Transforming storage in a flash
With high levels of performance, flash storage has emerged as the technology of choice for enterprises with complex and data-driven business processes. Will it replace HDDs in the near future?
Flash storage is any type of drive, repository or system that uses electrically programmable and erasable memory to keep data for an extended period of time. Flash-based solutions give organizations quick access to stored data and greater storage density with a small footprint.
In today’s always connected, data-gathering world, organisations must perform frequent and complex computations and analytics of data, faster than ever before. This is where flash kicks in as the most preferred foundation for storage and a steep decline in prices has helped more enterprises to embrace flash storage to handle their data-intensive processes.
According to IDC, the total all-flash array market generated over $2.15 billion in revenue during the last quarter of 2018, up 39.3 percent year over year. The hybrid flash away market was worth slightly more than $2.6 billion in revenue.
Flash is now officially the fastest growing form of storage in the enterprise storage system market, thanks to its tag as the most ideal solution that can meet the performance needs of today’s new breed of workloads and digital transformation initiatives.
“We are seeing an increasing focus on creating new revenue streams primarily leveraging the digital business. For example, we have witnessed multiple banks across the region pursuing new business opportunities based on the need to be fast to market and closer to clients via creating new digital business strategies and launching innovative digital banking services,” says Mahmoud El Kordy, Business Unit Executive – Middle East and Pakistan, IBM Systems.
Additionally, even the petrochemical industry is turning to digital solutions to reduce their time to oil, leveraging on data collection and analysis in real time. The same applies to the telecommunications operators and retailers who are increasingly focused on creating a differentiated customer experience and customizing their digital marketing campaigns by leveraging on their data and consumption trends. Government entities in the Middle East are also at the forefront of adopting cutting edge technology to enable their digital strategies.
All these trends are creating the need for faster than ever access to information that is exponentially growing, real- time analytics and as such have become highly dependent on the performance of the IT infrastructure systems that enable these services, and these new workloads are shaping up the need for all-flash solutions in the Middle East, says El Kordy.
Commenting on the driving factors for the steady growth and adoption of all-flash, Patrick Smith, EMEA Field CTO, Pure Storage, says, “Another driver for adoption of all flash is the ability to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) of storage systems by driving down data center footprint, and costs associated with cooling and power consumption. For example, users can fit a petabyte of usable data in an 8U rack solution generating ~3-4kWh power per month using all flash.”
According to Khwaja Saifuddin, Senior Sales Director, Middle East at Western Digital Corporation, business competitiveness is the main driver for Middle East organizations adopting all-flash storage. “The fundamentals of storage remain unchanged. You still need to serve data with reliability, to protect your data, and to deliver IT services across a range of requirements, regardless of the media under the data. But as flash technology matures, it lets us change the way we deliver those services: with greater efficiency and performance and with the potential for major savings for your organisation,” he says.
Smith adds that the ongoing virtualisation of the computing environment has generated considerable demand on back end storage. “That is the use case where we see flash being a perfect fit. Also, if you look at data stored in traditional relational databases, flash provides faster access to data for faster business outcomes,” he explains.
Analysts say that though flash storage densities are going up, their prices are going down due to innovative flash design like 3D TLC flash and smart data reduction technology like deduplication and compression. However, going beyond the obvious cost benefit, El Kordy says that the advantages are directly related to creating differentiated client experiences and enabling organizations to gain a competitive edge, saving organizations time and enabling them to embark on new business opportunities.
He adds that it is now becoming difficult for enterprises to take real-time decisions based on real-time analytics, considering the volume of data being generated. In such a scenario, the speed of flash provides the responsiveness that line of business (LoB) executives demand today and improves the overall user experience, enabling decision making when it matters most.
According to Smith, the growth is also being driven by the investment in the development of flash rather than spinning disk technology. “We have already seen this in the high-performance market where there is no financial business case for investment in spinning disk, and flash storage now dominates that sector. We are beginning to see a similar trend in the medium and even low-performance hard disk markets.”
Does this mean that it is ‘the end’ for hard disk drives?
The question is not if but when, says Smith. “We have effectively seen high-performance hard drives disappear and with ever-improving flash capacity and data reduction technology such as compression and deduplication, the economies of flash are becoming more and more compelling. QLC flash, which stores four bits per cell, promises even lower prices and higher-capacities in the near future.”
What is flash best suited for?
Flash is available across the three different storage types – block, file, and object. While flash can be used for any workload, enterprises are adopting flash-based on their workload prioritization. The most common use cases, according to El Kordy, are for databases, machine learning, and analytics.
Flash storage is also being used in enterprises for virtual server and virtual desktop environments. Smith says there is a huge uptake of flash for modern analytics like Apache Spark and AI. “The huge compute capability of NVIDA’s GPUs coupled with the massive parallelism of all-flash storage provides an ideal platform for AI workloads.”
Another use case that has developed over the past 12 months, is the use of flash as a rapid restore environment. It provides not only fast back up, but more importantly, the ability to restore business services faster than you could with disk-based backup environments. This ensures enterprises can meet stringent business or regulatory commitments for restoring business services.
The rise of flash solutions has enabled enterprises to quickly harness the value of data – and be better positioned to compete, innovate and grow in today’s real-time world by accelerating time to value, across all industries. Industry experts predict that the next five years are likely to witness archived data being stored on all-flash storage platforms and that will essentially signal the end of disc-based storage.