Thursday, November 21, 2013

Is Flash the Future of the Datacenter?

Increasingly, corporations are turning to flash-based solid state drives (SSDs) to improve the performance of their datacenters because they eliminate bottlenecks in system performance that are inescapable with traditional mechanical disk drives.

While the speed of reading and writing data with mechanical disk drives is limited by the nature of the spinning mechanical drives, flash-based SSDs instead rely on an embedded processor to perform these operations. As a result, SSDs offer lower latency and the ability to transact many times more IOPs than physically possible on drives. Not only do SSDs offer speed and performance, but they also offer energy efficiency and reliability.

The issue with flash-based SSDs has always been the price tag. Their performance advantages do not come cheap. However, flash drives have been coming down at a rate of 30% per year, making them a more affordable option. Additionally, these two drive types are not mutually exclusive – you can use a mix of SSDs and HDDs in your datacenter. This delivers a best of breed technology, the performance of flash and the cost-effectiveness of traditional disk drives.

When using a hybrid SSD and HDD combination, it is important to segregate your data by its usage characteristics. Your applications with critical performance requirements and “hot data” can be stored on the flash-based SSDs, while applications with less critical performance requirements and “cold data” can be easily stored on HDDs. The benefits of this technique can be seen with Nimble Storage arrays.

Furthermore, key software vendors have recently added SSD support, including Microsoft and VMware. Microsoft added SSD support to the new Windows Server 2012 R2 and VMware has added enterprise flash storage support to vSphere 5.5 with the new vSphere Flash Read Cache.

So, is flash the future of the datacenter? It certainly seems to be with more and more enterprises investing in the technology. The biggest players in the industry have adopted flash. And now that the expense of the technology is decreasing at a steady rate, the newfound affordability of the technology will only help to accelerate its rise.

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