How Flash Has Stood the Test of Time

Do you take notes still? Maybe on paper with a pen because it helps you retain information better. Or do you prefer the digital experience of typing the words out but still getting the same experience of still taking notes? I just purchased a new monitor and was cleaning up the desktop space to make a new home for my baby, the new envy of the office. It’s definitely more popular than I am these days. In this fit of cleaning and preparing I stumbled across some old notebooks. One of my old notebooks was a think journal, one of my colleagues used to call it the “Bible.”

Yes, it was kind of big as far as notebooks go. So there I was, thumbing through the old Bible, starting at the beginning of course. First entry was from 2007 – summer time, ironic given it’s, well, summer now. Ah, yes the notes from the meeting. This meeting was pretty epic in fact. I met with this same company in 2005. At that time they were a small start-up that had just taken in VC money. We were there to talk about the 20TB of storage they needed. Good discussion but nothing materialized. Fast Forward two years and we are now talking again. We’d just closed out some pretty significant business and were meeting to discuss technology roadmaps. Pay attention, this is where it gets interesting…

During the discussion one of the key engineers off in the corner, responding to the question “Oh you think solid state is important?” Answer, “Um…yes we do, it will revolutionize the data center and entire industry.” That’s it, then back to staring at his screen and typing away.

From that point forward it has been happening. The company we met with invested in solid state starting in 2008 and has not looked back. In 2007, it may have been unconventional to think about spending that kind of money on solid state in your data center. Fast forward 8 years and solid state is the new wonder child technology in the data center and every vendor now has a strategy. The trend can’t be missed, and while I’m not going to debate if disk is dead, the importance of solid state to your architecture is profound. Why?

A few reasons:

Flash was a Ferrari, now it is a Tesla.

Flash in the early days was about one thing: Performance. Make your applications go faster, you need your data faster, hence you have a Ferrari. Goes extremely fast, you have some controls at your fingertips to manage, but not much else. Now your requirements have progressed and turned into a mainstream storage solution with more intelligence, better management features, better data protection features and so on. Hence, you now have a Tesla. It still makes your applications go faster, but you have a better experience because the solutions are actually designed to highlight a much better experience while still delivering on the previous value. You have faster access to your data.

MLC beats SLC.

SLC was awesome stuff but it was low capacity density and extremely expensive to manufacture. It kept the growth of the market tamped down when it really wanted to take off. Enter MLC, it has much higher capacity density and it is cheaper to manufacture. Market adoption of MLC takes off. Keep in mind there are more differences between SLC and MLC, but the prevailing investments that are made today by the enterprise are MLC based. Sorry SLC . 🙁

Good old fashion competition.

I have not done an exact count of companies selling solid state or Flash based solutions, in fact I stopped counting when it hit 50. The good news for the enterprise is that with the market is maturing and more companies are offering solutions; prices are starting to drop in the market. Pushing this price curve down is also a bit of Moore’s Law with Flash chips (see previous comments about MLC being higher density and cheaper).

Taking these three points into consideration and packaging them together, you now have the business case to justify the investment in solid state as a technology in your architecture. Where do you put it and why are completely different discussions. Perhaps this is a topic for another blog someday soon. Fundamentally, the investments will pay off. Instead of focusing on the higher cost of solid state, start looking at the investment as an enabler of business growth, driving better service levels, increasing reporting capacity, reducing supply chain refill process batch times and everything else you do to make your business successful.

The Flash Storage Revolution

In today’s digital economy and our ever-so-connected world, companies of all sizes and of all industry verticals must figure out how to leverage the vast quantities of raw data generated and deep analytics in order to stay competitive, transform, innovate and develop new products and capabilities that will better serve their empowered customers. ‘Big Data’ is not just a fad or a business buzzword anymore; it is a key strategic imperative. Every decision that a company makes, whether it’s dealing with mundane business processes or figuring out the way best to fulfill external/internal service-level agreements, will be data-driven. Newer key technologies, such as Apache Hadoop, have accelerated the Big Data trends and uncovered use cases far beyond Silicon Valley.

For companies to fully realize the promise and potential of Big Data and analytics, they need to have an IT infrastructure, namely compute, storage and network components, that can handle the demands and challenges that large, continuous and complex data sets bring. Here at CMI, we’re seeing that Flash storage (used in solid-state drives) has become a game-changer in the Big Data analytics space. Flash is moving rapidly into enterprise IT data centers all over the world and along the way it is replacing traditional hard disks, which are significantly slower.

Flash storage offers the following compelling advantages:

  • Exceptional IOPS performance.
    • Delivering intensive I/O required to run data science within a firm’s operations.
  • Very low latency / instant data availability.
  • Power/energy efficiency.
  • Compact/efficient footprint.

