The flash storage market has gone from strength to strength over the past decade. Back then, you paid top dollar for solid-state drives (SSDs). While they are still more expensive than hard disk drives (HDDs), the price has dropped so much that they are now found in most laptops, servers, and storage devices.
A decade ago, I remember the CEO of EMC announcing their availability and the SSDs being passed from person to person in awe. I also become the subject of admiration with my new Sony Vaio laptop with SSDs instead of HDDs. These days, most laptops have them, and many users are not even aware of the fact. Similarly, in the enterprise, SSDs have transitioned from a very expensive optional feature to being a requirement in most purchasing requests.
Flash Storage Market
According to International Data Corp. (IDC), flash-based storage systems generated $2.7 billion in revenue during the first quarter of 2021. When you consider that enterprise storage systems accounted for $6.7 billion in that same period, this means that all-flash now accounts for more than 40% of the market. When you add in hybrid flash arrays (worth another $2.5 billion), this means that systems with all flash or partial flash are now taking up nearly 80% of all enterprise storage system sales. This is a huge shift from only a few years ago when flash was an optional add-on. These days, it is now a necessity for most systems.
Flash Storage Features and Benefits
It is well known that memory operates several orders of magnitude faster than reading from disk. While not quite as fast as memory, flash offers a considerable boost in storage performance. This means data can be written to and read from flash much faster, which has plenty of benefits in terms of latency, application responsiveness, and organizational productivity
“Flash storage is faster, more reliable, and with lower and more predictable latency when compared to systems based on hard drives or with hybrid (flash + HDDs) architectures,” said Enrico Signoretti, an analyst for GigaOM.
Hard drives are often the bottleneck in enterprise systems. CPUs operate at a breakneck pace; memory is only a little slower; and then hard drives are far behind. By adding flash to storage systems and servers, system bottlenecks can be eliminated.
“The benefits of flash include improved productivity, getting more work done in a given footprint, reducing or eliminating server, storage, and I/O bottlenecks along with associated overhead and freeing up host server CPU cycles,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group.
All-flash arrays provide advanced data management services beyond the scope of hard drives. There are no restrictions, for example, on how logical volumes are created.
Flash consumes less power and produces less heat than HDDs. That in turn means they demand a lower amount of cooling, an important factor for data centers.
Replication, snapshots, and data deduplication are incorporated into most all flash arrays as a way to improve data reliability, reduce capacity needs, and offer data protection.
All flash arrays are smaller than hard drives, helping to reduce rack count.
Flash Storage Use Cases
“Flash is becoming the change agent to deliver hybrid-cloud environments to support on-premise, the edge, and public cloud infrastructure consumption,” said Ian Clatworthy, product marketing manager, Hitachi Vantara.
Flash at the edge allows users to run high-performance artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics near to the data.
“Flash enables the implementation of several optimization techniques that were impossible before, increasing the overall system efficiency and density,” said Signoretti.
“Another benefit of flash storage is its flexibility and ability to be deployed into more dynamic environments than traditional removable storage, such as a cache or persistent buffer for IoT devices, cameras, and sensors,” Signoretti said.
“Flash storage is allowing organizations of all sizes to achieve IT transformation,” said Arthur Lent, SVP and CTO, storage and data protection, Dell Technologies.
“It offers a wide variety of benefits from lower latency to increased IOPS to consolidating workloads, smaller hardware footprint, minimized power consumption, and reduced management costs.”
Flash is often used to speed backup performance. For example, it can be used to stage backups. Instead of everything being written to tape or disk and taking the whole night, it can be far more rapidly written to flash and then transferred to the eventual backup media at a more leisurely pace.
Flash Storage Providers
The leading manufacturers of flash storage systems include:
- Hitachi Vantara
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)
- Pure Storage