Not All IOPS Solutions Are Created Equal

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While there’s little argument that flash technology is one of the most disruptive technologies to come into the storage world in the last decade, it’s unfortunately not a panacea for everything wrong with clients’ storage infrastructures. That said, there are four appropriate instances where flash storage makes sense.

The traffic analogy

Storage performance is a problem similar to cruising down the highway and spotting a traffic sign that blinks ‘heavy traffic ahead.’ Now, your highway cruise is hurtling towards an endless line of red brake lights. You need to make a quick, informed decision with little to no insight or inherent metrics about the problem. Whatever choice you make leaves you second-guessing whether choosing a different route may have yielded a better result or not.

Henry Newman  sums up the problem facing many storage admins nicely, stating that, “Almost every SSD, from the highest-priced enterprise offering to the lowest-priced consumer product has a performance profile that performs slower writes than reads.”  So that high-profile application in your environment -the one that developers complain to admins is always lagging in terms of performance- may see little, if any, improvement by simply throwing a pool of solid-state hard drives at it.  This is just one of many examples out there where Flash isn’t a great cure-all for a specific storage issue.

Do you need flash technology?

Don’t get me wrong, flash absolutely has a place in a TON of environments. It’s genius at its very core, with higher IOPS, lower latency, and the lack of moving parts all contributing to big savings on power, cooling, and space. However, those savings come at a big cost.

This is where vendors that boast a multi-faceted flash technology offering like NetApp help customers by providing multiple options to address Flash requirements.

Here are four appropriate places to deploy Flash in a storage environment.

1. Within a shared storage array as a small pool of solid-state hard drivesleveraged against a larger pool of slower, traditional spinning disks.  

The main idea of this type of hybrid deployment is SSDs that provide the IOPS required for high-usage applications, utilizing cheap and deep slower disks in the backend for increased capacity.  NetApp’s particular brand of this deployment is called a FlashPool, and is available on all of their current FAS arrays, even down to the SMB-priced options. Get the FlashPool data sheet.

2. Inside the storage controllers of a shared storage array

This method increases the processing cache of those controllers by keeping highly-utilized information in the virtual cache, and only dipping into the slower hard drives within the array when unique data is required.  Think of this as like throwing a bunch of RAM sticks into an older, lagging laptop and seeing an instant performance boost.  NetApp has been an industry leader/innovator of this turn traditional storage tiering upside down option for years, with their highly-regarded FlashCache product. Watch a demo of FlashCache.

3. In an all-flash shared storage array 

Everyday customers won’t see the viability for high-performance, low-latency, very low usable capacity, and extremely pricey array such as this. However, they’re burrowing out their own small niche in the storage marketplace.  NetApp’s particular offering in this space is both the current EF540 all-flash array, with the new FlashRay appliance scheduled for an early 2014 release.

4. Within the physical servers attached to a shared storage array

When you need to accelerate one specific application’s performance, like heavily-accessed databases, server-side flash delivers the low latency and high throughput required to make a troublesome application hum.  NetApp has partnered with industry leader Fusion I/O on this type of offering, called FlashAccel.

Find out if flash storage is right for you.

Think of Softchoice as your traffic copter in the sky, taking a comprehensive glance over all the points of intersection in your infrastructure traffic and finding out where the bottlenecks are, and how to most effectively address them.  Through our in-depth in-house assessment services team, Softchoice will give you the insight and visibility of where the best points of intersection are in your particular environment to deploy promising technologies like flash.

In partnership with NetApp and their vast family of different Flash technologies, Softchoice will work with you to procure and implement the flash technology that holistically makes sense for your environment. To learn more, check out the Softchoice Storage TechCheck.

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About Luke Rundle

Luke Rundle is a Technical Architect at Softchoice, focused on the NetApp brand portfolio. When he’s not busy winning 2013 Outstanding Contribution Award by a NetApp Tech Team Partner, or going the extra mile to help clients achieve their infrastructure dreams, he’s found at home playing tea party with his daughters.