Should Flash Storage Be in Your Cloud Architecture?| By |Ariel Maislos

Is flash storage in your cloud architecture? If not, should it be? To answer that question, we should consider today’s cloud computing environment.

Modern cloud computing environments provide for efficient, faster and more responsive use of resources. This efficiency enables organizations to realize better performance and a higher degree of competitiveness. Organizations gain agility and as a result, they can achieve their business goals faster.

Cloud computing performance requirements, however, are pushing the traditional storage option of choice — hard disk drives (HDDs) — to their physical limit. Mission-critical applications are increasingly being used by organizations in their private clouds, and these applications each have their own demanding performance requirements. Such challenges make the need for an improved storage solution — one that boasts even greater performance than HDDs – all the more acute.

Enter Flash Storage

Flash storage promises to overcome these storage challenges by enabling organizations to deliver both the speed and performance required for today’s private clouds. Generally speaking, flash storage can deliver approximately 10 times the performance of traditional storage arrays with just one tenth of the power consumption. That efficiency explains why more organizations are adopting flash storage in their cloud architecture.

In many cases, those organizations are using flash storage to deal with active data. That’s not to say, however, that it is always the preferred choice. In fact, flash storage is often not preferable for backup and recovery, or when dealing with less active, or archived, data. When it is used, the type employed often depends on the application in question. For example, robust flash storage is typically deployed to support performance-sensitive applications, while less expensive flash storage is used in applications where performance isn’t as critical.

Learn how to balance resources dynamically in cloud deployments.

But speed and performance aren’t the only factors driving interest in using flash storage in the cloud architecture these days. Many are turning to flash because it is now more cost-competitive, thanks in part to the declining price of enterprise-grade flash. That’s good news, because traditionally the processing power afforded by using flash storage has come with a hefty price tag. The need to lower power consumption and operational cost are also factors driving the use of flash storage into the data center and cloud architecture.

Benefits of Flash Storage

In fact, some of the most valuable benefits of flash storage can be realized when replacing traditional HDD systems with all flash in the enterprise data center. Some of these benefits include:

  • Eliminating storage silos: Traditional data centers are siloed according to function (e.g., computing, networking and storage), and each function also contains siloes of different environments. In storage, for example, there may be silos for HDDs and flash. Unfortunately, this siloed approach is often costly to build, maintain and grow, and it requires a lot of manual processes and is generally inflexible.

An all flash storage approach eliminates not only storage silos, but also additional complexities and inefficiencies. It does so by enabling enterprises to handle many workloads with a single medium. What’s more, the inability to easily share resources between silos becomes a thing of the past, as does the added time needed to deploy, update and manage new siloed environments.

  • Decreasing overall IT cost: Siloed storage in traditional data centers has a myriad of needs, from management to availability and backup. These needs are different for each siloed environment, which often leads to high operational and capital expenditure costs.

With all flash storage, this cost can be minimized because less operational expenditures are required. Furthermore, by replacing aging storage solutions that are no longer performing up to par with all flash, enterprises can cut their repair/updating cost, while gaining the ability to more easily deploy new applications, features and infrastructure.

  • Strategic business asset: A key advantage of all flash storage is that it helps simplify operational strategy and improve productivity by freeing up the IT professionals time, and that makes it a strategic business asset. Rather than continually performing manual, repetitive administrative and maintenance activities, they can instead focus their attention on more strategic endeavors.

Write Endurance

Despite these benefits, flash storage does have its own set of challenges, and perhaps even a limitation: write endurance. Data stored on flash has to be erased in order for something new to be stored. This required process is referred to as the Program-Erase Cycle (PE/C) and flash storage has only a certain number of PE/Cs that can be performed before its performance and reliability drops. This drop can be quite dramatic and essentially limits the number of write operations that can be performed on a flash storage drive.

Because cost is a function of write endurance in flash storage, the faster the storage device wears out, the more often it must be replaced. Because all flash storage is not created equal, it’s safe to assume that some devices will wear out more quickly than others. This can put an unexpected burden on the data center and increase overall IT cost, especially considering that when flash storage failures do occur, they are often unexpected and, in some cases, catastrophic. Although this limitation may be cause for concern for some data centers, the good news is that there are workarounds that can provide acceptable endurance for the enterprise. Many of the workarounds are designed for Multi-Level Cell (MLC) flash or rely on the use of DRAM to better organize data before it’s written to the flash storage.

Clearly, flash storage can be a boon to any cloud architecture or enterprise data center, offering the performance, high availability and cost-effective scalability that today’s cloud computing environments demand. The trick is in selecting the right flash storage to use for your situation and purchasing it from a trusted vendor whose products have a proven track record. Knowing the limitations of flash storage and how to overcome them are also essential. Given that flash storage has been around for a while, these details are not all that hard to figure out, and its benefits make it well worth the effort.

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