Stash the Flash?

See the full article in Storage Magazine here

Stash the Flash?


The “flash everywhere” trend is actually materializing as “flash where it makes economic sense”. George Teixeira, CEO of DataCore Software, considers how a more mature adoption of flash is now bearing fruit through a strategy of cost-effective utilization of flash technology spreading from servers to widespread usage across the board.

Flash seems to be finding its natural place in the storage stack and is now gradually being reconciled with existing disk technologies. The ‘flash hype cycle’ seems to be slowing to a more realistic pace, noted largely through the resultant consolidation of flash manufacturers. This necessary market consolidation illustrated that flash, whilst recognized as a worthy game changer, needed to be used as a more practical technology that could be reconciled into existing disk technologies.

Indeed, flash has materialized as being excellent for specialized workloads that require high speed reads such as databases, but it is not largely a cost-effective solution for all workloads and still makes up a very small fraction of the overall installed storage base. On the other side of the spectrum, low-cost SATA disk drives continue to advance and use new technologies like helium to support huge capacities, up to 10 TB per drive, but they are not highly performant and are comparatively slow. We were lulled into believing that customers will shift 100% to all-flash array utopia, but in reality, it is not practical due to the costs involved, and the large installed base of storage that must be addressed. What seems to be missing is the smart software to help unify the new world of flash with the existing and still evolving world of disks.

The market for SATA drives, due to their low cost, has not slowed down and there is a need to balance both flash and SATA technologies to get the most out of an enterprise’s storage investment and effectively utilize all its storage resources. Each flash vendor is trying to create a stack of flash services but they are starting anew, which is preventing many of them from going to the next level since they don’t have competitive differentiation.

Pooling Resources
Here’s where established and dedicated third party software-defined storage can look at both technologies simply as containers of data, and can apply a comprehensive suite of storage services on top of either flash or SATA drives. For instance, DataCore provides the most powerful enterprise-class flash stack in the industry, as it is easy to create a shared storage pool out of the internal flash and disk storage resources available to a server or to integrate flash or disks that are located externally.

In effect, software-defined storage can integrate and optimize any flash-based technology and disk-based devices as part of virtual SAN deployments or within an overall storage infrastructure. Software-defined storage can reconcile both worlds, and I see software as key to the unification of existing and new disk and flash technologies.

The Write Profile
To further the point, look and see what’s happening with SATA drive acceleration. Responding to our customer needs, DataCore is the first to provide a new random write accelerator for SATA drives. Again, flash is good for reads but not effective for write traffic, and SATA is much lower cost but slow. Write-intensive workloads include RAID-5 systems and critical transactional applications like databases, SharePoint, ERP, and on-line transaction processing. The Random Write Accelerator yields up to 30 times faster write performance for random-write-heavy workloads. The write performance speed-ups are most pronounced on SATA disk drives, where each write incurs significant rotational and seek delays to mechanically update blocks on spinning platters. This enables flash-like speed out of these lower-cost devices. Obviously, write-intensive workloads using flash also go faster.

Island Life
Also, be aware of the creation of disparate islands. Each flash device has its own unique feature stack, but what happens when they need to work with others? These disjointed software stacks create “isolated islands of storage”; everything we have struggled to move away from in the past decade. Virtual SANs, converged systems, and flash devices have continued to proliferate, creating more separately managed machines and ultimately resulting in discrete islands of storage in the IT organization. The capability to unify and federate these isolated storage islands by treating each of these scenarios as use cases under a unifying software-defined storage architecture can help solve this, driving management and functional convergence across the enterprise.

As a result, once-isolated storage systems – from flash and disks located within servers, to external SAN arrays and public cloud storage – can now become part of an enterprise-wide accessible virtual pool, classified into tiers according to their unique characteristics. Different brands of storage, standalone converged systems and hypervisor dependent Virtual SANs and external storage systems no longer need to exist as ‘islands’ – they can be integrated within an overall storage infrastructure.

The system administrator can easily provision capacity, maximize utilization and set high-level policies to allow the software to dynamically select the most appropriate storage tier and paths to achieve the desired levels of performance and availability. Only then will we be able to consider the true value that flash will play in the IT infrastructure of the future.

Reality Check for Flash
Just how accurate is the adoption of the all flash data center? In our recent Global survey of 500 IT professionals conducted in April 2015, more than half of the respondents (53 percent) said that they currently have less than 10 percent of capacity assigned to flash storage. The number of participants who answered that flash makes up higher than 40 percent of their storage capacity is only 9 percent. Other reality checks for the all flash camp was that while flash technology penetration expanded, it is still absent in 28 percent of the cases and 16 percent reported that it did not meet application acceleration expectations. More info: www.datacore.com

“Each flash device has its own unique feature stack, but what happens when they need to work with others? These disjointed software stacks create ‘isolated islands of storage’; everything we have struggled to move away from in the past decade. Virtual SANs, converged systems, and flash devices have continued to proliferate, creating more separately managed machines and ultimately resulting in discrete islands of storage in the IT organization.”

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