Elite Eight Flash Data Storage Tips

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The NCAA basketball tournament takes hundreds of good college teams from around the country and boils them down to 64  qualifiers, a round of 32, a Sweet Sixteen, an Elite Eight, Final Four and then two finalists who fight it out for the glory.

Similarly, we have whittled down the many flash storage tips from a multitude of sources into a handful. A couple of weeks back, we provided some tips focused on how to maximize flash performance. But so hot is the flash arena that we are now following it up with an Elite Eight among flash storage tips, these ones focused on product selection.

Look Beyond Cost

Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis sees people making a big mistake when they obsess on price per GB.  He considers this to be wrongheaded as regards flash.

“Imagine going into a restaurant and picking the cheapest thing on the menu even though you don’t like it and it won’t satiate your hunger,” said Handy. “That’s about the same as choosing storage based on price per GB.”

Pick the Right Infrastructure Model

There is an array of new infrastructure consumption models to choose from these days. Those that have emerged over the past ten years include Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), a converged infrastructure, a hyperconverged infrastructure and a software-defined infrastructure on commodity hardware. And then there are the more traditional models from earlier days. So rather than picking flash products based on which ones appear to have the best specs or the lowest cost, Jeramiah Dooley, Cloud Architect at SolidFire, advises users to research which infrastructure option is right for them and plan for growth accordingly. They should then fit their flash hardware and software choices in to that model as a means of narrowing the target.

“There are trade-offs you’ll need to consider and key considerations to prioritize when selecting a model,” said Dooley.  

Scale Out Rather Than Scale Up

Once you have decided upon on a consumption model, the next smart choice, added Dooley, is to favor a scale-out architecture rather than scale-up.

“You can save yourself the pain of major and disruptive upgrades by opting for a scale-out architecture,” said Dooley. “Planning for growth now can save headaches later.”

Separate out Capacity and IO

Of course, you can pendulum swing so much onto overall architectural design that you lose sight of the basics of better application performance and storage availability. Dooley advised users to seek out flash storage platforms where they can carve up IO and capacity separately. That way, you can adjust the flash arrays to different workloads, set up the required tiers and avoid throwing high performance flash at rarely accessed information. 

Configuration Options

IO and capacity are certainly two very important factors in available configurations. But Justin Bagby, Director StorTrends Division, American Megatrends, takes it further. He advised user to pay attention to drive size options, the controller options (active/active and active/passive) and interface options.

“Make sure that the AFA vendor offers a multitude of options so you have the needed configurations to meet your specific requirements,” he said. ‘Also ask about upgrade options, expansion options and the possibility of replication for a DR strategy.

Don’t Buy the Numbers

Every flash vendor is prepared to throw a lot of numbers at the unwary user to convince them that their technology is best. Users, therefore, are advised to not get too enamored with great numbers and instead see how things actually pan out in your own environment. In particular, you might see amazing data reduction numbers. Proceed with caution as they may not always deliver against your own data and workloads.

“Users should test the data reduction capabilities for multiple data sets and workloads before taking a vendor’s word for it,” said Vaughn Stewart, Chief Evangelist, Pure Storage. “We recommend users restore various data from applications like their virtual infrastructure and multiple databases to ensure they can affordably move from disk to flash.”

Review Data Services

So what do you look at in addition to cost? Performance and capacity are certainly part of the equation. But most flash services these days come equipped with a variety of data services and these vary tremendously from vendor to vendor in terms of both raw numbers and the range of services available.

“More than being just a performance booster, a properly implemented all-flash array is really about the data services and how they can be re-imagined and improved by leveraging random access media like flash,” said Josh Goldstein, Vice President Product Management & Marketing, XtremIO. “You can deliver tremendous value in your organization by leveraging these data services to improve not just slow-performing applications, but the entire workflow surrounding those applications including dev/ops, analytics, reporting, and more.”

Check SSD Endurance

The type of flash you use in Solid State Drives (SSDs) matters when it comes to endurance levels (how long the flash lasts). Enterprises tend to use multi-level cell (MLC) flash, which stores two or more bits per cell. But there is also CMLC, which is a more recent acronym where the C stands for “consumer-grade,”

It turns out that some AFA implementations use CMLC and entry-level MLC SSD drives, which only allow for 30 GB to 50GB of writes per day. This isn’t enough for high write enterprise environments. The relevance of this is that it plays into performance promises where a vendor might guarantee endurance in 5-year or 7-year terms, but you then have to replace the SSDs that have expired. But what happens if all the drives expire at the same time? If they write evenly, they could all run out of endurance at the same time. Having to replace them all at the same time could result in downtime.

“What kind of a mess are these AFA vendors getting customers into that are ignoring SSD endurance,” said Justin Bagby, Director StorTrends Division, American Megatrends. “Select an AFA vendor that has built in protection for endurance, meaning higher level SSDs or a specialized technology that protects the CMLC or entry level MLC SSDs.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Pedro Hernandez
Pedro Hernandez
Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to Datamation, eWEEK, and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro.

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