Key Trends in the Flash Storage Market

Flash storage has revolutionized storage over the last decade or so. It has sped up systems enormously and opened the door to the lightning fast pace of technology that we have all come to expect. 

In essence, flash storage is non-volatile memory. Hard disk drives (HDDs) are comprised of all kinds of moving parts. Arms, spinning disks, and heads are all subject to wear and malfunction. Consequently, it was not uncommon for a hard drive to simply stop working one day. Most failures were in the early stages of their life or toward the end. Nevertheless, any long-term user of HDDs has probably experienced a failure. 

Flash storage eliminates the moving parts and so has a much higher level of reliability. Its electronically programmable memory cells are used to store data in a way that is much faster than disk storage. 

5 Trends in Flash Storage 

The growth in use in flash storage is no longer a hot trend. It has become the norm. After all, most storage equipment these days comes either as all flash or part flash in a hybrid array. 

Here are some top trends in the flash storage market:

1. NVMe over TCP 

Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is a communications interface and driver that takes advantage of the increased bandwidth of PCIe. It gives a further boost to the already impressive performance of flash. NVMe helps SSDs communicate between the storage interface and the CPU using high-speed PCIe and can transfer about 25 times more data than traditional SATA. NVMe IOPS also exceed 1 million by utilizing parallel, low-latency data paths to the underlying media. 

That has given rise to NVMe over transmission control protocol (TCP), allowing storage to be shared among several data centers using basic internet protocol without the need for physical modifications to these servers or storage.

“NVMe over TCP is going to be a huge factor moving forward, allowing for NVMe performance over the network without the specialized networking hardware or configuration required for NVMe/FC or NVMe/RDMA,” said Arthur Lent, SVP and CTO, storage and data protection, Dell Technologies

2. Form Factors

The solid-disk drive (SSD) has given rise to smaller devices as well as a lot more variety when it comes to form factors compared to traditional HDDs, which have used the same form factor and size of slot for decades. Flash now comes in form factors such as M.2, U.2, and PCIe card. Another size that is now gaining in popularity is the Enterprise & Data Center SSD Form Factor (EDSFF). It makes use of an x4 interface and can fit vertically in a 1U enclosure. This provides greater flexibility, storage density, the ability to modularly scale, and boost cooling efficiency. 

“EDSFF allows SSDs to break free from the constraints of legacy HDD form factors to deliver new form factors optimized for the future that will offer a further increase in SSD rack density,” Lent said. 

3. Mix and Match Flash 

Some types of flash are more expensive than others but offer the best performance. Cheaper flash still provides good performance but can be harnessed for larger amounts of storage. This allows companies to balance their performance and capacity needs in accordance with budgetary constraints. 

“NVMe flash offers the highest performance and lowest latency, and SAS flash offers higher capacity and lower cost,” said Ian Clatworthy, product marketing manager, Hitachi Vantara.

“Customers can consolidate more applications on a single architecture, thereby simplifying management, automation, and analytics without worrying about application performance.” 

4. Memory Class Storage

Flash producers have developed many different flash architectures, such as MLC, TLC, and QLC. Quad-level cell (QLC) flash memory, for example, is less reliable with lower endurance than MLC and TLC but has higher density and good read performance. As a result, it is becoming a viable alternative to HDDs in many cases for higher capacity flash applications. 

“Many vendors are working on storage systems that can take advantage of this kind of QLC flash memory to increase capacity without using HDDs,” said Enrico Signoretti, an analyst at the IT consultancy GigaOM.

“The result is a new generation of storage systems that can provide good performance and capacity with a $/GB that is comparable to HDD-based systems but with better performance, rack density, and power efficiency.”

5. Prices Continue to Drop

The fact that SSD prices are dropping is nothing new. But this trend has been going on for so long that the most surprising fact is that there is no end in sight — the price continues to go down. 

“Another big driver for SSD growth is the cost per capacity continues to decline with flash enabling more of it to be deployed, along with faster flash storage for performance demanding workloads,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group

Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.

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