises. Is now the right time to ditch disk-based storage?

Tags: Condo Protego (www.condoprotego.com)IDC Middle East and AfricaNetAppPure Storage (www.purestorage.com)Storage
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Flash Forward Flash-based storage has become a viable option for enterprise storage.
By  Tom Paye Published  February 26, 2016

Once derided as unviable, enterprise-level flash storage began to pick up steam a few years ago. However, even then, it was deemed too expensive relative to the performance that it provided by most organisations. Now, things are changing; with the technology much more affordable (and higher-performing), an entire ecosystem of flash storage vendors and systems integrators has sprung up. Is now the right time for organisations to make the switch from disk?

To understand this, we’ll have to delve into the benefits of flash, and how the technology has been evolving in the Middle Eastern market over the past few years. According to Swapna Subramani, research manager, Systems and Infrastructure Solutions, IDC MEA, the main benefit is to do with speed. And organisations are now taking note because flash storage solutions are more affordable.

“Flash technologies are electronically stored NAND-based architectures that permit increased durability, scalability and greater reliability. Traditional storage, on the other hand, is electro-mechanical by function. The biggest advantage of electronic flash storage devices versus the electro-mechanical disk drives is speed,” she says.

“Although a very nascent market in the MEA region, traditional storage vendors and pure-play flash vendors are focusing on enterprise flash expansion in the region. There has been a vacuum in anticipated leadership in the enterprise flash market prior to 2012. The key reason for this was the extremely high cost per GB for flash devices, which made it difficult to cater to enterprises with massive data storage needs. However, this market has gained momentum post-2013, with a lot of structural changes in the storage market following OEM deals, licensing and acquisitions. The consolidation and restructuring of the storage market has resulted in flash becoming more affordable at an enterprise mass storage level.”

In short, the enterprise flash storage market is open for business, but are IT departments all that bothered? Naturally, vendors of flash storage solutions will explain that, yes, Middle Eastern enterprises are ready to start adopting the technology. After all, from a purely technological standpoint, flash appears to have wide-ranging benefits — particularly if cost is no longer as much of an issue.

“Flash storage helps improve the performance of core business applications like databases, it can help achieve big improvements in processing time, reduce server hardware needed, lower database licensing costs, and lead to reduce requirements in terms of floor space and energy usage. Similarly, when it comes to VDI environments, flash provides the ability to accommodate high write workloads and bursts of both read and write activity without a decrease in performance levels,” explains Fadi Kanafani, regional director for the MENA region and Pakistan at NetApp.

“Storage performance is critical for enterprises, especially if some of the core business processes such as web analytics, time-critical financial transactions, or actionable analytics are heavily dependent on speed. Enterprises can also observe overall performance gains by replacing performance-limiting disk storage with flash. All-flash arrays substitute solid-state disks (SSDs) for slow, mechanical disks. The results are dramatic for every element of performance. A flash SSD delivers hundreds of times more IOPS than a hard disk drive (HDD) and slashes access latency from milliseconds to microseconds.”

Mohammad Dualeh, regional sales manager, Pure Storage, is even more bullish on the benefits of flash, staunchly claiming that CIOs should “only” consider flash storage for their needs going forward. He outlines several plus-points, including improved application performance, flash being more affordable these days, flash being more responsive, better operational simplicity, and better data centre efficiency.

“One of the biggest roadblocks to widespread adoption of flash was the cost — traditionally, the price of flash was about $30 to $100 per GB as opposed to the $5 per GB for disk-based storage. As a result, it was only the large companies that could afford flash. However, thanks to the use of consumer grade MLC flash in combination with advanced software to process enterprise workloads, today, flash storage costs about the same if not less than traditional disk storage, making it a viable option for SMEs too,” he says.

“One of the greatest benefits of all-flash storage is performance. Flash easily delivers 10 times the performance of hard disk drives, allowing you to accelerate your applications whether that is processing more data transactions per second or dramatically reducing the time required to run batch processes. This in turn leads to increased performance and a competitive advantage for the business. The real advantage of flash storage is consistent sub-millisecond latency, making every
application more responsive. So although most IT environments and applications will benefit from an all-flash storage array, it will be those that require high performance and low latency that will see the biggest improvement in their operations.”

IT managers and CIOs have taken note of these benefits, simply looking at them from the point of view that general IT operations could be much improved by the use of flash. Indeed, according to Savitha Bhaskar, COO at local systems integrator Condo Protego, the Middle Eastern market is reacting positively to the idea of flash storage.

“We’ve recently launched XtremIO [EMC’s all-flash array brand] in the region, and we’re seeing strong demand from very large enterprises that are processing high amounts of data, such as those with tens of thousands of employees or are processing high amounts of video data. Already, organisations in the fields of banking, investment, and finance, hotels and hospitality, and real estate developers have demoed XtremIO here,” she says.

However, interest does not always lead to adoption, and while the technical benefits of flash might be well documented, it’s less clear how these technical benefits can lead to real business benefits. Indeed, CIOs might have a tough time making a business case for switching to the (still reasonably costly) option of flash storage.

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