In my last two posts, I wrote about the importance of understanding your current environment before setting out on a search for new data storage solutions; and I touched on the topic of Flash Arrays. Understanding your current environment will help you establish a baseline for where to start but should also help you document where you want to go and the business problems you need to solve with a new Storage solution.
I wrote about Flash because it has become a viable solution recently as prices have come down and drive sizes have increased (at least one storage array provider is offering a 4TB SSD). In fact, according to one source, over 60% of array startups are built around Flash. Consequently, you won’t be able to research Storage Arrays today without having a flash discussion.
While Flash solutions have certainly come down in price recently, they still cost more than spinning disk. However, the reason Flash has become a viable solution is largely due to the technology advancements that help maximize space utilization while still providing the performance we would expect. The challenge comes in trying to sort out all the implementations of these technologies across the various Flash Storage Array providers.
The primary space-saving technologies employed across most Flash solutions today include de-duplication, compression, and thin provisioning. Still other storage solutions may use a combination of Flash technology with a tier of inexpensive nearline HDD. All of these technologies are aimed at giving you the performance of Flash and the capacity of traditional HDD at a cost that can still fit within most budgets.
As I looked at the space-saving technologies used by many of the most popular Flash solutions, the importance of understanding your business requirements (apart from any particular technology) was underscored for me. It’s very easy to get caught up in a discussion about inline vs. post de-duplication or the method by which thin-provisioning is accomplished, etc. And while these discussions may be useful at one level, the real question you need to ask is whether or not the solution will meet the business requirements you defined at the beginning of your Storage Array search.
Storage technology is evolving at an incredible pace, and there are more choices today than ever before. Is spinning disk a technology that’s going away? Eventually. But spinning disk isn’t dead yet, and the technology still meets the requirements of many businesses. The death of tape for backup has been heralded for years now, but it is still being bought and deployed because it meets the needs of certain environments. If you decide that Flash Arrays are the direction you want to go, then remember to focus on your business requirements and don’t get too caught up in the implementation of any particular technology unless it has a real business value.
Regardless of the type of storage array you choose, be sure to understand answers to the following questions:
- How does the solution provide for capacity expansion?
- How do you increase performance on the array?
- What does management of the array look like?
- How would you migrate from your current array?
- Are there any drivers or agents required on hosts that would use the array?
- What level of integration does the array have with your Compute platforms (Microsoft, VMware, Hyper-V, AIX, etc.)?
You’ll certainly have developed your own list of questions to add to the above list.