Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Stefan Bernbo, Pat Romanski, TJ Randall

Related Topics: Containers Expo Blog, Java IoT, Linux Containers, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo, SDN Journal

Containers Expo Blog: Article

The Future Is Now: Why Flash Storage Will Transform the Data Center

By using software-defined storage, data center architects can design a flexible, efficient and powerful framework

For an example of just how dramatically storage has changed over the past fifteen years, consider your music collection. At one point, you had a collection of cassettes that stored the song files on tape. As the years went on, your hairstyle changed and you bought a CD player that used a spinning disk to store more song data at a higher quality than tape could. Spinning disks flourished well into the MP3 player era, surviving even the initial introduction of flash storage due to its competitive cost. Eventually, however, your newest smartphone or iPod shipped with flash storage instead, as manufacturers bowed to its improved performance over disk storage and its increasingly competitive price point.

This is an example of a sea change taking place at a much bigger scale as well. Instead of gigabytes, think petabytes.

The data center infrastructures designed by telcos, service providers and major enterprises to store massive quantities of data have lately used predominantly disk storage in their servers, sometimes blending in flash storage for performance-intensive tasks. While the speed and performance of flash storage has tempted data center architects to deploy it more widely throughout the data center, it has only been recently that the price of flash has decreased enough to make its broader use a viable option.

To understand why flash storage has suddenly become a practical choice for data center architects across industries, it is helpful to examine the differences between flash and disk storage.

The Next Big Thing, Again
As the example above shows, when it was introduced, disk storage represented leaps and bounds of progress in speed and efficiency compared to tape storage, the predominant method of the time. Even after flash was introduced to the market, disk storage remained the server architecture of choice. Flash did deliver substantially higher performance, but was priced too high to ever present a real threat to the prevalence of spinning disks. In addition, flash drives were smaller in capacity and not able to store as much data per unit as spinning disks at the same value.

However, new improvements in flash have slashed its price significantly, positioning it as a true data center hardware alternative whose benefits - speed in throughput and latency - have dramatically increased at the same time. As an added plus, flash is highly energy efficient, needing only a fraction of the power needed by disk storage, sometimes at the ratio of one to 16. Flash drives still break down at a faster rate than does disk storage, but its boosts in performance and drop in price in recent years have made flash a realistic and highly attractive option for data center architecture and design needs.

Making the Switch
In fact, it's increasingly feasible that today's data center - still reliant on disk storage - could use 100 percent flash storage tomorrow. Telcos, service providers, major enterprises and other major companies whose profits are tied to the speed and availability they can provide to their customer base, are beginning to look at flash storage's blistering performance as less of a "nice to have" option and more of a core technology necessary to maintaining a competitive edge.

While the high-performance-demanding industries of telco and service providers are diving into flash straight away, vendors in other vertical markets have made cost-benefit calculations and have elected to hold back until the price of flash storage drops even further. For example, a Dropbox-style file hosting service for consumer cloud storage isn't as likely to be motivated by fast performance as it would be with ensuring the availability of cheap storage at scale. Companies like these are making the usual tradeoff in storage: finding a comfortable place between price and capacity. However, when the price of flash finally descends to that of disk storage, the last barrier will be removed for those companies that want to remain competitive. When this last milestone finally happens, the market shift will be as significant as when disks replaced tape storage by beating it on the same markers: higher performance and better pricing.

Advancements in Software
One of the trends making this shift possible is that of software-defined storage. By adopting a software-defined approach to storage infrastructure, organizations have the flexibility to deploy flash storage throughout their data center architectures quickly and easily.

As background, the concept of software-defined storage seeks to move functions and features from the hardware layer to the software layer. This approach removes the dependence on expensive and annoying redundancies that solve issues based in the hardware layer. Data center architects must also plan for the inevitable failure of hardware. Flash storage, in particular, currently has a faster time-to-failure rate than disk does. In storage environments that don't use RAID cards, the failure of a disk prompts an error that will impact the end-user's experience. To solve this, architects will build in expensive and redundant RAID cards to hide the errors. By using the right software-defined strategy, these problems can be absorbed and made invisible to the end user. Since software-defined storage is hardware-agnostic, it can run on any hardware configuration.

There are a number of additional benefits that telcos and service provider data center architects can achieve by combining software-defined storage with flash hardware. For instance, the organization could still utilize a single name space spanning all its storage nodes if it were to use a software-defined storage approach. In addition, it could also run applications in the storage nodes as well, creating new "compustorage" nodes instead. As a result, the storage hardware wouldn't need to be big or costly, but could still have very high performance and speed. Organizations can start with a small number of cheap servers instead of building a large, expensive and traditional installation, and still scale linearly as needed.

Flash Assets
Benefits of a software-defined approach to an all-flash data center are:

  • Huge performance improvement through the ability to use the faster flash technology throughout the data center.
  • Lower power consumption means that SSDs reduce running costs, generating far less heat than a spinning disk and requiring less energy for cooling.
  • SSDs deliver a smaller footprint in the data center. Since SSDs are much smaller than spinning disks, they require less space and less real estate to house them.
  • Running more applications on the same hardware, due to hardware performance gains.

