The real business benefit of flash


11 October 2014
Vaughn Stewart of Pure Storage

Flash memory is massively disruptive technology. Enterprise storage vendors that are still reliant today on hard disks for performance storage are in a position eerily similar to that of Kodak, the maker of 35mm film for cameras, a decade ago when confronted with a new technology that can dramatically improve what they bring to the market. Flash provides greater scalability and application consistency while consuming fewer data centre resources than anything possible with disk-based storage. But it’s not as simple as a new broom sweeping older technologies out of the way in an instant.

In the case of enterprise flash, cost has been the primary barrier to broad market adoption. Flash can be expensive, with most vendors opting to implement it in small quantities alongside disk to aid performance by acting as a cache.

A better, more cost-effective way of tackling the issue of cost is simply to use less flash. This is done by bringing software into the equation to reduce the volume of data being written. Not only does this cost less up front, the flash array also lasts longer and is more reliable.

Flash stores and serves data in a manner that is significantly different than disk. Read-activity is lightning fast, and too many writes can wear out the medium. This is where software becomes key to making enterprise flash work, as it not only delivers affordability, it enables flash to be more reliable at a hardware level.  

Real-time data reduction technologies extend the life of flash by reducing the volume of data being written. Solid-state disk (SSD) reliability increases in direct correlation to the number of data reduction technologies used.

There’s a second less obvious benefit of Flash that is worth pointing out. We know that the value of all-flash extends beyond storage and boosts the speed of enterprise applications. To take this argument one step further, consider the fact that a great deal of enterprise software is written to make allowances for the speed restrictions inherent in disk.

By removing the hard disk drive (HDD) lag and utilising flash, a new realm of possibility emerges. As application performance sky-rockets, the end-user experience becomes more consistent and data accessibility soars, delivering better insights to organisations. Software-licensing requirements can also be revisited, as more CPU processing is available with the speed regulator (disk) being removed. Last but not least, the reliance on data management and load balancing tools designed to respond retroactively to performance challenges also drops, thus providing a return in operational staff time.

Flash is already causing massive upheavals within the data centre and we’re just at the beginning of a tipping point. Some will take cautious steps, and choose the comfort of a legacy array strapped with flash or the promise of a hybrid; both of these will undoubtedly help in the near-term. On the other hand, the visionaries will embark on the journey to an all-flash-fueled enterprise. All-flash storage systems made affordable and reliable by software designed for flash will help these leaders unlock multiple new opportunities and massively increase their competitive business advantage.

  • Vaughn Stewart is chief evangelist at Pure Storage.