How Flash Storage Will Upgrade the Data Center in 2015

Posted on December 30, 2014 By Pedro Hernandez

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Whether you are a enthusiast or an average PC user, it's tough to go back to a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) once you have experienced the snappy performance delivered by solid-state drives (SSDs).

Brisk boot times, swift searches and blink-and-you-miss-it progress bars are generally par for the course with SSD-enabled systems. Likewise, businesses are discovering how a dash of flash in the data center can speed up their critical applications and help harness the value of their stored data.

In some cases, flash is even helping to turn the fortunes of some storage companies.

After a slow start, industry leader EMC dove into the flash storage market in 2012 with the release of its first PCIe NAND flash card, VFcache, and its acquisition of all-flash storage array maker XtremIO. Two years later, those bets are paying off.

In October, EMC's Emerging Storage category -- flash and software-defined storage (SDS) solutions, essentially -- helped offset slipping sales of the company's high-end storage array unit during the third quarter of 2014 (3Q14). A 47-percent, year-over-year revenue boost in Emerging Storage sales helped the company hit $6 billion in revenues in 3Q14, a 9 percent increase over the same year-ago period.

Flash adoption is clearly picking up. But what else does the future hold?

Dan Cobb, vice president and distinguished engineer at EMC's Non-Volatile Memory Strategy unit, offered InfoStor a glimpse into how organizations will be leveraging flash storage in the coming year.

Flash is Mainstream

"The flash market itself has moved beyond proof of concept to the mainstream, and as a result, we'll see the use of flash storage accelerate in 2015 as organizations come to rely more heavily on flash data management capabilities," said Cobb. "For all-flash arrays, scalability, particularly scale-out, becomes a primary differentiator."

Even blended, SSD-HDD systems will favor flash. "For hybrid arrays, the ratio of flash capacity continues to grow as customers seek a balance between the cost-effective capacity of hard disk drives and the business-aware performance of flash," he added.

SSDs Cozy up to Servers

Expect organizations to invest in more server-side flash storage, said Dan McConnell, executive director for Dell Storage product management. "The relationship between servers and storage will continue to evolve in the coming year as customers demand fastest possible access to their most critical applications."

To meet those profitability-enhancing requirements, IT managers will turn to solutions that nestle speedy SSD storage closer to server processors. "In 2015, organizations will embrace flash technology embedded in servers to increase response time for consumers, specifically those in industries such as healthcare, finance and retail, where instant transactions can define the customer experience," said McConnell.

Breathing New Life into Old Data Centers

David Scott, senior vice president and general manager of HP Storage, described flash-optimized system like his company's own 3PAR StoreServ all-flash arrays as "surprisingly disruptive."

Flash gives data center operators a new calculus for building enterprise storage infrastructures, he asserted. "They surprise business users by giving them the faster application response times than they have become accustomed to as consumers. They surprise data center owners by slashing their power consumption and floor space requirements while increasing reliability and availability."

Solid-state storage will also rewrite the rules of high-end storage.

"They surprise CIOs because using them is now more affordable than continuing with traditional Tier 1 enterprise storage platforms," Scott said. "And it is giving those traditional Tier 1 storage vendors one hell of a surprise as they witness their previous hegemony coming rapidly to an end."

New Business Models for Vendors

Continuing the Tier 1 theme, John Hayes, co-founder and chief architect of Pure Storage, said that it is "generally accepted by storage vendors that all-flash arrays (AFA) are the new Tier-1, consumers of storage are more hesitant and AFA products don't yet cover every use case. That will improve in 2015."

Flash also allows storage vendors to get a little more innovative in how they sell their solutions and services, a strategy Pure is pursuing with its Forever Flash maintenance and service program.

"What is the more interesting change is movement towards implementation risk sharing between storage vendors and customers," Hayes said. "This makes storage vendors more like service providers, and unlike compute or even network, storage is a critical and long-term relationship."

A Storage Foundation for the Internet of Things

Only flash can keep up the deluge of data that organizations are struggling to store, analyze, and ultimately, monetize, according to Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of Alliances for Violin Memory, a provider of all-flash arrays. "Companies are beginning to learn how to market and sell to customers based on the affinities and localities that can be extracted from devices like smart phones," he said.

"As more data is collected and mined, all-flash arrays that offer capacity, density, performance and reliability will be critical and become the cornerstone for companies competing in a global marketplace," added Herzog. "And this is before the Internet of Things accelerates data growth by another order of magnitude. But that's a prediction for 2016..."

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InfoStor. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.


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