Flash Storage Buying Guide

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Flash storage has really gathered steam over the past couple of years. Some users will do just fine with all-flash arrays while in other cases, a hybrid array consisting of flash/solid state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDD) would be a better choice. The purpose of this guide is to highlight a few of the many options that are out there.

Nimbus Data

Nimbus Data is said to be the only multi-protocol all-flash array that scales capacity with performance. It boasts 450 deployments to date, including several multi-petabyte all-flash installations.

“Nimbus Data combines patent-pending hardware with multiprotocol software (SAN + NAS), delivering performance, OpEx efficiency and data management capabilities,” said Thomas Isakovich, CEO and founder.

He makes the point that some flash vendors bundle SSDs with generic disk-array servers/enclosures or lack embedded software features. Nimbus, therefore, seeks to differentiate itself via a purpose-built hardware and software strategy to create all-flash systems. It is particularly suited to databases, larger VDI deployments and analytics.

“As all-flash systems tend to cost more than disk per TB, the OpEx savings should be carefully compared amongst vendors by analyzing power consumption per TB, rack space per TB, endurance/reliability ratings and ongoing licensing costs,” said Isakovich. “Customers should coordinate with their data center provider or operations managers to determine the cost of power, space and personnel time, and compare the savings that all-flash vendors can provide.”

Starboard Storage Systems

Starboard is very much in the hybrid storage camp. Its Starboard AC Series (AC2000, AC4000, AC4500) is priced starting at $30,000 for entry-level products and ranges up to $500,000 for high-end models that offer over a half a petabyte of storage. Features include multiprotocol storage (SAN, NAS, FC, iSCSI CIFS and NFS) and dynamic storage pooling that stripes data across all hard disk drives to raise utilization and reduce rebuild time upon a drive failure. The built-in SSD accelerator enables scalable read and write caches to boost performance. All data in the SSD accelerator is compressed inline. In addition, SSD caching is used to arrange it so that most data is served from SSD. The SSD accelerator is also said to reduce HDD usage by up to 80 percent and thereby curtail power consumption.

“As SSD is more expensive per GB, the more workloads that can use a single SSD accelerator the better,” said Lee Johns. vice president of marketing and product management, Starboard Storage Systems. “We thin provision performance and so do not need to overprovision SSD. With Starboard you can scale read cache without mirroring ,and all data in the read cache is compressed, making the SSD read cache resources up to four times to eight times the efficiency of traditional SSD storage.”

Pure Storage

Pure Storage is another all-flash array proponent. Its flagship FlashArray product aims to drive the cost of all-flash storage below the price of performance disk. Combining MLC flash with inline data reduction capabilities (deduplication and compression), it finds itself being used frequently for virtual desktop infrastructure, database management and server consolidation.

The FlashArray FA-400 Series doubles the capacity and performance of the previous generation. Fueled by the new Purity Operating Environment 3.0 software release, it comes with CloudAssist support technology, ZeroSnap accelerated virtual machine (VM) cloning, always on data-at-rest encryption and tighter integration with third-party applications.

“Earlier all-flash storage devices were suitable mainly for tier-one storage applications like accelerating point database applications,” said Matt Kixmoeller, vice president of products at Pure Storage. “We created an all-flash array that breaks the cost barrier to flash, enabling enterprises of all sizes to replace disk in their data centers for a variety of applications.”


Rather than identify itself as all-flash or hybrid, CloudByte uses a software-defined storage model to optimize storage hardware based on performance demands. As such, its ElastiStor product supports all-HDD, all-SSD or any mix in between. It is said to deliver guaranteed QoS (IOPS, throughput, latency) to applications from a shared storage platform. It is particularly suited to cloud service providers and enterprises building private clouds to host performance-sensitive applications. On-demand provisioning, for instance, allows cloud environments to scale to thousands of applications without impacting performance.

“The CloudByte storage controller architecture supports multi-tenancy and software-defined storage,” said Felix Xavier, Founder & CTO, CloudByte. “We recommend hybrid storage pooling where the CloudByte provisioning manager allows you to choose an all-SSD pool for high-performance-low capacity requirements and an HDD pool for low-performance/high-capacity workloads.”

CloudByte ElastiStor is installable on commodity servers, so IT can tailor SAN/NAS storage arrays based on existing performance demands. It supports SSD, SAS and SATA hardware as well as NFS, CIFS, FC and iSCSI protocols.


The EMC VNX is a hardware and software combo which aims to deliver cost reductions per transaction and per VM and VDI deployed, and to enable the deployment of smaller configurations due to what is termed “Flash Optimized Arrays.” With automated tiering across flash and HDDs, there is no need to manually move data.

One of the advantages of EMC in this market is the breadth of software that exists within its vast portfolio. The company has done a good job of rolling this into its VNX line. As a result, users can take advantage of software tools such as Unisphere for management, Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) software, AppSynch, Virtual Storage Integrator, EMC Storage Analytics Suite, EMC Storage Integrator for Microsoft, and the Management and Reporting Suite.

“EMC can size the workload at the end user level and recommend the appropriate level of flash for the workload,” said Eric Herzog, senior vice president, product management and product marketing at EMC. “On average in a VNX, that usually equates to 5 percent, though it can range to as little as 1 percent and as much as 10 percent.”

Nimble Storage

Nimble Storage’s hybrid storage architecture, known as CASL (Cache-Accelerated Sequential Layout), is said to leverage the best properties of flash memory and disk. CASL accelerates read access to application data by holding a copy of active data in flash, resulting in high read throughput and latencies on the order of 0.5ms compared to the 5-10ms latencies of traditional disk-based storage systems. Write data is compressed so that it can be written to disk as a single stripe, making for sub-millisecond latencies and more efficient use of disk to the tune of 2x-5x more usable capacity per dollar than regular storage, according to Radhika Krishnan, head of solutions and alliances, Nimble Storage.

“The CS400 Series delivers higher performance and is ideal for larger-scale deployments or IO-intensive workloads, such as larger-scale VDI or transaction processing supported by Oracle or SQL Server,” said Krishnan. “Capacity can be scaled by adding shelves. Performance can be boosted by upgrading compute to get greater throughput and IOPS, and expanding cache with larger SSDs to handle more active data.”

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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