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All-flash storage vs hybrid flash in Russia: Price and performance key

Russian organisations are adopting all-flash and hybrid flash storage systems, with price and performance the key considerations when deciding between the two

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In recent years, flash-based storage technology has quickly gained attention in Russia. And while Russian companies might be a little behind in adopting flash-based storage, they are looking at all-flash arrays and hybrid flash systems.

All-flash arrays with multiple flash memory drives are known for their low latency and much greater I/O density than spinning disk can deliver.

But all-flash systems are expensive, with a price tag that can reach $20 per raw GB of capacity. And often companies don't need that level of complexity, especially if they don't have multiple storage systems and their data storage is handled by IT generalists.

Companies deterred by the cost or complexity of all-flash arrays often look at hybrid flash arrays, which use a combination of flash and HDDs to achieve higher performance than traditional, spinning disk arrays.

Hybrid flash products are available for just a quarter of what an all-flash system of the same capacity would cost.

Flash vs hybrid flash price

According to Vadim Bolotnov, director of EMC systems Center at CROC, flash technology adoption in Russia has been active.

"Up to 90% of companies use flash to some extent, such as server SSDs, hybrid or all-flash arrays," he said. "Many are considering a complete switch to flash to create 'all-silicon' datacentres. But very few companies have implemented that approach so far, and even those that have still have data whose transfer to flash isn't appropriate, such as reference data, file storage and archives."

According to Bolotnov, organisations' decisions on all-flash vs hybrid are normally based on price considerations.

"For some, hybrid systems are sufficient because all-flash arrays are too expensive," he said. "But in some cases – such as massive consolidation and high requirements for IOPS and response time – only the use of all-flash arrays can satisfy the requirements."

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One notable example is one of Russia's largest insurance companies, Ingosstrakh, which chose to go all-flash.

"The choice was determined by the need to increase productivity for the key transaction system," Bolotnov said. "Speed of processing information is vital when it comes to preparing operations reports for insurance risk analysis."

Hybrid flash for petrochemical firm

"In the petrochemical industry, the issue of data storage is vital," said Pavel Klepinin, CIO of gas-processing and petrochemicals company Sibur. "It primarily has to do with the large scale of companies' business operations and volume of information system users."

According to Klepinin, the choice of data storage systems may not be determined by the nature of a company's business, but is certainly influenced by its level of maturity.

"In the early stages, making savings on data storage systems might be possible, but when a company's IT infrastructure reaches the global level, a new understanding arrives," he said.

Up until 2012, Sibur used HP EVA as the main instrument for data storage. But, three years ago, a new strategy was adopted that aimed at global automation of business processes and increased efficiency, with re-vamped IT as a key enabler.

"Installation of IT systems at various levels was launched," said Klepinin. "And as soon as they were rolled out, it became clear that storage based on HP EVA didn't correspond to our expectations. Specifically, we saw declining productivity and fault tolerance in the systems. It was clear we needed another, better data storage system."

Eventually, after carefully studying offerings from companies including IBM, HP, NetApp and EMC, Sibur chose VMAX, a hybrid system from EMC.

According to Klepinin, the system's advantages are, "a combination of functionality, including high performance, fault tolerance, scale and flexible backup features".

Flash vs hybrid flash: Mixing strategies

Svyaznoy, Russia's second largest independent handset retailer, has not yet adopted flash technology, but it is considering a combination of all-flash and hybrid technologies.

"Both systems have their advantages, depending on specific tasks, and our future choice won't be in favour of one method as opposed to the other," said Andrey Grigoryev, head of Svyaznoy's information infrastructure management department. "We hope to use a combination of these two systems."

Svyaznoy is considering installing all-flash arrays for storage of online transaction processing (OLTP) data and for high-load virtual machines.

"All-flash arrays have better speed characteristics, and their prices per raw TB are quickly closing with those of traditional high-end systems – but they are considerably superior in terms of power efficiency," said Grigoryev. "In our case, there is also an advantage in costs for rent of rack space in data-processing centres. Overall, all-flash arrays possess an optimum combination of price, speed and usage conditions and costs."

However, Svyazony is also looking at hybrid flash systems. "We are considering the hybrid option as the main storage for virtual machines, backup and archive systems," Grigoryev said.

"If we stick to the classical approach for the creation of an infrastructure, a combination of these two systems for data storage is the only option that would allow us to achieve the required speed and volume of data storage, while staying in an acceptable price range per raw TB."

Sticking to traditional tools

Still, there are a number of companies that still use traditional spinning disks and are not thinking about switching to flash – at least not in the short-term.

"We are mostly using traditional spinning disks," said Mikhail Tabunov, co-founder of the video creation and sharing service Coub. "They are sufficient for almost all our systems. If we need really high disk performance, we use SSD. Hybrid systems are more expensive, and their performance isn't that much better, so I just don't see a reason to use them."

But, as prices for flash-based systems gradually drop, more companies are set to opt for the technology instead of spinning disks.

"Hybrid flash arrays are more widespread in Russia, as they arrived in the market earlier," said CROC's Bolotnov. "However, the closer the price of all-flash arrays is to that of SAS disks, the more often companies will opt for the former."

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