Conclusion
Even as many of us still listen to CDs in the car, the music industry is inevitably shifting to a new paradigm built on music files saved on flash storage. The trend is repeating across industries, but nowhere as dramatically as it is in the data center. Flash storage - with its extreme performance, efficient energy usage and increasingly competitive cost - will eventually become the industry status quo. By using software-defined storage, data center architects can design a flexible, efficient and powerful framework for telcos, service providers and major enterprises looking to get the most powerful and energy-efficient data center possible by using all flash.

More Stories By Stefan Bernbo

Stefan Bernbo is the founder and CEO of Compuverde. For 20 years, he has designed and built numerous enterprise scale data storage solutions designed to be cost effective for storing huge data sets. From 2004 to 2010 Stefan worked within this field for Storegate, the wide-reaching Internet based storage solution for consumer and business markets, with the highest possible availability and scalability requirements. Previously, Stefan has worked with system and software architecture on several projects with Swedish giant Ericsson, the world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and services to mobile and fixed network operators.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
Join Impiger for their featured webinar: ‘Cloud Computing: A Roadmap to Modern Software Delivery’ on November 10, 2016, at 12:00 pm CST. Very few companies have not experienced some impact to their IT delivery due to the evolution of cloud computing. This webinar is not about deciding whether you should entertain moving some or all of your IT to the cloud, but rather, a detailed look under the hood to help IT professionals understand how cloud adoption has evolved and what trends will impact th...
In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Claude Remillard, Principal Program Manager in Developer Division at Microsoft, contrasted how his team used config as code and immutable patterns for continuous delivery of microservices and apps to the cloud. He showed how the immutable patterns helps developers do away with most of the complexity of config as code-enabling scenarios such as rollback, zero downtime upgrades with far greater simplicity. He also demoed building immutable pipelines in the cloud ...
"We are the public cloud providers. We are currently providing 50% of the resources they need for doing e-commerce business in China and we are hosting about 60% of mobile gaming in China," explained Yi Zheng, CPO and VP of Engineering at CDS Global Cloud, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Businesses and business units of all sizes can benefit from cloud computing, but many don't want the cost, performance and security concerns of public cloud nor the complexity of building their own private clouds. Today, some cloud vendors are using artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify cloud deployment and management. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ajay Gulati, Co-founder and CEO of ZeroStack, will discuss how AI can simplify cloud operations. He will cover the following topics: why clou...
"We are a custom software development, engineering firm. We specialize in cloud applications from helping customers that have on-premise applications migrating to the cloud, to helping customers design brand new apps in the cloud. And we specialize in mobile apps," explained Peter Di Stefano, Vice President of Marketing at Impiger Technologies, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
@DevOpsSummit taking place June 6-8, 2017 at Javits Center, New York City, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, discussed why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and mor...
The many IoT deployments around the world are busy integrating smart devices and sensors into their enterprise IT infrastructures. Yet all of this technology – and there are an amazing number of choices – is of no use without the software to gather, communicate, and analyze the new data flows. Without software, there is no IT. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation; Alan Williamson, Principal...
"Qosmos has launched L7Viewer, a network traffic analysis tool, so it analyzes all the traffic between the virtual machine and the data center and the virtual machine and the external world," stated Sebastien Synold, Product Line Manager at Qosmos, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
President Obama recently announced the launch of a new national awareness campaign to "encourage more Americans to move beyond passwords – adding an extra layer of security like a fingerprint or codes sent to your cellphone." The shift from single passwords to multi-factor authentication couldn’t be timelier or more strategic. This session will focus on why passwords alone are no longer effective, and why the time to act is now. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Chris Webber, security strateg...
Effectively SMBs and government programs must address compounded regulatory compliance requirements. The most recent are Controlled Unclassified Information and the EU's GDPR have Board Level implications. Managing sensitive data protection will likely result in acquisition criteria, demonstration requests and new requirements. Developers, as part of the pre-planning process and the associated supply chain, could benefit from updating their code libraries and design by incorporating changes. In...
In his session at Cloud Expo, Robert Cohen, an economist and senior fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute, provideed economic scenarios that describe how the rapid adoption of software-defined everything including cloud services, SDDC and open networking will change GDP, industry growth, productivity and jobs. This session also included a drill down for several industries such as finance, social media, cloud service providers and pharmaceuticals.
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
"IoT is going to be a huge industry with a lot of value for end users, for industries, for consumers, for manufacturers. How can we use cloud to effectively manage IoT applications," stated Ian Khan, Innovation & Marketing Manager at Solgeniakhela, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, drew together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established compa...
Enterprise IT has been in the era of Hybrid Cloud for some time now. But it seems most conversations about Hybrid are focused on integrating AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google ECM into existing on-premises systems. Where is all the Private Cloud? What do technology providers need to do to make their offerings more compelling? How should enterprise IT executives and buyers define their focus, needs, and roadmap, and communicate that clearly to the providers?
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...