Flash often makes the hardware selection less important, but makes the software selection very important. The right software can not only ensure optimal flash performance, but also extend flash implementation beyond the typical high-transaction database use cases and into modern apps and big data analytics. It is critical though that IT professionals make sure software defined storage solutions (SDS) include core enterprise features that they have come to count on.
Why is Storage Hardware Less Important?
Storage systems used to be full of proprietary hardware so they could extract every last drop of performance from the array. These custom chips were used because CPUs were relatively slow, software was cumbersome to create and maintain, and rotational hard disks were highly latent. Times have changed. CPU processing power is almost too plentiful, software development is much easier to start and continuously maintain, and most importantly, flash media has almost no latency when comparing the alternatives.
Although it matters what hardware IT uses, a mid-range configuration can help many organizations reach the performance levels they require. While they do exist, most data center workloads will not be able to take advantage of additional hardware investments to extract additional performance. A software-first approach provides IT professionals flexibility, enabling them to select hardware components that are the most affordable while balancing the right quality and the right amount of performance.
Once the organization meets performance requirements, it needs to focus on the other values flash media brings to the data center. For example, flash is denser and requires less power, making it ideal for rapidly growing organizations that are trying to avoid the cost of building another data center.
Why is Software More Important?
If it is flash-enabled, storage software really shouldn’t care what type of storage hardware it runs on. But it should take advantage of the reality of excess storage performance to provide a richer feature set to customers. For legacy data centers, this means a greater focus on data efficiency like inline compression, data management enabled by quality of service, data protection to lower recover point objectives and most importantly ease of use to lower administrative costs.
Flash’s Next Steps
Flash, in the form of either all-flash arrays or hybrid arrays, is now the dominant storage type for core applications based on Oracle or MS-SQL as well as virtualized environments based on VMware or Hyper-V. These environments typically leverage a scale-up storage architecture and SDS vendors need to support this very popular deployment model. Doing so allows the SDS solution to leverage storage hardware already in-place instead of forcing the customer to upgrade or change hardware to support a scale-out solution.
Flash as Deep Storage
An increasing number of organizations are looking to use flash storage not only to take advantage of its performance, but also its density. A flash-based system can store petabytes of information in less than half a data center rack. When factoring the cost of data center floor space, power and cooling, these offerings may actually be less expensive than the hard drive alternative. Then, applications like Splunk and Hadoop can leverage this density to access a broad data set that responds instantly to their queries to deliver deeper analysis and faster answers.
But these environments require a new approach to flash storage system architectures. They need to scale-out the same way the applications do, via commodity servers that act as storage nodes creating a cluster delivering a single pool of storage. Once again, the software creating this storage cluster is critical, as it needs optimization for flash media, automatic scaling and ease of management. In addition to storage management, the SDS software has the added responsibility of cluster management and network management.
A storage vendor traditionally delivers three elements to their customers: hardware, software and service. While storage vendors need to be aware of and take advantage of flash performance and density, they don’t need to be as concerned about designing proprietary hardware. The flash performance equalizer enables them to focus on the storage software and delivering quality support and service to customers. A focus on software also enables flexibility so customers can choose the hardware that makes the most sense for their environment.
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