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Flash in the pan?

Article Type: Company News          Published: 01-2013         Views: 5714   



There can be no question that SSD is disrupting the entire storage marketplace, but there are still strong barriers to wider adoption across the enterprise. Storage magazine reports on the latest technology and business trends affecting the sector.

Analyst firm Ovum is confident that storage is a crucial element in a 'winning IT infrastructure', and moreover that flash is re-shaping enterprise storage. Tim Stammers, an IT Solutions Analyst at the firm, contends that flash is poised to bring about a revolution, no less: "Flash is a blessing for the storage industry and vendors are working fast to exploit it to the full. This is set to cause major changes to storage architectures, and could disrupt the market. Flash is already being used widely to boost the performance of these central storage devices, but it is also being used in other ways, which are changing storage architectures by distributing data across more locations.

"The market for central, SAN-based storage systems is currently dominated by a handful of giant suppliers that could lose their position if they do not move quickly enough to embrace flash in all its new forms."

One of the key drivers behind the growth in flash use has been the uptake of cloud services. As more and more applications are deployed in the cloud, speed of response becomes ever more critical. Performance, scalability and even cost are being cited as reasons for replacing conventional SANs with flash based technologies. For example, Violin Memory has been selected by Nirvanix for its public Cloud Storage Network spanning 10 data centres around the world. Violin's purpose-built Flash Memory Arrays have increased performance for customers by up to 15 times and enabled Nirvanix to expand its business into new markets. The Nirvanix-Violin solution is implemented across several multi-petabyte clouds, including a US$50 billion financial services company. Customer feedback from Nirvanix has suggested that applications deployed in private clouds perform at near line speed, delivering nine gigabytes per second of throughput on a 10 GbE line - ensuring SLAs "for consistent and continuous data accessibility and ingest" are met.

One Nirvanix-Violin private cloud customer plans to back up several hundreds of terabytes (TB) per week; a process that could take months using purely conventional disk-based SAN storage. "Integrating Violin Memory with our public, private and hybrid cloud solutions expands the opportunities for our customers to build their business on a cloud foundation and opens up business opportunities for us to better serve both new and existing customers," said Dru Borden, CEO of Nirvanix. "The superior performance of Violin's primary Flash Storage Arrays enhances the enterprise-class scale, security, data integrity and data accessibility that we provide."

"Enterprise customers are looking to cloud storage solutions to store and access key business data while delivering an enterprise-class experience," comments Jeff Janukowicz, research director of Solid State Storage at IDC. "High-performance flash-based storage systems are well positioned to deliver that experience to customers by providing the performance, reliability and scalability necessary in a cost-efficient manner."

Also aiming squarely at cloud service providers is Colorado-based SolidFire, whose all-SSD storage systems claim to deliver performance guarantees that can bring business critical and performance sensitive applications like Oracle, SAP, and NoSQL variants into the cloud for the first time. "SolidFire is ushering in a new era in cloud computing with the general availability release of the SF3010 and SF6010," commented Dave Wright, CEO of SolidFire. "Cloud providers worldwide are now able to deploy a scalable storage system that delivers guaranteed performance below the cost of disk, and confidently host their customers' high-performance applications."

One UK user of SolidFire's technology is DataBarracks, whose Technical Director Oliver Mather enthuses: "SolidFire has the potential to fundamentally change the way customers leverage the cloud. Today we support the backup of over 10PB of data for thousands of customers in the UK and globally. Yet the cloud is evolving far beyond backup, and with SolidFire we can now extend services to our customers and support their most sensitive and business-critical applications. In most cases, with SolidFire we are able to provide better performance at a lower cost than customers can get with their on-premise infrastructure."

Another firm looking to enhance enterprise use of flash is SMART Storage Systems, who recently announced new additions to its CloudSpeed line of SSDs. The company is very aware of customer concerns about longevity and reliability of SSD memory, citing the results of a survey they conducted which suggested that 77 per cent of respondents believe NAND flash endurance is the key to widespread SSD adoption - or otherwise - in the enterprise.

A recent Gartner presentation agreed, warning: "By 2017, SSD prices will fall 35 per cent annually, but the reliability of the flash used will decline nearly 30 per cent." The issue is that, until very recently, data centre managers were deploying SSDs leveraging consumer-grade MLC flash to provide the performance required at a low price-per-gigabyte. However, SSDs that leverage standard, non-endurance enhanced consumer-grade MLC flash have been shown to wear out quickly in enterprise environments. This can result in storage TCO skyrocketing as organisations need to replace SSDs multiple times during the warranty period.

