Flash – A technology whose time is now real
SANTHOSH D’ SOUZA
Director, Systems Engineering, NetApp Marketing & Services Pvt. Ltd India
he business case for Flash memory at the enterprise is a strong one. Solid State Drives (SSDs) based on flash memory are generating a lot of excitement. This enthusiasm is warranted because flash SSDs demonstrate latencies that are at least 10 times lower than the fastest hard disk drives (HDDs), often enabling response times more than 10X faster. The underlying flash memory technology using SSDs has many advantages. In addition to storage persistence, these advantages include higher density, lower power consumption and lower cost per gigabyte. Flash technology provides maximum advantages for applications that perform many random read I/Os.
Despite its performance superiority, Flash was operating in the shadow of traditional hard disk technology for a long time. This is primarily due to durability and cost factors. However, in recent years, new Flash technologies have developed in many forms and have achieved high reliability and extreme performance at consistent low latency. This makes the technology a perfect fit for customers where processing delays constrain the business.
Shared storage networks featuring a mix of flash memory and traditional hard drives (HDDs) can increase performance and lower operational costs for virtualized networks. To cite an example; an organization that implemented flash storage to great advantage is the global cosmetics brand, Revlon. Revlon transformed its IT infrastructure from ground up, created a private cloud, built a global disaster recovery site and virtualized all resources. The results, really spoke for themselves! Revlon was able to significantly lower storage costs by mixing solid-state disks and relatively inexpensive SATA drives within a single aggregate, or “hybrid aggregate.” Adding SSDs to the aggregate increased the performance of the busy SATA disks by a factor of ten. The use of software that combined the capability of server-based flash technology with intelligent caching to extend the virtual storage tier to the enterprise servers permitted Revlon to employ relatively inexpensive SATA disks, thereby minimizing latency by up to 50 percent. The company now has the ability to perform 14,000 transactions per second. It has been able to increase storage capacity five-fold at the same cost and decrease data center consumption by 72 percent. In short, Revlon successfuly harnessed its Big Data challenge and turned 3.6 PB of data from a burden into a business driver.
Some specific business benefits that a cost-effective, high performance flash implementation can provide include - Reduced IT expenses: This might seem a bit counterintuitive, since flash is typically associated with high price tags. However, when used in conjunction with an operating system it can quickly identify heavily used data and move it into flash. This can reduce or eliminate the need to overprovision network storage to increase I/O performance, ultimately making HDDs more expensive than flash storage on a dollar per gigabyte basis. This reduces the number of HDDs required for storage and also yields savings in power consumption and storage footprint. Flash can also accelerate storage I/O, so multiple workloads can use the same storage array, eliminating the need for separate data storage silos and further reducing IT CAPEX and staff requirements. Enabling real-time decision making for verticals: The increased I/O performance that flash enables in storage infrastructures can benefit several vertical applications. For example, for large financial institutions, which process millions of transactions a day over their networks, high-performance storage I/O can allow them to conduct those transactions in real time.
Online retailers can also benefit from real-time transaction capabilities of flash storage. Regardless of whether they are selling physical or digital products, real-time analytics allow e-commerce applications to make relevant purchase recommendations based on a user’s past searches and purchases. Social media applications: Faster storage can benefit social media apps by accelerating data indexing. For example, it enables quicker distribution of a status update to a user’s friends or contacts.
Future innovations in semiconductor process technology and economies of scale will yield lower cost, higher performing flash memory over time. This could lead to the widespread availability of cost-effective all-flash storage arrays that reduce the need for HDDs and caching software. This would make all-flash arrays a viable data storage solution for almost any IT budget. Clearly, the business benefits that hybrid flash/ HDD storage networks can provide should make them a part of any IT infrastructure technology roadmap for some time to come.
Santhosh D’ Souza is Director, Systems Engineering, NetApp Marketing & Services Pvt. Ltd India