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All-flash storage ready for primetime in Australia

On-premise and cloud-based flash arrays that offer big improvements over spinning disks are making a splash down under

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All-flash storage is set for primetime in Australia, with more enterprises turning to the technology to replace spinning disk storage systems at a lower cost than before.

Sensing this business opportunity, Optus Business has teamed up with storage supplier Pure Storage to offer on-premise and cloud-based all-flash storage and services aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises.

David Caspari, vice-president for business technology and solutions at Optus Business, said the launch of Optus All-Flash Storage comes at a significant tipping point in the adoption of all-flash storage in Australia.

“Previously, businesses have been slow to adopt all-flash storage due to perceived costs and complexity,” he said. “This new platform can lower storage spend by up to 50%, meaning all-flash storage is now accessible to businesses looking to upgrade their IT.”

Nick Sone, director of Optus’ cloud business, said the telco and technology services company had planned to offer all-flash storage that was largely used by banks and insurance companies.

Those plans came to fruition only recently, when the technology became more affordable to a wider pool of customers.

“When we talk about cost savings, we’re not saying one type of array is half the price of the other,” said Sone. “We’re talking about the total cost of ownership.”

The same price for on-premise and cloud

Optus has priced its all-flash offerings at around the A$0.09 per gigabyte mark for both on-premise and cloud versions. “We are pricing it the same whether it’s on-premise or in the cloud. Not charging customers more or less either way is a compelling model,” said Sone.

Sone said Optus is targeting organisations that are looking to refresh their technology, adding that the company can provide a future-proof replacement for spinning disks through an opex model that makes storage cheaper than what businesses are paying for today.

Brocade is another IT supplier that has been riding on the strong demand for solid-state enterprise storage in Australia.

“I would suggest every customer I am talking to is considering, discussing or planning some sort of flash storage enhancement,” said Phill Coates, Brocade’s Australia and New Zealand systems engineer manager.

Brocade sells fast interconnects for flash storage and is pitching its Gen 6 Fibre Channel range.

“We believe there’s no better protocol for shipping storage traffic around than Fibre Channel,” said Coates, noting that the performance of all-flash arrays is pushing the the interconnect market up from eight-gigabit to 32-gigabit Fibre Channel.

Latency and application considerations

Coates points out that when it comes to flash, achieving low latency is necessary to speed up application performance.

“You get a 71% to 75% decrease in latency when you shift from eight-gigabit Gen 4 Fibre Channel to 32-gigabit Gen 6 Fibre Channel,” he said, adding that resulting increase in application performance will sway enterprises to upgrade their underlying infrastructure.

One Australian organisation that is going after every ounce of storage performance is University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Jake Carroll, QBI’s senior IT manager for research, said the institute handles about 10 petabytes of unstructured data, which could grow as even higher resolution images get created in future. This poses challenges not only in moving data, but also ingesting and analysing all those images.

“We have a range of technologies that we use and one does involve all-flash,” said Carroll, who advocated using the fastest interconnect possible to attain maximum performance from solid-state storage.

However, from a high-performance computing perspective, Carroll called latency the enemy of cloud-based flash storage. “If you are scattering out across many nodes and instances in the cloud, you are going to lose out unless that network is highly tuned,” he said.

Read more about storage in Australia and New Zealand

To Optus’ Sone, the choice between on-premise and cloud-based all-flash storage boils down to the kinds of applications an enterprise is running.

“Certain applications perform better if they are on-premise and right beside the storage. With others, you are not so worried about a few milliseconds of latency,” he said.

Latency issues for all-flash cloud storage arise only for extremely performance-sensitive applications, and even in the cloud, all-flash offers big performance improvements over spinning disks.

“We think transaction processing time can be as much as 80% faster using all-flash,” said Sone. “You are giving up some of that in the cloud, but certainly not the entire gains.”

Still too expensive for some

On the other side of the all-flash versus spinning disk argument is James Mystakidis, group executive for Macquarie Cloud Services at Australian telco Macquarie Telecoms.

According to Mystakidis, Macquarie has a cloud system with about 30 petabytes of storage spread over 40 different arrays, but it does not have all-flash arrays which it finds are too expensive compared to spinning disks.

The company offers performance tiers ranging from 100 to 8,000 input/output operations per second – customer requirements that can still be met by squeezing the most out of its current technology.

There is still a 30% cost difference between all-flash storage and spinning disks when bought wholesale, although he expects that cost advantage to melt away by 2019.

“I believe all-flash is the future,” he said, adding that for customers buying smaller rather than large wholesale quantities, nimble all-flash suppliers can often match the prices of spinning disks.

Read more on Flash storage and solid-state drives (SSDs)