Leveraging their own 'Guardian Technology Platform', a proprietary suite of features and enterprise-class endurance enhancement technologies, the CloudSpeed 1000 and CloudSpeed 1000E SSDs deliver industry-leading endurance from 19nm consumer-grade MLC Flash. This allows organisations to extend the working life of their storage and avoid the need to constantly rip-and-replace SSDs. "Our CloudSpeed product line gives OEMs and enterprise organisations the best of both worlds; a low acquisition cost and high endurance. This combination results in the absolute lowest TCO over a five year period," explained John Scaramuzzo, president at SMART Storage Systems. "Since SSDs became a viable option for the enterprise, performance, cost, and reliability have been critical points of evaluation. However, as IT purchasers begin to better understand the technology's strengths and weaknesses, we are seeing more importance placed on the balance between endurance and cost. We have always believed that endurance is the key to making SSDs truly viable in the enterprise."

Until recently IT managers had two basic options when it came to data centre flash deployment:

• SAN array based Flash deployments - Under this architecture the flash is added to enterprise SAN arrays. The SAN arrays are either all flash arrays, or combined HDD/Flash arrays. The flash is available for the use of any application servers accessing the SAN. • Host Based Flash with Caching Software - Under this architecture flash, along with associated caching software, is placed on the application host server itself, much closer to the applications it is servicing. The flash is available only to applications running on this particular server.

According to OCZ, each of these architectures addresses a different subset of enterprise requirements, while neither provides a full solution. OCZ's argument is that recent advances in flash storage architectures add a third deployment option:

• Host Based Flash with Storage Acceleration and Virtualisation Software - Under this combined approach the software associated with the host based flash includes functionality not only to accelerate applications, but also to transform the host based flash into a highly available, resilient, network accessible virtualised resource.

Allon Cohen of OCZ explains the approach thus: "Key to this third architecture is intelligently combining the power of flash acceleration with the power of storage virtualisation - IT manager not only moves the data onto host based flash, but also brings along with it its critical storage services to the host. IT managers no longer have to choose between the benefits of SAN Array based Flash, and Host Based Flash, as the best features of both are combined by this architecture into a highly efficient, fault tolerance, SAN-less enterprise flash solution."

The SMART Storage Systems survey mentioned above found that 52 per cent of organisations currently leverage SSDs in their environment, either in all-Flash architectures or SSDs combined with traditional hard-disk drives (HDDs), so it looks as though the contest between speed and cost is set to continue for some time yet.

For the last word (for now!) let's return to Ovum's Tim Stammers: "While data will continue to be stored in large disk-and-flash arrays, the hottest, most frequently accessed data is now also being stored in flash drives located within servers, or inside large, flash-only storage systems. In both cases, the advantage is boosted performance. Because storage is a relatively slow-changing industry, wide adoption of these new architectures will take several years to complete, but it will happen." ST

"Enterprise customers are looking to cloud storage solutions to store and access key business data while delivering an enterprise-class experience. High-performance flash-based storage systems are well positioned to deliver that experience to customers by providing the performance, reliability and scalability necessary in a cost-efficient manner." - Jeff Janukowicz, IDC

Mini-Case: NATS

NATS provides en-route air traffic control from centres at Swanwick, Hampshire and Prestwick, Ayrshire, as well as air traffic control services at 15 of the UK's major airports. NATS handled over 2 million flights last year in UK and eastern North Atlantic airspace, and carried more than 200 million passengers safely through some of the busiest and most complex airspace in the world.

Violin Memory is providing NATS with Flash Memory Arrays for its forthcoming 6,000 seat virtualised desktop infrastructure (VDI) rollout. NATS is to implement a multi-million pound project to transfer all of its desktop IT services to a cloud-based infrastructure. By creating a secure, virtual desktop environment NATS expects to reduce costs by £9 million over the next four years, shrink its environmental footprint, improve flexibility, meet their demanding SLAs and deliver a significantly improved quality of service to approximately 4,500 users. The solution will be based on Violin Memory 6000 Series Flash Memory Arrays that each provide up to 1 million IOPS at low latency.

"To cater for the heavy loads generated by boot storms and logoff periods, a traditional storage area network (SAN) based solution would have required many shelves of disks, consumed more power, required significant cooling and incurred higher maintenance costs," explains Gavin Walker, Chief Information Officer for NATS. "We needed a high-performance solution which would scale to at least 6,000 seats with no appreciable degradation to user experience. Using Violin Memory will also introduce a resilient architecture, avoiding single points of failure."

Garry Veale, MD Violin Memory EMEA, added, "This is a significant project which we believe gives NATS a better return on their application investments, delivering better user experience, at less infrastructure cost. They will be able to deploy wholly new application capabilities to their user population without having to involve any 'rip and replace technologies'."

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