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Tech Primer: When and What to Move to Flash Storage | @CloudExpo #Cloud #Storage #DataCenter

Flash storage continues to evolve. Early adopters need to keep up on new developments and flash-related schools of thought

Tech Primer: When and What to Move to Flash Storage

Flash storage has become a mainstream technology, with 451 Research expecting the market to reach $9.6 billion by 2020. As the technology becomes less cost-prohibitive, and benefits such as its exponentially greater performance capabilities and simplified process for provisioning and optimizing systems become more sought after, it's clear that the future of storage is flash. But while some organizations may have taken advantage of the burgeoning technology's benefits early on, a significant number of companies have yet to make the transition. Your organization may very well fall into this category.

For you late adopters who have yet to integrate flash storage but are preparing for a move, here are a few key guidelines to follow when considering when and what to move to flash.

When to move (and how to do it)
If your organization hasn't moved to flash yet, you need to at least be considering it. The technology has become so prevalent in the industry that the cost to performance ratio, which used to be a significant hurdle for many businesses, is ideal. That ratio continues to improve each day, meaning the longer you continue to delay a move to flash, the more infrastructure costs you'll see wasted on disk storage.

Of course, like any other technology change or upgrade, there are several challenges that can complicate adoption. To ensure the integration of flash storage is as beneficial and seamless as possible, you must appropriately prepare prior to the purchase. This should revolve around a proof-of-concept exercise that encourages your organization to clearly detail the performance needs of any applications you will move to flash, which will help to provide an understanding of what performance quality will look like down the road.

A proof of concept is especially important if your organization will need to implement an entirely new infrastructure to support the addition of flash storage. If that's the case, the cost will extend beyond simply purchasing a flash device, so it's critical to have an understanding of how your business will benefit from flash to appropriately make the business case and see a worthwhile ROI.

Here are a few key questions you should ask yourself when considering a move to flash:

  • What are the application performance requirements?
  • Am I moving everything to flash, or something specific?
  • Is that application, code and infrastructure optimized for flash?
  • If I'm purchasing a solution from a new vendor, how will that work with what I already have?
  • Do I have the right management and monitoring tools?
  • Do I have or need data reduction technology?

Given that nearly all hardware vendors offer some kind of flash solution, many organizations struggle to decide where to look when purchasing a device - a legacy vendor or a startup? There are certainly pros and cons to each, and this is another facet of a flash migration that will be made smoother by a proof-of-concept exercise.

For example, if you're looking for a cutting-edge solution, startups like Nimble and Pure aren't burdened by legacy infrastructure and have a singular focus that lends itself to product innovation that you may not see from some of the mainstay players. On the other hand, if you need a globalized solution with mature storage monitoring and management capabilities, legacy vendors are often the best choice as they have been driving flash technology forward for several years, whereas startups are still playing catchup on some of what might be considered more traditional features.

What to move (and why)
Once your organization has done its due diligence in terms of understanding performance needs, how they can be met by a flash implementation and which vendor and device to work with, it's time to consider what data should be migrated.

Generally speaking, flash capacity should be allotted to any applications and associated data that have unpredictable, high I/O requirements (perhaps an employee-facing web application that could be accessed by hundreds of people at different times of day). Flash is especially good for things like VDI, which requires high IOPs but little actual storage space - without flash, you would historically buy a storage array with hundreds of hard drives, much of that space ultimately going unused - just to provide the performance needed to handle boot storms. Flash delivers that performance capacity and more, and without causing the business to waste resources by over-purchasing storage resources.

Flash should also be used to support things like virtualized server solutions. While applications are being consolidated to lower costs and maximize the investment your IT department is making in its servers, all of that data still needs to sit on a shared storage device. The performance capabilities of flash will ensure that data won't be subject to bottlenecks or latency. Similarly, business-critical applications and services like SQL Server, SharePoint, Oracle, and, as mentioned, VDI, to name a few, should also sit on a flash storage device to maintain productivity and efficiency.

Best practices
The above guidelines to successfully prepare for and implement a flash solution is a good starting point on your organization's journey to flash. To help ensure your business is able to realize the full benefits of a flash integration in the future, you should look to leverage several key best practices:

  • Understand your performance needs. Surprisingly, all too often, storage administrators and other IT professionals will rush to implement flash devices without considering what level of performance they actually need. The answer should go beyond, "My current storage solution is slow and I need something faster." Think about your block size requirements for each application and associated latency requirements, as well as the performance ranges for each (i.e., do you anticipate daily, weekly or monthly spikes?). This is why a proof of concept exercise is valuable - to show what performance quality will look like over a period of time to help inform configuration and provisioning decisions.
  • Prepare for growth. While the capacity and functionality of flash technology continues to grow, so too will your organization's amount of data to be stored. Data reduction technologies will certainly help, but your organization should plan to prioritize what data gets stored on flash, and what can remain on existing storage solutions. At the end of the day, you need to balance the ROI of a flash investment against everything else in the data center.
  • Know your bottlenecks. With flash storage, which delivers much-enhanced performance, storage will no longer be the first piece of infrastructure to shoulder the bottleneck blame. However, you will now need to find the new cause of a bottleneck and to do so, must have a fundamental understanding of your organization's infrastructure. Is it the network or the server? Is the application optimized? Could it stem from database code? A comprehensive, full application stack monitoring system should be implemented to provide deep visibility into the health of physical infrastructure and across applications and environments (on-premises and in the cloud) that will enable you to more easily find the source of a new bottleneck.

Conclusion
Flash storage continues to evolve. Early adopters need to keep up on new technology developments and flash-related schools of thought. In addition to larger capacity flash drives, there are still newer technologies to consider, such as NVMe and 3D Xpoint, that can potentially be implemented if/when performance or business requirements change. However, for late adopters that are preparing for a move, these guidelines around when, what and how to integrate flash, as well as the accompanying best practices for future management, will ideally position you to quickly ramp up and benefit quickly from a flash storage adoption.

More Stories By James Honey

James Honey is a senior product marketing manager for SolarWinds. He has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry, focused specifically on storage technologies and virtualization solutions for SMBs to enterprise environments. His current role includes responsibility for all storage monitoring and management-related product marketing initiatives, including SolarWinds Storage Resource Monitor.

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