Inside Track: Enterprise storage — Flash dance
21 September 2017 | 0
The world of enterprise storage has undergone significant change over recent years. Flash technologies, cloud storage and converged infrastructure have changed the rules of the game, and software-defined orchestration remains an ongoing theme.
Driving these changes are new and innovative ways of handling data models and ways of using workloads, and it does not appear as if those factors are going to stop influencing things anytime soon.
“From small and medium-sized businesses up to enterprise scale, we see companies focusing on applications and how to handle data rather than looking at cumulative figures so that one size fits all. That just isn’t the case anymore,” said Darren Gill, sales lead for primary storage with the modern infrastructure team at Dell EMC Ireland.
“Our view is that hybrid models and the ability to have fast access to applications which need to stay on-site or be closer to the compute are here to stay. Obviously, data which may have aged or doesn’t need that same level of connection, speed or security is going to the cloud.”
According to Gill, companies of all sizes are looking at the cloud to help solve their storage issues as a general redesign of their relationship with technology and applications takes place.
“Every company we’ve talked to is looking at the cloud in some shape or form to reduce their capital expenditure and shift it to operating expenditure. But they’re also looking to innovate and to reduce the time waiting on applications to give data back to them. They’re looking at applications differently as well as their own internal IT and how they serve the business,” Gill said.
This is a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future and even accelerate. Storage technologies are improving, and new developments around Flash and solid state storage are likely to bring new possibilities.
“Companies are going more and more towards flash technology—how Flash is handled intelligently is where most of the R&D is going to be. It offers not just speed and low latency but also more intelligence and more options when it comes to managing data. In addition, it’s where a lot of work on security is being done, and security is becoming the number one concern for many companies,” said Gill.
When it comes to security there is always a trade-off between perceived threat and actual threat – companies are obliged to decide what’s a reasonable amount of concern and what’s prohibitively expensive or unreasonable. When it comes to storage, how proportionate is the concern that companies have regarding security to the actual threat?
“It’s difficult to comment on that issue, because a lot of customers will privately talk about what they have gone through but they don’t want to talk publicly about it. There’s a lot of activity around security that isn’t actually publicised,” said Gill. “In our experience, when it comes to storage security, we see more and more customers looking to protect from malware and from any kind of viruses based on the storage and the applications that are available to that storage.”
In addition, snapping or the ability to roll back on storage to protect from short term malware and short term viruses has become a highly desirable ability.
According to Trevor Kelly, systems engineering director for Western Europe with Nutanix, his company’s latest work with enterprise storage sees it focus more on applications than on virtual machines.
“When we talk to customers and when we are presenting, we typically have two options. We start off with the Flash option, and then if the customer is a bit more unconstrained from a budget perspective, we will talk to them about perhaps a hybrid option, part solid state disks (SSDs)—maybe 20% of those and the rest hard disc, for example,” he said.
“If you go back six to nine months then there was a definite trend moving towards all flash. But what has happened because of the shortage of SSDs out there is that the price has gone up. That is decreasing now, but the cost of a gigabyte of SSDs hasn’t come down as quickly as we expected.”
While many of Nutanix’s customers were migrating towards all SSD storage environments, that has now stalled in the face of the cost of solid state technology.
“That in turn means we are proposing and selling more hybrid solutions than we did previously. But having said that, even with the hybrid solution, again as long as you have got enough SSD in there then the system completely automates the placement of data to give you the right sort of supports anyway,” said Kelly.
“From a storage perspective, things are moving from using logical unit numbers (LUNS), which are an established technology, to something that is much more VM and application-focused as well. We’re interested in automating the data placement to give you the optimal performance. That’s a technology that’s really coming into its own,” he said.
“As long as you have a large enough SSD tier in your hybrid systems, then you are going to get the performance you need. And a good number of our customers are now taking all flash systems anyway.”
In addition to the cost of flash memory being an issue, there are other technical challenges with using SSDs, according to Kelly. One of them is making sure that the SSD tier used is the right size.
“It’s a lot easier now because the size of SSDs has become a lot larger. So instead of worrying about whether it is two to three per cent of the size of your storage, now we can think about whether it’s five to 10%. The increase in size of SSDs is only going to accelerate into next year and I think it’s going to bring some big changes in the storage marketplace,” he said.
Specifically, Kelly believes that the next generation of 3D NAND and Intel’s upcoming 3d Xpoint technology offer exciting potential. 3D NAND offers a solution to the problems manufacturers have faced as they try to fit ever more memory onto the same physical space. It works by stacking memory vertically in silicon to create a 3D matrix.
“From our perspective that is really exciting, because these kinds of technologies reduce latency effectively. When it comes to hard discs, we used to talk about average latencies of between perhaps one and 10 milliseconds—with SSDs you are typically thinking about less than a millisecond,” he said.
“But if you look at the 3D Xpoint drives from Intel, they’re operating at sub 10 microseconds so that is a dramatic difference in the latency. The only way you can realise the performance that offers is if you have that close to the CPU.”
As soon as that technology becomes generally available to people at the right cost per gigabyte, Kelly argues it will completely obsolete external storage. “It makes no sense putting disk drives with that low latency at the end of a wet piece of string and two yoghurt pots,” he said.
That Flash memory is rewriting the game when it comes to enterprise storage is n0t news. The degree to which it is having an effect and the potential it holds to have even more impact is changing, however. That is the opinion of Till Stimberg, director for category management and product marketing for the EMEA storage division of Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
“Flash is an enabling technology and we’re really seeing a rush towards it, as it’s basically becoming standard on all the platforms. It just takes away the performance bottlenecks that we used to have in storage. It also changes the economics around the data centre and how much storage we can actually run, in particular around people trying to get more out of their data,” he said.
“All the talk is about data analytics and that kind of stuff, but what we are seeing right now in our engagements is that Flash is the standard. You might divert from that for a couple of reasons where you really don’t need or fully see the benefits yet but it has become the standard, that is for sure.”
Traditional enterprise storage has rushed to the cloud, argues Stimberg, on the back of the business benefits that IT departments have been able to deliver by doing so.
“But many companies have gone down that route in a not necessarily structured way. Many of their individual departments have just gone off and signed up for some cloud services, and then realised that they have no clue where their data is and they don’t have control of it. That’s an issue,” he said. “On the compute side of things the cloud has prevailed even more and solved a lot of issues, but in data it’s adding a lot of complexities as well.”