Storage FAQ: The State of Flash in 2015

Storage Switzerland held a well-attended webinar with Tegile called “The State of Flash in 2015”. Storage Switzerland Founder George Crump and Tegile System’s Chief Marketing Officer Narayan Venkat review some follow-up questions to the webinar.

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Question 1: “What is the state of encryption on Flash?”

George: I think encryption is critical in flash systems because making sure you actually erase something is a little harder to determine in flash than it was on a hard drive. Encrypting it and breaking the key is a good way to do that. Narayan pointed out in the webinar that most of the SSDs in the future will be delivered as self-encrypting drives.

Question 2: “What is the impact of Software Defined Storage?”

George: In my opinion, most of the new or start up type of vendors that have come about in the flash era are software defined. However, software defined is a broad term. It could be a vendor that’s still proving a turn key solution like Tegile does. Or it could be a software download and certainly there are pros and cons to both. I don’t want to say they’ll merge, but clearly these two trends are coming out on boxes at the same time. Narayan, what are your thoughts on software defined storage?

Narayan: Software defined anything, whether it’s compute, software defined networking, or even storage, really becomes a question of how do I automate certain functions, and how do I have my underlying infrastructure that caters to applications above, and its actually orchestrated through a middle layer, which is software defined. There’s clearly going to be an intersection and a merger of those different approaches. The storage guys at the bottom end will provide all of the integrations and the appropriate granular data management capabilities out to hypervisors and cloud orchestration systems.

A lot of guys will come at it with the approach of here’s a software download. Obviously these options will give you a certain service level, and certain expectations of service levels and, depending on the application, one or more of these approaches will make sense. Software defined storage for all intents and purposes provides an underlying infrastructure that makes it very easy to configure, manage, position, and mobilize using software framework.

Question 3: “What is the future for flash being used for the storing of medical imaging? Do you think that’s an appropriate use case?”

Narayan: Yes, and we’re actually starting to see a much faster adoption rate for at least a couple of different work loads. Obviously, retrieval of time sensitive data perhaps is one, but the more important one has to do with modeling.

It takes hours and hours of modeling and simulation to get meaningful information, whether you’re doing DNA analysis or neuroscience or whatever the case may be. And a lot of it is I/O driven and I/O intensive. So the performance with the underlying storage system determines how fast you can get to an answer, or what I call “time to insight” or “time to answer”. Clearly flash is going to have a major influence on this because it reduces the time it takes to get to an answer. We’re starting to see more and more adaption of flash for analytics purposes today, and you can argue that modeling is another form of analytics with a different set of workloads, but that leaves the question “Can I get to a meaningful answer faster, and if so how much is it worth to the business?”

So the short answer is yes. We’re starting to see quite a lot of interest. It’s a question of balancing the performance gains with the economic needs for a specific application.

George: And I think another key point is you are able to compare a wider set of variables. With the medical example, you can compare a wider set of variables in a shorter period of time. I’m always impressed with IBM Watson when they set it up to compete on the game show Jeopardy. Watson obviously can’t think and it can’t create but it can search through a variety of data and then phrase the response the right way. It is a good example of the type of decision support that flash technology is really going to enable.

Narayan: Yes, and if you go back to the first incarnation of Watson, they probably had multiple terabytes of data, and their entire data set fit into it. You can actually scan this at incredibly blinding speeds. But you don’t necessarily have to have multiple terabytes of DRAM, and this is where flash comes into play.

You’ve got a layer that can accommodate an increasingly larger amount of information and still at least a couple of magnitudes order of spinning disk, so we’re starting to see that kind of adoption of flash for, in my mind, efficient support, analytics, and big data analysis. We’re starting to see that adoption of flash accelerating.

Question 4: “Can you talk more about the advantages of flash with the cloud?”

George: Wow, there’s a lot of different ways you can take that. One is, imagine a hybrid appliance like Narayan described, but its backend, it’s third tier, or maybe even it’s second tier, is a high speed connection to a cloud storage device. I envision some day that for medium sized businesses, your cable modem comes equipped with storage software and a few terabytes of storage. It then automatically dumps to inactive data to the cloud, the rest is stored away in some kind of hybrid management technology in some kind of capability. Am I thinking too Sci-Fi on this Narayan or is that practical?

Narayan: It would really depend on whether or not you have appropriate bandwidth to the cloud infrastructure. I see it slightly different in that you’re going to see cloud service providers who are incorporating flash, and they may offer you a faster tier. Call it Flash-as-a-Service, or Flash and Spinning Disk, or Density-as-a-Service. Today we use the cloud for storing archival data sets, backups, and we also use cloud for excessive computing. So it’ll really come down to whether or not cloud service providers can offer a tier storage that is fast alongside their virtual infrastructures. And the answer is yes, we’re starting to see more of that whether it’s all-flash or a dense layer, or in the future memory based along with dense flash.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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