All-flash arrays are ideal enterprise storage solutions that help businesses achieve greater performance with increased operational simplicity. Because they use only flash memory instead of traditional, mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs), they’re faster and offer better performance and durability. This guide explains all-flash arrays and key considerations for them in detail to help you choose the right one for your needs.
What are All-Flash Arrays?
All-flash arrays (AFA) are storage arrays made up entirely of solid state drives (SSDs) using flash memory, with no mechanical HDDs. Because SSDs in general are orders of magnitude faster than spinning disk hard drives, AFAs are faster than all mechanical or hybrid arrays. They also offer better overall performance, flexibility, and durability. They’re smaller and less vulnerable to damage and are an excellent choice for enterprises with high workloads, as they’re capable of rapid data processing and can handle intensive workloads and improve data integrity.
All flash array storage area network (SAN) appliances can scale out efficiently to meet business storage needs, and are preferred for their high-performance capabilities over server-side flash—essentially, adding SSDs to existing servers using a controller. Server-side flash is less expensive than an AFA, but is considered a temporary fix as it lacks scalability.
An array made up of both SSDs and HDDs is a hybrid array. These offer high capacity with a tiered storage architecture, and can improve performance with low latency, faster read and write operations, and adaptive algorithms.
Learn more about SSD vs. HDD speed.
Benefits of All-Flash Arrays
Although many businesses still rely on HDDs, flash arrays are expected to take over the market in the coming years as they better meet industry demands. Their modern architecture suits even multi-cloud environments. A flash-centric storage approach can help enterprises consolidate workloads, reduce power consumption, lower latency, and scale storage to meet needs. Here are the main benefits of all-flash arrays for enterprise use:
Flash arrays offer enhanced operational capabilities, better reliability, and more consistent performance than traditional or hybrid arrays. They process requests faster and are better-suited to the processing demands imposed by artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms increasingly used by businesses.
AFAs can reduce OpEx and CapEx costs—though more expensive than HDDs, the cost of flash memory has dropped significantly in the last few years, and the cost-efficiency of all-flash arrays bears out over time. By helping businesses maximize resource utilization, they also reduce operational and other associated costs.
Evolving computing and data requirements drive an ongoing need for effective solutions to address them. Flash arrays offer improved scalability, making them an ideal choice for the dynamic business market.
Data Analytics Support
All-flash arrays also assist with real-time data analytics through increased performance. Their high Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS) improves query performance, enabling faster execution with uninterrupted analytics operations. Executing multiple data analytics tasks and optimizing storage utilization becomes easier.
Flash arrays are highly reliable, and the solid-state design enhances durability. There are fewer chances of mechanical failure or physical damage, and their self-healing capabilities can minimize the impact of any potential issues. Flexible deployment across multiple configurations can also further improve overall resiliency.
Learn more about how SSDs work.
Types of Enterprise Flash
SSDs are the most common type of enterprise flash storage. These systems mostly use NAND chips for storing information. Different types of SSDs use different connection interfaces. Here are the most common:
- SATA SSDs: Serial ATA (SATA) SSDs are commonly used for enterprise applications, and have faster data transfer rates. Their serial ATA interface makes them highly compatible, and because they’re affordable, they strike a balance between pricing and performance.
- SAS SSDs: Serial attached SCSI SSDs, or SAS SSDs, have more robust features and are suitable for superior data performance. They are slightly expensive, but their advanced features can justify the pricing. SAS SSDs can efficiently access and process data in enterprise environments. With improved data availability and expanded storage capacity, these drives can be deployed across high-availability configurations.
- NVMe SSDs: Non-volatile memory express SSDs, or NVMe SSDs, offer exceptional performance with lightning-fast data access capabilities. They can process multiple data transfers simultaneously and improve application responsiveness significantly. Although expensive, NVMe SSDs are cost-effective in the long run as they reduce performance bottlenecks. NVMe arrays support cloud integration and offer maximum flexibility, making them a good choice for modernizing existing data centers.
