A Flash in the paean

By : |May 18, 2016 0
Flash has been the sung-hero of the storage plot for the last few years, and quite deservedly so. Do questions around density, adoption, performance, price still worry the choirs?

Pratima H

INDIA: Look at Gartner’s recent outlook on storage before the lightning bolts take over. It has been augured that with a revenue projection of $253 million in 2016, storage investment will witness a decline from last year primarily due to improved price performance. Here, it’s easy to notice the inclination of enterprises to evaluate cheaper devices, such as Flash storage, that help to contain the ever increasing storage costs.

It’s not just about the comparison of CAGRs for 2017 between conventional HDD and Flash (four per cent vs. 20 per cent respectively for 2017) or how Flash revenue could surpass HDD revenues by about a third by the time 2019 happens.

It’s about the attention span too that Flash has managed to rule since its arrival. At the face of it, Flash is simple – an electronic (solid-state) non-volatile computer storage medium with ease of electrical erase-ability and reprogammability. Its leap from the pocket to the vaults is also not so complex. In a matter of years it has moved quite easily between that phone in your wallet to that data centre in your backyard. What’s really fascinating about Flash is the way it has made people question about erstwhile magnetic hard-disks’ relevance in an era where speed and performance are solid (pun intended) areas for any storage question.

What’s also amusing is that besides being something claimed to be faster than spinning disks; their pace in comparison to RAM-based SSDs, price, capacity, scalability etc; the Flash concept has been sparring with doubts spinning at many levels as well. Endurance, handling datacenter usage patterns, support for all kinds of tiering and mixed workloads, IOPS (Input-Output Operations Per Second) strengths, density vs. speed etc remain key questions with all-flash arrays.

Capacity (of the bits per cell kind), performance and costs seem to be quite a wobbly three-legged stool that Flash has been trying to conquer. Example: If density increases, do performance and reliability drop?

Meanwhile, alternatives like Memristors, MRAM (Magneto-Resistive Random Access Memory), Racetrack Memory and recent announcements around optical storage, Calcogenide glass and 3D Cross Point memory are floating on the horizon too.

Srikant Attravanam, Director, Platform Solutions and Services, Hitachi Data Systems is however holding an interesting posture, and quite a confident one at that when he proclaims that Flash IS revolutionizing the Storage eco-system.

Modernizing of core IT infrastructures is spurring companies, large and small, to increasingly move to flash-based technologies to create faster, more responsive IT environments, he underscores. Let’s check out if this is indeed the point where the praise for Flash would/should go up the crescendo? And also why anyone in storage should be bothered about the temperature of data, the growing influence of software in a hardware playground or about IoT’s drum roll?

Are you surprised at the pace with which storage industry has changed in last two years?

Well, last two years have been quite formidable. Mainly because customers have started asking about performance more and the performance vs. cost debate is slipping away. CPUs have gained traction on the server side. Disk capacities and speeds have also given a new opportunity for Flash to touch the tera-byte levels. Even though affordability was an issue, the technology has traversed many boundaries.

Has the role of software risen in storage also?

The answer is convergence. The equation has definitely changed and customers want one solution instead of multiple answers. We understood that need and trend of convergence when we brought in reference-built architectures.

How do you reckon cold data, warm data and hot data, for different verticals?

I would say there are differences in work-loads for many verticals. The questions that matter for a bank won’t be same for a manufacturing enterprise. We try to dissolve some barriers by real-time tiering. So it is essentially the work on ‘right data at right tiers’ and that too, in real-time scenarios. We also take care of archival in new ways, and without ruining meta-data.

What about IoT? Would it affect storage as we know it?

It is a technology about workflow automation and communication – something that has not been done so much in the past. We are working on new technologies with partners and social innovation partners.

Earlier you were talking about how Hitachi Flash Storage A series provides solutions for the widest variety of customer applications. Tell us what makes you take pride in your offering?

High capacity and high ops, and also the part that Flash is in-built for high performance and mixed workloads. We also take a different approach to the house-keeping aspect of it. We do not burden controllers to manage Flash and we also offer many versions, from all-Flash ones to the hybrid ones. The emerging wave of next generation applications require that data centers be incredibly responsive, agile, accessible and automated. The only way to keep up with business needs is to adopt a software-defined approach to infrastructure accelerated by Flash technology.

But the price card and performance part has been played by some competitors in the industry too. What makes you different from others?

Our approach to IT economics is pragmatic and different. If the data is cold, then why do I need to put it in an expensive disk? We have explored tiering systems for periodic analysis settings. We also look at the graph of IOPH and capacity to automatically spread data across appropriate tiers.

Any kinks that the technology, per se, has to still sort out?

There is frankly nothing like a full-stop for any technology. Same goes for Flash. Multi-layered NAND is in talks right now, open –source waves are also worth noting. So, we do not know how this shapes up but the curiosity and the appetite to grow stays. More innovation will definitely happen and we are eager on that part.

Are enterprises, specially in India, eager to embrace Flash with some questions still around?

Yes and people are not sitting on the fence anymore. Lot of adoption is happening and with in-memory picking up as well, many bottlenecks are being tackled with Flash there. Once people pick up Flash, they do not want to go back to earlier storage. In India, BFSI, IT &ITeS, manufacturing, Telco etc are hot verticals right now.

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