For large and complex data sets, traditional enterprise storage systems just don’t cut it anymore. Companies need real-time analytical capabilities in order to compete on time-to-insight, time-to-value and time-to-market. Flash storage plays a central role. Gone are the days when data scientists within an organization toil for weeks to discover a meaningful insight from raw data sets, translate it into operation and determine if there is a positive result at the business operations level.

Big Data analytics’ use cases via Flash storage have also proliferated in recent days. For example:

  • Enabling rapid sharing of medical records among hospital staff to detect real-time patterns and focus treatment regimen.
  • At a bottling facility for a large soft-drink brand, leveraging Big Data and Flash storage has enabled the company to improve demand forecasting. This was accomplished by narrowing the focus from warehouses down to individual customers to better predict how much of each product is needed on any given day at any particular retail store or vending machine.

Traditionally large storage players such as HP, NetApp and Pure have invested significant amount of resources to enhance their Flash storage offerings. In the case of IBM and its FlashSystem lineup, it has no spinning disks, offers ultra-high performance, with low latency and lower costs from energy savings. Some clients have reported a cut in power consumption by a whopping 96 percent, cooling requirements by 95 percent and physical storage space usage by 98 percent. IBM FlashSystem can also seamlessly integrate with software-defined storage in order to enable cloud architectures that power Big Data analytics.

We’re delighted to see increased competition in the Flash storage space. It is good for you, the customer, as well as for the industry as innovations and new use cases will continue to be introduced at a rapid pace. Not too long ago Flash was considered prohibitively expensive for many companies. Now, cost per gigabyte is coming down dramatically and making Flash more attractive for a wider range of applications.

Here at CMI, our dedicated team of Flash storage subject matter experts and solutions architects can help you ensure that your investment in Flash delivers the maximum performance in the most cost-effective way. Contact us today to continue the Flash storage conversation!

CMI’s Cloud Solutions Director Vanessa Nudd contributed to this blog

Flash Drives Business Value

flash!2There are always technology zealots in Enterprise I.T. who will readily debate the virtues of any technical solution (new or old). However, nobody can debate or argue the fact that Flash Storage is faster than traditional Spinning Disk Storage.

It is easy to find those who will debate how much faster Flash Storage is, but those arguments are over the actual order of magnitude – as the low end would be hundreds of times faster and the high end would be a thousand times faster. Even those debates are based on the fundamental proven fact that Flash Storage is hundreds of times faster than Spinning Disk Storage.

Speed is typically a good thing in your data center infrastructure, but speed applied in correct situations where it can add business value is always a good thing in your data center infrastructure. There are clearly some things in life where slow may be better than fast. If you were in a boat in the ocean and noticed the boat was taking on water, in this case, slow would be better than fast. I have been responsible for many data centers in my career and have been in many more that I was not responsible for. From this experience, I can tell you that I have only seen one or two slow leaking boats in a data center but I have seen a few specific use cases where Enterprise Flash Storage creates significant business value.

At a high level, eliminating latency and reducing power consumption are tremendous benefits to deploying Flash Arrays. Here are a few areas where we have seen businesses benefit from deployment of Flash Arrays:

  • Data Insight and Analytics – the foundation of flash storage speeds the execution of the Data Analytics technology stack (the ETL, the cube building, and the user access/database speeds) to a degree that businesses are able to gain access to Insights much quicker than on prior infrastructure technologies. In some cases, with the speed of access, businesses have actually eliminated the copying of data to “Analytics Databases” and used the speed of Flash Storage as an enabler for the users to access live data for their Analytics and Insights. At a minimum, the ability to copy or backup data hundreds of times faster dramatically reduces the ‘backup window times’ which also results in fresher data being used in the Analytics and Insight.
  • Companies that rely on their eCommerce capabilities have found that there is a very real cost to latency in the end user experience. Flash Storage in the Data Center provides the ability to significantly reduce latency (in fact virtually eliminates latency on the storage side). It improves the customer experience and, in turn, reduces the real cost that latency puts on the overall eCommerce financial picture.
  • Flash Storage in the Data Center has shown to improve the response times and user experience of VDI. When implemented thoughtfully, VDI can lower real costs for an enterprise and create a much simpler and secure I.T. Infrastructure. With Flash Storage accelerating the performance of VDI in an enterprise, it is becoming the key enabler for businesses to realize the cost reductions of VDI in both actual demonstrated lower operational costs and in the simplification and security of the I.T. Infrastructure.

The cost of Flash Storage, when compared to traditional Spinning Disk Storage, becomes an important component in identifying the use-cases for deployment so that you are always driving business value in a manageable Cost of Ownership model. As mentioned above, eliminating latency and reducing power consumption are compelling value propositions. Flash Storage Arrays will continue to see wider adoption as we continue to see those many use cases where business value is created.