- NVMe-oF: NVMe over fabrics extend the NVMe capabilities by integrating with a network fabric like Fibre Channel, Ethernet, or remote direct memory access (RDMA). Based on a shared storage infrastructure, NVMe-oF SSDs improve resource sharing and efficiently use storage, allowing access to multiple hosts.
Learn more about the difference between flash and SSDs.
Enterprise Use Cases for All-Flash Arrays
While most businesses can benefit from the performance and reliability improvements all-flash arrays offer, here are the most common use cases for flash storage solutions.
Data generation has quadrupled in recent years, and these massive volumes of data have significant business value. Storing, organizing, and processing data in the best possible way to derive maximum insights for informed business decisions is of increasing importance. Advanced flash solutions use AI-driven data-tiering for efficient storage consolidation. Flash arrays can optimize configurations and process data at lightning speeds, as their response time is in sub-milliseconds.
Modern-day businesses operate on shared storage platforms. Although it helps deliver value, some processes may consume valuable computing resources that can affect latency and user experience, negatively affecting business performance. All-flash arrays work in shared storage environments by offloading input/output (I/O) intensive operations.
Scattered, unstructured, and unorganized data can challenge data migration, storage management, mobility, and other processes. Businesses need storage systems with modernized features for simplified data management. For such requirements, choose flash system solutions with automation and virtualization capabilities. Hybrid arrays can also operate consistently across different models without disruption.
As modern businesses deal with a plethora of enterprise applications, it is essential to access information faster and capitalize on new opportunities. Flash arrays can accelerate application performance by as much as 20 times over HDD technologies. For this specific business case, consider investing in flash arrays that can handle multiple databases like NoSQL, Hadoop, Oracle, VDI, and SAP.
How to Choose the Right All-Flash Array
With myriad options available, finding the right AFA for your business requirements can be a challenge. Here are the major decision points to consider.
When evaluating flash arrays, first check their capacity—the range can vary from a few TeraBytes (TB) to multiple PetaBytes (PB). Other metrics to consider are latency time, IOPS, and data transfer rates.
All-flash arrays come in different connectivity options to better integrate into existing business infrastructure. These include fiber channels, iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface), SAN, NVMe, SATA, and other standard connectivity protocols. Choose the option that best supports your existing business environment.
Look for flash arrays that can scale up with business growth to meet increased needs. Ask the vendor how to integrate additional storage modules when required.
As businesses deal with vast amounts of data, they must ensure that critical information remains protected and even storage devices follow standard protocols for data integrity. When choosing flash arrays, thoroughly examine the data protection features and standards.
Cost and ROI
Since data storage is a significant investment, consider the upfront cost, price-performance ratio, cost savings, expected ROI, and other factors.
Flash storage solutions have also evolved with advancements in technology. AI-supported flash array systems are capable of intelligent operations with deeper insights, cyber resiliency, and predictive analytics. Choosing these advanced solutions can help streamline management effectively.
Consider the deployment environment and its requirements. Some businesses may require on-premises storage solutions, while others may require a core cloud storage environment. Most enterprises prefer hybrid solutions that can be implemented on-premises and in the cloud.
Maintenance and Warranty
When purchasing flash array solutions, consider the vendor’s post-sales support and warranty coverage, including the duration and level of technical support. A five-year warranty can help compensate for the high prices of modern flash drives loaded with high-end features, for example, while a robust support system will mitigate potential issues and deliver timely help when required.
Bottom Line: All-Flash Arrays
Given the ever-increasing volumes of data, businesses are continuously seeking affordable and efficient storage systems that can enhance system performance and optimize data center economics. The need for modernized data centers to support digital transformation is crucial for achieving maximum flexibility. Flash arrays emerge as an ideal storage solution, as they align with the latest technologies and significantly enhance the performance of next-generation applications when implemented on a wide scale. By investing in this capable and efficient storage solution, businesses can future-proof their operations, striking a balance between performance and economics.