Flash Storage: integration factors to consider

Image of squares denoting flash storage

Posted on Thursday, February 11, 2016

The performance gains offered by flash storage are hugely attractive to organizations looking to gain a new competitive advantage. And the fact that flash drives will interface directly with the backplanes in most existing storage arrays makes the process of swapping spinning disks for SSDs straight-forward.

But there are a number of factors to consider before making such a move.

Drive longevity

There is no denying that spinning disks can, and do, fail periodically. The moving parts will invariably wear out, causing the drive to fail and degrading array performance until the unit is replaced.

Flash drives are a different beast however. Although they lack the mechanical parts that cause spinning disks to fail, the actual flash memory technology used in each drive can only sustain a finite number of IO operations. Once that limit is reached, SSD performance will degrade rapidly.

There are tools available that help to spread write actions across every cell evenly to extend the usable lifespan of each drive. There will of course be a performance impact with these tools, so this will need to be factored into your design considerations.

Software design

The performance advances offered by flash technologies often cannot be fully realised by existing software. Many applications are built to incorporate intentional input-output delays making the CPU wait while spinning disks catch up.

Such delays are unnecessary with SSDs, meaning that the design of line-of-business applications may be limiting the performance that may otherwise be expected. Consequently the application of relatively inexpensive SSD drives in existing arrays may require much greater investment elsewhere, to unlock the full range of benefits.

Applying flash intelligently

The performance advantages of flash are undeniable, but the advantages to your business may be less than expected as explained. In reality replacing all of your spinning disks with flash storage is unnecessary, particularly for applications reliant on archive data.

As a result flash and spinning disks will continue to co-exist for the foreseeable future, as businesses learn which applications best meet the performance demands of their users and customers. 

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