Storage: The Risk of Adopting Flashy Trends

Opinion Feb 15, 2013

Gavin McLaughlin at X-IO warns against getting swept up by the fervour surrounding flash

Like many other parts of the IT industry, the storage industry has had its fair share of disruptive technologies over the years.

The latest is flash and all-flash arrays, which are subject to all kinds of claims. Maybe you’ve heard some of them? Like the one that they can run your OLTP apps 4,000 percent faster? Or the one that they can save $4m per annum in power costs?

Flash is a new media technology and it will take its place in the storage world. But it’s not going to take over the storage world.

It’s a great tool to help solve some storage issues but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Channel partners need to make sure that message gets through to any customers swept up by the fervour surrounding flash. The reality is there is still plenty of mileage left in hard drives.

One of the major inhibitors to adopting flash arrays is price; they’re expensive. To save costs, businesses could opt for cheap, consumer grade flash-based products with short duty cycles but that’s a risky move and few are likely to take it. For those that do consider it, channel partners should do their best to make their customers aware of the risks they are taking with their business.

Another area worth exploring in more detail is power and heat. One vendor claims its flash modules use only five watts per TB of storage. By those figures, someone might expect a 10TB array would only require a 50W power supply. However, that figure doesn’t include the processors needed to run the unit, some of the background issues (write endurance and garbage collection) that need power too, as well as the on-board memory. Once you add all those in, a 10TB all-flash array would need 2KW of power.

It’s important for channel partners to address the “myth” that enterprise flash storage arrays use less power than hard drive arrays. That may have been true of old-school 15K RPM fibre drive units, but it’s not the case with new hybrid arrays that address power consumption issues by melding different media technologies together, including flash, and playing to the strengths of each of them.

In a recent real-world customer test, a hybrid 10TB unit had the same performance as all-flash 10TB units from two vendors but used less than half the power and gave out less than half the heat. Most crucially for channel partners grappling to provide customers with the best solutions they can in a world of tightening IT budgets, the hybrid unit cost around 70 percent less than the flash-only alternatives.

In addition to being more cost-effective, hybrid arrays also provide more peace of mind because they offer five-year warranties as standard. By contrast, standard flash-only warranties usually last for a mere 12 months. With a five-year warranty, channel partners are giving customers the opportunity to buy into an architecture with a far higher degree of confidence in its capabilities.

As trusted advisers, channel partners should ensure that any customers considering all-flash arrays ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do you need 1,000,000 IOPS in 10TB of storage?
  • Do you need 300µS latency?
  • Can you justify a £300,000 outlay to your boss for something that comes with a one year return to base warranty?

No one can afford to ignore flash but channel partners can play a significant role in helping customers identify the areas where it can be used most effectively. They can help to ensure businesses don’t “overspend on a storage trend”. Many of their customers will be far better served by the tried and tested rather than trial and error.

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Image: Shutterstock

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