Enterprise SSDs: The Case for All-Flash Data Centers

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by Mike Matchett, Sr. Analyst Taneja Group, @smworldbigdata

Also see: Enterprise SSD DWPD: Calculating in Advance


Adding small amounts of flash as cache or dedicated storage is certainly a good way to accelerate a key application or two, but enterprises are increasingly adopting shared all-flash arrays to increase performance for every primary workload in the data center.

Flash is now competitively priced. All-flash array operations are simpler than when managing mixed storage, and the performance acceleration across-the-board produces visible business impact.

However, recent Taneja Group field research on all-flash data center adoption shows that successfully replacing traditional primary storage architectures with all-flash in the enterprise data center boils down to ensuring two key things: flash-specific storage engineering and mature enterprise-class storage features.

When looking for the best storage performance return on investment (ROI), it simply doesn’t work to replace HDDs with SSDs in existing traditional legacy storage arrays. Even though older generation arrays can be made faster in spots by inserting large amounts of underlying flash storage, there will be too many newly exposed overall performance bottlenecks to make it a worthwhile investment. After all, consistent IO performance (latency, IOPs, bandwidth) for all workloads is what makes all-flash a winning data center solution. It’s clear that to leverage a flash storage investment, IT requires flash-engineered designs that support flash IO speeds and volumes.

Even if all-flash performance is more than sufficient for some datacenter workloads, the cost per effective GB in a new flash engineered array can now handily beat sticking flash SSDs into older arrays, as well as readily undercutting large HDD spindle count solutions. A big part of this cost calculation stems from built-in wire speed (i.e. inline) capacity optimization features like deduplication and compression found in almost all flash engineered solutions. We also see increasing flash densities continuing to come to market (e.g., HPE and Netapp have already announced 16TB SSDs) with prices inevitably driving downwards. These new generations of flash are really bending flash “capacity” cost curves for the better.

All-Flash Field Research Results

Recently we had the opportunity to interview all-flash adopting storage managers with a variety of datacenter workloads and business requirements. We found that it was well understood that flash offered better performance. Once an all-flash solution was chosen architecturally, other factors like cost, resiliency, migration path and ultimately storage efficiency tended to drive vendor comparisons and acquisition decision-making. Here are a few interesting highlights from our findings:

  1. Simplification – The deployment of all-flash represented an opportunity to consolidate and simplify heterogenous storage infrastructure and operations, with major savings just from environment simplification (e.g. reduction in number of arrays/spindles).
  2. Consistency – The consistent IO at scale offered from an all-flash solution deployed across all tier 1 workloads greatly reduced IT storage management activities. In addition, it gave time back to application owners and DBAs who no longer needed to spend serious time fine-tuning (or troubleshooting) IO for performance.
  3. Cost/Efficiency – The dropping cost of all-flash storage CAPEX made justifications to switch easy, especially with flash-capable storage that had flash-sped inline capacity optimization features like dedupe and compression. When labor, power savings and related OPEX factors were examined, they all come out in favor of all-flash adoption.
  4. Resiliency – For all-flash to work in the enterprise data center, arrays had to be highly resilient with native, proven data protection and high availability features. Performance, while offering competitive advantage, did not trump ensuring business availability.
  5. Leverage – Surprising to many, a wider set of target workloads benefited from all-flash hosting. This resulted in a continual broadening of all-flash deployment over time. In one user, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) OS images were deduped 600:1 with huge operational impact. But a good number of NoSQL and RDBMS database workloads even reported dedupe ratios of 2:1 or more with cascading performance acceleration benefits.

In our interviews, we heard that a number of flash engineered arrays in the market, like EMC XtremIO, Pure Storage, and Kaminario were popular options offering a variety of attractive price points and performance curves depending on specific customer needs. However, these all necessitated that storage staff learn and adopt yet another storage solution, whereas HPE 3PAR offered a painless all-flash migration (for existing 3PAR customers) preserving staff expertise, best practices and data management processes. We also found that a 3PAR all-flash adoption was considered fully consistent day one with enterprise storage requirements, while other solutions were seen as requiring major new systems integration and migration work.

There are too many proactive business benefits to just continue reactively dropping small amounts of flash into problem hot spots. And waiting for a current traditional array investment (a sunk cost) to depreciate fully ignores the bigger opportunity available now. Certainly, the business workload performance opportunity isn’t in doubt. When it comes to making a total cost of ownership-based recommendation, we feel OPEX, while hard to quantify in practice, may be more important over the lifetime of this kind of major infrastructure investment. Because reductions in storage CAPEX and, with the right solution, significant OPEX factors can now both be readily justified, we think that most IT shops should be moving faster to adopt and deploy all-flash storage arrays.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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