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IBM Validates Systemic Data Center Savings Enabled by Flash Storage

DCIG has for some time been recommending the adoption of flash storage in the data center as a way to achieve substantial overall savings and ROI. As part of the April 11 announcement of the IBM Flash Ahead Initiative, IBM revealed that a flash-storage-enabled rethinking of the data center can generally achieve savings of over 30% in data center hardware and software costs. This finding affirms DCIG’s belief that Flash Memory Storage Arrays are poised to address not only special I/O-intensive use cases, but to begin displacing traditional storage arrays in many data centers.
Businesses spend a lot on IT, but have an opportunity to reduce data center costs by 30% or more if they will step back and think about the data center as a system rather than as a collection of separate sub-systems. In an article cited by IBM, the three year cost of ownership for a data center went from $7.1 to $4.9 million based on a flash storage expenditure of $638,000; delivering an ROI of less than 11 months.
Elements of ROI Quantified:

  • Software licensing costs reduced by 38%, from $4.9M to $3.2M, a savings percentage IBM confirmed in their work with other clients. These savings were achieved because fewer cores/servers are needed to handle the same workload.
  • Environmental costs reduced by 74%, from $377K to $98K, including power, cooling and floor space.
  • Storage management overhead reduced by 35%from $1.1M to $723K, through simpler management tools. 

Significantly, the 30% overall savings almost certainly underestimates the actual business benefits that were achieved because it does not include enhanced business productivity in the calculation. David Floyer recently reported that Revere Electric Supply–a company of about 200 employees–was able to improve critical system response times so much that they were able to grow their business 20% without adding any headcount whatsoever. He further observed that the flash storage system could be directly attributed with avoiding the need to hire between 10 and 40 additional employees–results consistent with other IBM research.
More good news. Flash memory can sometimes be brought into the data center without major investments. In the case of Revere above, the flash memory storage was less expensive than the maintenance cost of their former SAN.
In a similar way, when serving as the IT Director at a private university I approached a scheduled ERP server upgrade from a systems perspective. Through the use of solid state storage, the new server achieved a 10x improvement in IOPS at an acquisition cost that was 20% lower than the traditional server plus disk array approach. The resulting improvement in response times–one department manager called it “spooky fast”–noticeably increased staff productivity and enabled the university to implement a student-facing self-service web application that simply would not scale using traditional disk storage.

Five scenarios where it makes sense to evaluate flash memory storage now:
  • Poor performance of an existing core business application. Significant business productivity gains may be possible if many people use the application and it is routinely delivering response times greater than 3 seconds.
  • New business/IT initiatives in any of the high I/O demand areas like VDI or analytics that are likely to be hampered by the performance characteristics of the current storage infrastructure.
  • Virtualizing a data center for the first time. Smart moves now can VDI-proof (and otherwise future proof) the storage environment.
  • Approaching end of lease on servers, storage systems or data center facilities.
  • Considering building another data center because maxing out space/power/cooling capacity in current facilities. Flash memory can reduce capacity requirements by 75% or more and may enable the business to avoid the many costs of building and owning another data center.

Any IT leader who will rethink their data center as a system will probably discover that flash memory storage could simultaneously reduce data center costs and increase business productivity. A good starting point for researching available all flash arrays is the DCIG 2013 Flash Memory Storage Array Buyer’s Guide. DCIG is also in the process of creating a buyer’s guide for hybrid flash/HDD storage arrays that put flash memory in front of high capacity disk drives to achieve a balance of performance, cost and capacity.

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