Market ripe for embedded flash storage as prices drop

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By Brian T. Horowitz

Considering the falling price of flash storage, some experts say now is the time to incorporate the technology into more embedded solutions.

Flash, a type of solid-state storage, can run more efficiently than a traditional disk drive, because its footprint is up to 84 percent smaller than traditional storage.

The flash-based array market, consisting of all-flash arrays (AFAs) and hybrid flash arrays (HFAs), will grow to $17.4 billion in revenue by 2018, according to research firm IDC. In addition, parts of the flash-based array market will expand at a 46.1 percent compound annual growth rate over the next five years.

“We are moving toward an environment in the next three to four years where flash will be ubiquitous in primary storage  environments,” Eric Burgener, research director for IDC, told Power More in an email.

A lack of moving parts makes flash storage ideal for workers in the field. A military Humvee traveling on rough terrain could transport a rack server in the back incorporating flash.

“If you’ve got a system that’s collecting data or needs to be working with data that might be too sensitive to shock and vibration, that could be a good application for flash,” Greg Schulz, a senior advisory analyst with StorageIO, told Power More.

Falling prices

“The single biggest reason people don’t buy flash is due to cost, and there is a lot happening to lower the effective cost per gigabyte of AFAs,” Burgener said.

Companies like Dell with its OEM Solutions group offer flash storage that can be embedded into products such as storage arrays and servers. By incorporating flash, OEM vendors can bring down the cost of these products.

Factors contributing to lower flash storage costs and a lower cost per gigabyte include thin provisioning, which entails allocating disk space among multiple users based on the minimum amount of space used.

“If you’ve got the business need, get as much flash and solid state disk as you can afford,” Schulz advised.

Despite the dropping prices, a hybrid approach of some flash and some disk storage could be a strategy for companies with tight budgets, according to Schulz.

“Unless you have the budget or unless you have that need for all flash, why not stretch your budget to go further?” Schulz asked.

Flash storage could end up in a server’s high-speed PCI slot, a Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) drive on a server or as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) or SATA drive in cache, Schulz said.

I/O bottlenecks

Flash can reduce latency and speed up the writing of data compared with traditional hard drives just as digital voice recognition and dictation can be faster than writing with pen and paper. Flash offers 90 percent less latency than traditional drives.

Because it is a solid state drive with no moving parts, a flash storage device can perform 10,000 to 20,000 input/output operations per second (IOPS) compared with the 200 IOPS of a traditional spinning drive, Burgener noted.

“A little bit of flash solid state in the right place goes a long way to boost performance to consolidate I/Os and to remove roadblocks,” Schulz said. “Applications need to do more work to serve up data quicker because they’re working on faster servers and faster processors.”

Workloads that have low latency and high performance are suitable for flash drives.

“There’s more work to be done in a given amount of time, i.e. increasing that need for speed and also aggravating bottlenecks,” Schulz said.

By combining these performance flash drives with capacity-optimized spinning disks, providers can get performance on the front end and the capacity to maintain large amounts of historical data for analytics at the right price.

Flash storage can help improve performance for health care organizations such as Samitivej Hospital in Thailand.

“With the new flash storage, we don’t need to have so many disks to create the IOPS we need,” said Dr. Panuratn Thanyasiri, chief information officer at Samitivej

“To get the most out of our HIS investment, only flash-optimized storage would do,” he added in a case study.

Samitivej uses Dell Compellent flash-optimized storage arrays to reduce latency on its Health Information System database, and the system requires far fewer disks than a traditional storage system.

With the automatic tiering available with flash storage, patients at Samitivej don’t have to wait as long to receive information from a doctor, and the facility is able to reduce cooling costs.

Samitivej Hospital was able to reduce data backup time from 4 hours to 45 minutes by using flash storage, Thanyasiri said.

Reduced IT footprint

By using flash instead of traditional hard drives, companies can reduce the amount of servers required in a data center as well as reduce energy and floor space consumption, Burgener noted.

Products that incorporate flash, such as the Dell Storage SC Series, are now available to companies to embed in their solutions at prices lower than that of traditional spinning disk drive solutions.

A benefit for companies embedding flash into solutions is the variety of devices in which they can be placed, such as servers, storage arrays, PCI Express drives or mini-SATA cards.

“Some amount of flash, if not a lot of flash, could be the home run for embedded-type systems,” Schulz said.

Sponsored by Intel®

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