The Benefits of Flash Storage & Flash Arrays | CDW

Exceptional Storage in a Flash

The performance boost and economic benefits of flash storage are becoming impossible to ignore.

In recent years, many organizations determined that flash storage was a more economical option than hard disks for latency-sensitive workloads. But that calculus is changing to increasingly include flash in organizations’ storage plans, says Eric Burgener, research vice president for the infrastructure systems, platforms and technologies group at IDC. 

Today, many organizations are adopting all-flash arrays even for workloads that aren’t particularly latency-sensitive. IDC also projects that flash media prices will drop another 26 percent over the next five years. 

“The price is going down relative to hard disk drives. There’s no doubt about that,” says Burgener. “But also, organizations can use compression and data deduplication to reduce the amount of raw capacity it takes to store a given amount of data. On a 1 terabyte hard disk, you can store 1TB of data. But with flash, if you get to a 5-to-1 reduction ratio, you could store 5TB of data. So, even if the flash drive costs three or four times as much, you have to buy a lot fewer of them. You actually spend less to buy that system.” 

Data center administrators have long coveted the performance benefits of flash storage. But now, with prices dropping, it makes more sense than ever to use flash for a variety of workloads. The results include greater performance, improved agility and increased efficiency. 

Storage with Speed and Substance

“The biggest benefit of all-flash arrays comes from latency reduction,” says Jay Krone, director for storage portfolio product marketing at Dell EMC. “Because you’re not sitting there waiting on the old spinning media, you see an improvement of over 10 times in application performance, and that application performance translates to more revenue per minute. You’re able to do more in a given period of time, which leads to a direct revenue bump. You can almost think of it as a turbo charger — all of a sudden, everything runs faster.” 



The percentage of flash storage arrays that will be based on Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) technology by 2020

Source: Gartner, “Critical Capabilities for Solid-State Arrays,” August 2018

From SCSI to NVMe 

Historically, flash storage has used the Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) protocol. But vendors are starting to build solutions to run the Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) protocol, which is designed specifically to take advantage of the benefits of flash. Pure Storage shipped an NVMe system in 2017, and other major players announced NVMe systems in 2018. 

“Even though these all-flash systems were built with SCSI, they’re not nearly as fast as they’re going to be as when we start to use a storage protocol that was actually built for flash media,” says Eric Burgener, a research vice president at IDC. “The systems that use this protocol are going to be much more efficient and will be able to support much higher degrees of parallelism than SCSI-based systems.” 

For now, Burgener says, NVMe solutions remain more expensive than SCSI systems. As a result, organizations are adopting them on a case-by-case basis. “If you have workloads that have performance requirements that are outrunning even the SCSI-based flash drives — such as super-high-performance relational databases — NVMe may be the solution,” Burgener says.

Economic Benefits

“Our biggest competitor is the perception that flash is expensive,” says Kenney. “People tend to look at the traditional acquisition costs rather than the total cost of ownership. They need to look at what the total cost is over three to five years. I think they’ll be shocked to see that they’re actually paying more for hard disk drives.” 

The data compression and deduplication advantages of flash account for a portion of its financial benefits. But there are also “hidden” efficiencies related to power and cooling, management, maintenance and employee productivity. 

“The conversation tends to be about performance, and people tend to forget the significant operational benefits,” says Krone. “You’ll probably need fewer people to manage an all-flash environment. There are human productivity improvements, and the people you have on staff can accomplish more.” 

Because flash — with the help of compression and deduplication — allows data center operators to store the same amount of data with less hardware, organizations can also save money on ancillary data center expenses. “You need less floor space,” Burgener says. “You need less power and cooling, so your energy costs are less.” 

The faster performance of flash can even make other data center equipment more efficient — leading to potentially decreased licensing costs. “The fact that there’s much lower latency lets you get much more utilization out of the CPUs that are talking to the storage array,” says Burgener. “Before, the CPU had to wait for a hard disk drive to respond. Flash responds faster, which means the CPU can ask for the next data that it needs.” 

“We’ve seen organizations that need as much as 30 percent fewer servers to run the same application — at the same performance level — if they run it on flash,” Burgener says. “If you’re standing up something like Oracle for the first time, you end up buying a lot fewer licenses, because you’re running it on fewer servers.” 

 A Changing Trend Around the All-Flash Decision 

Until recently, relatively few organizations opted for all-flash arrays for all their storage needs. Instead, most deployed these resources only for specific use cases that required high levels of performance. 

Today, Burgener says, more organizations are considering implementing flash storage throughout their primary data centers. “Most of our clients are using what they call an ‘all-flash for primary storage’ strategy,” he says. “If they’re going to replace a system that isn’t all-flash, they’re going to look at all-flash first.” 

Flash arrays are growing in size, making them an increasingly attractive option even for secondary storage needs such as backup, disaster recovery and archiving, says Burgener. “Now, in addition to all these performance benefits, you can build a petabyte system a lot quicker, just from a capacity point of view,” he says. “All-flash is going to start to penetrate secondary storage markets, because the cost calculation is going to tilt even more toward solid-state drives if you’re building a large-capacity system. That’s not true if you only need 5TB. But for larger systems, it’s going to be attractive to buy an all-flash backup system, versus one that uses hard disk drives.” 


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