The Value of Fine Tuned Flash Drives – Burlywood Briefing Note

What differentiates one flash drive from another? For the most part, the NAND is very similar. The key differentiator is the controller. The problem is each vendor does its unique optimizations and then releases the combined (controller and NAND) product. At that point, the flash drive is a one size fits all no matter who uses the drive. A “one size fits all” approach is acceptable for the typical data center. Their use case falls within the generic parameters set by the flash SSD vendor. However, there are many companies whose use case is not “generic” as they have unique IO patterns, and the one size fits all approach cost them money, reliability, or performance.

Ideally, an IT planner wants to tune their flash drives for a variety of use cases. For example, some organizations may wish to optimize their drives for better read/write leveling to increase drive reliability. Other data centers are read-heavy and not as concerned about flash durability. They may want to tune for the maximum capacity possible. Still, others may wish for consistent performance under any condition, so tuning traffic management is critical to them.

Instead of locking in the controller capabilities and priorities, it might make more sense to have a software-based controller that is programmable based on the needs of each organization. Organizations that know and understand their IO patterns can then optimize the drive for the specific use case. A software-defined flash controller enables the organization to realize better performance, increased reliability, or maximum capacity per drive, based on the IO requirements of each application or operating environment.

One challenge, though, can the IT team truly determine what the specific IO pattern is of each workload in their environment? In most cases, they don’t have the tools or time to perform a thorough analysis to answer the question. Unfortunately, while many organizations can benefit from a software-defined flash controller, they don’t know how to “define” the controller for optimization. The analysis is made complicated because of the number of layers between the application and the flash drive. Unless IT does the study at the flash NAND layer, the results may not indicate the exact IO pattern.

Introducing Burlywood

Burlywood makes a software-defined flash controller called TrueFlash. It is ideal for organizations that know what their IO patterns and usage are so they can customize the controller, which leads to improved performance, storage density, or reliability. Storage managers can even customize different groups of SSDs for different use cases within their own data center. Later, if the IO pattern changes, they can change the drive’s programming for the new use case.

This year, Burlywood is introducing a companion product called TrueFlash Insight, which enables IT to answer the “what is my IO pattern?” question. The reality is that most, organizations have too many workloads to analyze and determine the IO pattern. Also, today, there are many servers involved in processing a single workload. Finally, workloads change over time but, if they are analyzed at all, they are only examined once. Insight gives IT professionals the ability to reanalyze a workload to see if it has changed. More importantly, because Burlywood embeds the Insight software into the SSD, it is providing the telemetry information at the flash layer, enabling a very accurate capture of the IO pattern.

The need for customization is especially vital to hyperscalers. Cloud applications are increasingly sophisticated and constantly changing. It is well worth it for these organizations to optimize their SSD purchase for specific use cases within their offering. It enables hyperscalers to deliver a better service to the customer at lower prices and less complexity.

StorageSwiss Take

There are times where “good enough” is indeed good enough. There are other times were every investment in performance or cost optimization has an exponential benefit to the organization. Hyperscalers are especially vulnerable to the impact of a generic “one size fits all” flash controller. IT planners are limited in what they can do to customize the experience of off-the-shelf SSDs. For example, they can change how the drive is provisioned to improve flash durability, but that is about it.

Burlywood enables organizations to customize the flash drive entirely for each application as necessary. IT planners can adjust to a variety of application demands, not just durability. Now with the addition of Insight, busy IT professionals don’t have to embark on a long project to determine how to best set the drive. The Insight solution will capture the information and enable Burlywood to create a perfectly tuned drive for each scenario.

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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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