All-SSD now the new normal in the enterprise?
Every transformative business process, especially a digital transformation project, is attempting to achieve the same goals: lowered costs, better performance, value creation, return on investment, and modernization.
While the latter for its own sake is possibly only beneficial in the longer term, creating an IT infrastructure which empowers other areas of the enterprise strategically is the underlying aim of an intelligently-applied IT policy.
In short: improve the infrastructure to supply other areas of the organization’s requirements.
Storage is one of those areas which to the non-technical seems drab, and unlikely in itself to be able to effect necessary changes to the business to create growth or lower costs. But the storage arrays which underpin everything we do digitally have a massive impact on efficiency.
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Before we approach an overview of storage technology and trends in that space, it would be useful to consider some of the factors which are driving the need for digital transformation, with specific reference to storage as part of the infrastructure. In recent years there has been a singularly upwards pressure on:
- The number of workloads placed on services which need higher than average performance and resilience. Using big data arrays, AI, simulation, VDI (virtualized desktops), and server virtualization all demand high-end hardware, infrastructure, and supporting systems.
- The demand for IT to contribute business value. IT-powered advances need to prove ROI and exhibit the ability to scale and last long term.
- Improving speed of delivery. Deploying new services quicker, and ensuring continuous dev ops cycles to get new systems online faster and with more reliable results.
- Better cost management. Economies of scale available through specialist cloud provision mean there is increased pressure on internal IT to lower its costs.
- Management of security standards. Failover options, backup resilience, and archive retrieval are now expected to be as seamless and non-disruptive as malware protection & remediation.
To these ends, many cloud suppliers, enterprise infrastructure providers, and large organizations are migrating to all-flash storage infrastructures. Is now the time to follow suit?
In terms of cost of ownership and risks involved in storage, flash-based arrays are now offering advantages over pure HDD or hybrid provisions. SSDs are:
- Less physically prone to failure.
- Becoming cheap enough to compete with physical drives, byte-for-byte.
- More energy efficient.
- Equipped with built-in security mechanisms.
Additionally, business advantages right across the enterprise include:
- Faster storage, & retrieval mean faster work rates.
- Scalable and expandable SSD arrays are highly responsive to business drivers.
- Large deployments (with accompanying economies of scale), as SSD is now versatile enough for different uses – from cold archives through to high-load applications.
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In the data center, a new generation of storage technology is further driving the efficiency and power of storage. While technologies such as NVMe (an SSD-specific logical device interface) and SAS (think of it as new-gen SATA) are tech-esoterica to the average entrepreneur, to the organization which relies on stealing a march on its competition, use of these technologies can make a perceptible and meaningful difference.
SSD manufacturers now speak of IOPS (input/output processes – read & write speeds, if you will) which can power the most demanding of applications. As is the case in all things at the cutting edge, a certain amount of salt should be taken with such claims: the proof is in the testing of overall response times when under load. But real-world speeds are undeniably impressive in comparison with hardware not even ready for a “legacy” label.
Speed and configurability of SSD storage systems can be impressive, but an awareness of the tiers of usage will greatly help the cost-conscious procurement manager working for a digital team. Business “criticality” can be a useful guide as to which level of provision to deploy where:
- Customer relationship management, internal and client-facing comms systems, and financial activities like billing/debt management are the forefront: afford them the fastest all-flash storage arrays.
- Business reporting, operations systems like resource planning and management (ERP of whichever flavor), and HR systems require muscle, but their reliability & throughput requirements are of a slightly lesser order.
- Databases, document management systems, and the ilk often self-optimize and may not insist on the highest IOPS and response times.
- Backup systems increasingly need to produce failover options more often and more reliably, but SSD arrays are inherently equipped to provide this type of – see below.
- Archives might be regarded as cold storage and therefore may be suitable for hybrid storage in some scenarios. HDD and tape still play a significant role in this area – reliability over responsiveness is the guiding principle, as well as an awareness of historical archives’ value.
Thanks to snapshot and inbuilt compression technology, SSDs have a degree of data security baked into firmware which their older HDD cousins do not have. What began as partially a space-saving raft of technologies now represents one of SSD’s assets. Change-on-write effectively creates snapshots of data through time, thus providing a native high level of data security.
SSD’s granular compression methods make it particularly effective in virtualized desktop environments and the most demanding database deployments, with the best hardware now offering a saving unit of 1KB for inline deduplication. While at the high-cost end of options, an investment in these areas may pay dividends in a literal business sense.
Flash storage is now the de facto standard for new and developing deployments of scalable storage infrastructure. Ask your cloud provider about its provision, or consider the SSD options for your data center – many of the companies featured on this site will advise.
19 June 2018