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Capacity Equivalence: Flash Memory Storage Crosses the Next Disruptive Boundary

In 2014, high-density flash memory storage such as the 4TB Viking Technology αlpha SSD will accelerate the flash-based disruption of the storage industry and of the data center. Technology providers that engage in a fresh high-density flash-storage-enabled rethinking of their products will empower savvy data center architects to substantially improve the performance, capacity and efficiency of their data centers. Businesses will benefit by reducing the cost of running their IT infrastructures while increasing their capacity to serve customers and generate profits.

Expensive Low Capacity Flash Storage Already Disrupting the Data Center Cost Equation
Flash memory has already caused significant change in the design of storage systems. The relative high cost and low capacity of SSDs has been a key driver of the Hybrid Storage Array market. Hybrid Storage Arrays feature dynamic data placement in a hybrid storage pool that combines flash memory and traditional hard disk drives; with flash generally making up 5%-15% of the total storage capacity.
In 2013 we also saw SSDs achieve cost parity with enterprise HDD. This cost/GB equivalence was achieved through data efficiency technologies like in-line deduplication and data compression. As a result, Hybrid Storage Arrays are making significant inroads into enterprise data centers. Indeed, a June 2013 survey found that hybrid storage adoption is real and growing with more than one-third of the respondents (37%) indicating they had already deployed a hybrid storage array.
Capacity Equivalence: Flash Memory Storage Crosses the Next Disruptive Boundary
In 2014, the advent of multi-terabyte SSDs such as the soon to be released Viking Technology αlpha 12Gb SAS SSD with raw capacity up to 4TB in a standard 2.5” form factor, and innovative SSD form factors like the Viking Technology SATADIMM and the recently announced IBM eXFlash that convert server DIMM slots into flash storage capacity—mean that flash memory storage has achieved capacity parity—and even storage density supremacy—compared to enterprise HDD-based storage.
Flash and hybrid storage systems were already able to deliver dramatically better IOPS and latencies for random IO workloads, and much better power efficiency than HDD-based storage. Now they can also beat HDD-based storage systems on storage density per rack unit.
Implications of Flash Storage Capacity Equivalence

  1. Accelerate Any Application. The limited capacity of flash memory storage devices has meant that businesses have had to be selective about which workloads are migrated to flash-based storage. The new flash-denser-than-HDD reality means that capacity requirements are no longer a barrier to flash acceleration. Virtually any enterprise application can be accelerated.
  2. Flash arrays can replace Tier 1 HDD-based storage systems. Thomas Isakovich of Nimbus Data made just such an assertion on the announcement of their Gemini X scale-out all flash storage system–a system which, interestingly enough, will utilize 4TB SSDs. This dynamic will push older HDD-based architectures toward obsolescence.
  3. Hybrid Storage Array vendors will multiply the percentage of flash memory in their system designs, or even introduce all-flash arrays based on their hybrid architecture.
  4. Converged infrastructures will fit an even broader range of enterprise applications. Vendors will use multi-terabyte SSDs to multiply the overall and per rack unit performance and storage capacity of their converged solutions. The same dynamics will apply to blade architectures.
  5. Virtual SANs will grow. Virtual SANS convert server-side storage into shared storage. Vendors who adopt multi-terabyte flash drives into their pre-configured appliances–or support the end user installation of the same–will open up a whole new set of opportunities for their solutions.
  6. Storage software is key. Software will provide key differentiation among products, especially enterprise software features in the areas of data efficiency, data protection and high availability.

Quick ROI and Enhanced Business Productivity Mean Cost is Not a Barrier
As I have previously noted, a flash-storage-enabled rethinking of the data center can generally achieve hard cost savings of over 30% in data center hardware and software, and generally realize an ROI of less than 11 months.
Although flash storage can result in substantial IT cost savings, the most significant flash storage payoff may actually be enhanced business productivity. Real businesses are seeing critical business applications accelerated by 6x to 9x when migrated to flash memory storage. The value of this application acceleration is often hard to quantify, but in one case study the installation of a flash memory storage system was directly attributed with avoiding the need to hire between 10 and 40 additional employees. The company grew their business without growing their head count.
The ongoing advances in flash memory technology and in the storage systems that deliver this technology to the enterprise have crossed several critical boundaries, leading to widespread adoption in enterprises. The advent of multi-terabyte SSDs will unleash another wave of products that will multiply the overall capacity of existing data centers. Businesses that embrace these solutions will reduce the cost of running their IT infrastructures while simultaneously increasing their capacity to serve customers and generate profits.


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