Home > Big Data and Hadoop > Flash Based Storage arrays – does your enterprise need them?

Flash Based Storage arrays – does your enterprise need them?

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

flash or disk based storageVendors like Violin Memory, Pure StorageWhipTail are mentioned all over sites like gigaom and Techcrunch.  VCs are rushing to fund their next round and waiting gleefully for IPOs, analysts are gushing about how flash may dominate or even replace disk based storage.  As an enterprise CIO how do you separate fact from fiction?  Do you really need to invest in flash based storage today?

Before you engage any of the new flash storage vendors ask yourself:

  • Am I trying to improve performance for VDI, transaction processing, trading or scaling web apps?
  • Do I have extensive Fibre channel installations in the form of HBAs and switches or do I have predominantly GbE in my network?  If the latter, do I have iSCSI deployed today?
  • Do I want to replace my existing EMC, NetApp, IBM or HP storage or do I want something that will improve performance while allowing me to continue using my existing networked storage as disk targets?
  • Am I comfortable adding flash to my existing servers or would I pefer to see it in my next purchase of networked storage?

Your answers to the above questions will help you decide what is right for you.

It is interesting to note that router vendors Cisco and Juniper are some of the investors in flash storage startups.  Why this sudden interest on their part?  EMC’s subsidiary VMware acquired Nicira who promote Software Defined Networking (read – routers and switches are dumb devices and “real” intelligence lies in software).  Sensing a turf war EMC’s VCE partner Cisco reacts by investing in storage upstart WhipTail who may someday encroach on EMC’s storage turf.  The fact that WhipTail competes with Juniper’s investment in Violin Memory doesn’t hurt either.

Violin memory has investors who include Juniper, Toshiba and SAP (maker of HANA in memory analytics database).  HP used to resell Violin products but recently decided to discontinue future promotion of Violin (possibly to avoid defocusing from its own pricey acquisition of 3Par).  Violin uses single-level cell (SLC) or multi-layer cell (MLC) flash to make their arrays using proprietary SSD controllers and without any solid state drives (SSD).  They offer Fibre channel, 10GbE, Infiniband interfaces on their storage and provide an option to connect to it directly from your server as DAS over PCIe or as a SAN target.  In collaboration with Symantec they deliver snapshots, cloning, deduplication, replication and thin provisioning.  List prices are stated to be $34 per GB for  SLC based arrays and $18 per GB for MLC based arrays.  ASPs are in the $6-$9 per GB range.  Known customers include eBay (use it with NoSQL DB like Cassandra and MongoDB), AOL. Nirvanix and Charityshare.

Skyera is another vendor using raw MLC flash (instead of SSD) to build iSCSI storage targets.  They offer a 1U single controller system with snapshots and thin provisioning all priced at $1 per GB (with compression and dedupe enabled).  They claim to be able to extend the life of MLC flash (usually limited to 3000 write operations) to 5 years using their own technology.

Cisco funded startup WhipTail offers arrays using MLC NAND flash SSDs from Intel.  Interfaces include Fibre channel, InfiniBand and GbE.  Backup is via copy-on-write snapshots and disaster recovery is handed by synchronous mirroring within the array.  The array is accessible over a Fibre channel or an iSCSI SAN.  The vendor’s focus is on performance and not on storage optimization (no thin provisioning, dedupe, compression available today).  They claim street pricing in the 10-12 cents per GB range assuming their largest possible installation (ask yourself – how large?).

Samsung funded Pure Storage offers flash based SSDs, 8 Gb Fibre channel or 10 GbE interfaces, storage optimization in the form of inline dedupe, compression and thin provisioning.  Backup is via snapshots.  Performance claims are of 2000 IOPS for every TB of storage with 10:1 compression and pricing is in the $5-$10 per GB range.

However, if  you deployed VDI then noted performance problems with SAP, Exchange or SharePoint and you prefer not to put flash in your servers or ripout your existing SAN or NAS storage consider Astute Networks.  They offer an inline appliance that provides a performance play (claim 1500 % boost in read performance) without requiring a rip-and-replace of your existing storage.  Their DataPump engine accelerates the performance of virtualized network traffic over iSCSI while using flash memory to sustain IOPS.  Known customers include Volvo and Visoneer.  Their approach reminds me of  that of Storewize (acquired by IBM) whose appliances offered inline compression to customers with primary storage from NetApp or EMC.

What if you prefer to source your flash, SSD solution from the big names like NetApp and EMC?  NetApp offers server side cache by reselling products from Fusion-IO.  NetApp Flash Pool (previously called “hybrid aggregates” is a disk level solution where the aggregate (collection of RAID groups) can now comprise HDD and SSD.  Random writes coming into the aggregate go to the Flash Pool  and random reads are stored in Flash Cache (controller level cache including eMLC flash).  Not to be outdone EMC Project X (to be available in 2013) offers an all-MLC flash array based on technology from the acquisition of XtremIO.  The EMC solution also features snapshots and thin provisioning.

In conclusion there is no one size fits all, determine what you need done, where (in the server , in the network on in your networked storage) you are willing to make changes and do a thorough cost-benefit comparison.  Competition and innovation make this a good time to be a discerning customer.

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  1. Sarvesh S Patel
    December 24, 2012 at 2:52 am

    Of-course Yes. I believe, we will be needing them very soon as the storage industry is heading towards increasing bandwidths between the data sites using links of 10 Gigabit, 40 Gigabit, 100 Gigabit and so on, and focusing less on the storage arrays which can deliver data to the increased bandwidths. Flash based Storage Arrays will give a great impact on the latency as compared to the traditional storage arrays.

    But, I feel this will take time to get adopted by the midrange customers, due to the cost difference between the traditional and flash based disk drives / the overall SAN implementation cost.

    Thanks.

  2. Doug G
    January 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Very useful thanks

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