The Persisting Enterprise Reticence to Adopt Flash

Flash is by all estimates the future of enterprise production storage with most enterprises anticipating a day in the not too distant future where they will use flash storage arrays (all-flash or hybrid) much more broadly within their data center. Yet despite flash’s many benefits (higher levels of performance, smaller data center footprint and reduced energy consumption among others,) many enterprises still only use flash in a limited capacity if they use it at all. Today I take a look at some of the factors that still contribute to an enterprise reticence to adopt flash more broadly.
The enterprise reticence to adopt flash in any form stems from a number of a factors that include:

  • Market confusion. The DCIG 2014-14 Flash Memory Storage Array Buyer’s Guide identified more than 40 different all-flash array models from 20 different storage providers while the DCIG 2014 Hybrid Storage Array Buyer’s Guide identified another 40-plus models from 17 different providers. Having all of these different models available from which to choose make it difficult for enterprises to identify the most appropriate one for them.
  • Different types of flash. All-flash and hybrid storage arrays make one or more types flash memory available which may include MLC (multi-level cell), cMLC (consumer MLC), eMLC (enterprise MLC) and SLC (single level cell). Each of these flash memory types have characteristics that influence their cost, endurance, power consumption, total capacity and read and write performance. This requires that enterprises align their specific needs with the capabilities of these different flash media types.
  • Multiple deployment options. Flash memory may be placed on the server, in the network and on the storage array. Again, enterprises need to make a determination at what level in their infrastructure that they want to deploy flash.
  • No clear market leader. Enterprises tend to prefer to use storage technologies from clear market leaders. Yet as it relates to all-flash and hybrid storage arrays, a definitive market leader has yet to emerge. Many storage arrays models shipping today are either from a start-up or, if the model is available from an established storage provider, it is a net new model in their storage lineup that they have internally developed or is available as a result of acquiring a flash memory start-up such as Cisco and EMC have done.
  • Immaturity of data management services. Enterprises wants a high degree of certainty when it comes to the stability of the data on their production storage arrays. Since many all-flash and hybrid storage array models are either available from start-ups or are net new models from established providers, the maturity of the data management software and services on these arrays is often a question mark. These may offer few proof points and little is known about how well the data management services on these arrays actually works.
  • Managing flash in existing HDD-based arrays. To address these enterprise concerns about the immaturity of data management services, vendors are putting flash into existing HDD-based arrays. This approach does address concerns about the maturity of the array’s data management services. However these arrays were built for HDDs, not flash, so they may not include the functionality needed to manage flash or fully deliver on the performance improvements that flash has to offer.
  • Flash’s cost. Perhaps the biggest reason enterprises have put off adopting flash in the near-term is its relatively high upfront cost when compared to HDDs. While the price per raw GB for flash has come down substantially in recent years, its cost can still be a factor of anywhere from 5 to 20 x more than HDDs though technologies such as compression and deduplication are helping to bring the cost of flash down to make it feasible for more enterprises to adopt.

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