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john rollason

A Confusion of Flash Storage Arrays

Posted by john rollason in JR's IT Pad on Nov 14, 2013 7:24:32 AM

flash blog.jpgOne of the great things about the English language is the collective noun. We could use the word ‘group’, as I suspect the Germans do, but instead have 1000’s of words depending on the thing we want to group. One of those oddities that makes English such a special language. And so confusing for non-native (and even native) speakers to master. Although I did hear an excellent speech by the Dutch Gartner analyst Frank Buytendijk this week on the future of Big Data, which included the phrase ‘airy fairy’. Proving some non-native speakers can indeed master it brilliantly.


There are always many oddities in the language of IT, but it seems one causing perhaps the most confusion at the moment is around Flash memory and storage technologies. For background on the raw technology itself and how it is disrupting the storage market, see Laurence ‘Flashman’ James’ blog. For me, that’s not where the confusion is particularly. It’s how the market and ecosystem is evolving around it. And that Flash is useful and transformative across the IT infrastructure stack – host, server, network, storage controller, storage media – so there are lots of options possible.


Concentrating on the Flash storage array market, there are three groups of vendors selling them [currently]– very small, large and very large. In the very small category there are 53+ start-ups who just do Flash. And are counting on it being a big enough market disruption for them to survive long term or be acquired. In the very large there is IBM, HP and Hitachi who do everything. And in the middle there are the storage market leaders NetApp (by Software OS) and EMC (by Hardware). Starting to sound a little bit like The Three Little Bears……..?


Broadly there are two types of Flash Array – the ‘All-Flash Array’ (AFA) and the Hybrid Array where Disk (capacity storage tier, cheaper per GigaByte) and Flash (performance tier, cheaper per IO per second) are combined and optimised based on workload requirements. The AFA is best suited for specific applications where speed is the main or only requirement – e.g. very large mission-critical applications and databases, Analytics / High-performance computing, some Virtual Desktop environments with unusual performance needs – usually to replace large, aging, monolithic storage arrays. The Hybrid Array is the best option for the other 99.3% of the market. Why? Disk continues to be 6-8x cheaper per GB. De-deduplicated disk is still 6-8x cheaper than de-duplicated Flash.


NetApp Hybrid Array options are 1) FAS systems running Data ONTAP. In fact, 70% of the many 1000’s of systems we now ship each quarter include Flash (either FlashCache or FlashPools) and 2) E-series running SANtricity (SSDCache).


The NetApp All Flash Array is EF540. For some reason lots of people think we don’t have one on offer. In fact, it has been in the market for more than 9 months now, based on technology proven over many years. We have sold them all across EMEA.  To a supercomputing customer in Poland. To Media customers and a major Insurance company in England. To a University in Scotland. To a global Pharmaceutical in Belgium. To a Telecoms company in Israel. To an Energy company in Turkey. To Public sector and media organisations in France. To several Finance and Tech customers in Germany. And quite a lot more…….. If you’re in the market for an AFA, make sure you don’t get blinded by seemingly amazing price offers from start-up vendors with little proven track record (and no support team) as they try to buy your business. Do you really want to take the risk for your Tier 1 data?


Of course there is a lot of room for Innovation in the Flash market over the next few years. Hope that helps at least a bit with some of the confusion today. Let me know if not? There are lots of opinions and options out there.


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