Understanding the Flash Storage Landscape

Jonathan Kowall

by Jonathan Kowall

If flash storage entered a popularity contest – it would win. Companies of all sizes in all industries are hopping on the so called “bandwagon” to take a closer look at flash storage. But is it right for you?

In a recent survey by the Enterprise Strategy Group, 50% of all companies polled (39% midmarket, 56% enterprise-level) currently use solid-state storage technology or plan to deploy it within 12 months.

The advantages of flash storage cover everything from faster data retrieval, to running cooler, to using less power overall. What’s more since there are no moving parts or spinning platters with flash there are fewer hardware failures due to mechanical issues.

More Flash Pros:

  • Without the inertia of spinning disks and moving mechanical arms, data is read much faster from flash memory over mechanical drives.
  • Flash drive read speeds are faster than write speeds since flash requires each cell to be erased before a write takes place.
  • Flash storage uses less power and runs cooler since there is no need to run mechanical devices.
  • No moving parts results in a much lower drive failure over traditional HDDs.

Now, before you jump on the aforementioned “bandwagon”, there are a few things to consider when it comes to flash.

  1. Compared to the same amount of available disk space on HDDs, byte-for-byte, flash storage can be more expensive than HDDs.
  2. Each time flash cells are erased and reprogrammed they deteriorate slightly. This “wear-leveling” is a technique that distributes writes across all memory to avoid the potential of early cell failures.
  3. Since each cell must be erased before writing to it, a write operation takes longer than a read operation on a flash device.
Applications for Flash Storage

All in all flash is the optimal choice for applications requiring low latency and accelerated performance. A great example is EMC’s XtremIO systems, which not only delivers exceptional speed but also handles multiple and varying workloads as they arise, such as virtual desktop environments, ecommerce, complex databases and online transaction processing (OLTP).

Here are some more examples where flash storage is ideal.

  • Hybrid Arrays utilize a combination of flash storage to store frequently accessed data (“hot data”) in flash and less frequently accessed data (“warm or cold data”) on slower hard drives. This configuration is typical for large data storage requirements where some latency is acceptable, such as data warehousing and OLTP.
  • All-Flash Arrays, like EMC’s XtremIO, provides high storage capacity, extremely low latency, and scalability; ideally suited for applications that require consistent performance for random input/output, such as virtual servers and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).
  • Server Based Flash uses PCIe cards to store local data to the server, which accelerates application performance by significantly reducing latency. This configuration works well for virtual desktop environments and for accelerating data intense analytics and modeling.
  • Server Based Flash as Cache utilizes flash storage on PCIe cards in order to cache data which significantly accelerates data reads. Applications including OLTP and databases benefit from this configuration’s ability to accelerate performance.
Mini-van or Ferrari

Workload, flash and IO assessments are critical when considering this move. While there is much to gain from adopting a flash storage strategy, it isn’t the right solution for every workload. Think of a soccer mom or dad in a Ferrari. Is it better to transport six kids at 55 mph versus two kids at 100 mph?  While systems like EMC’s XtremIO’s all-flash-array, out-perform current storage solutions when it comes to speed and demanding workloads, you might consider a hybrid solution or a phased approach to extend the operational life of your existing assets versus a total array replacement.