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Flash storage in Benelux: Service providers kick-start flash adoption

Demand for quick response times and non-stop availability has pushed use of flash – particularly hybrid flash – storage in Benelux, a region with a high presence of service providers

In 2014, the market for flash storage boomed in western Europe, with the Benelux region being one of the biggest adopters.

“Only markets in Germany, France and the UK are bigger,” says IDC’s senior analyst for Europe, the Middle East and Africa storage, Silvia Cosso.

“The innovative culture and the high presence of service providers in the Benelux region have attracted the attention of flash storage startups such as Violin Memory and Pure Storage that kick-started the development of the flash market outside the US,” she says.

Service providers have customers that demand fast response times and non-stop availability. “Our customers don’t want to wait for their data; they want to work time and place independently,” says Jeroen Stevens, CTO of Netherlands-based service provider Interconnect Services.

Traditional storage such as Sata and SAS disks can’t deliver the I/O and latency his customers ask for. Flash drives are much lighter, use less power and are significantly more capable of delivering low latency and high I/O. The availability of cheaper Nand flash started the flash revolution.

Benelux invests in flash

Typically, the main workloads moved to flash are database acceleration, as well as emerging ones such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and data analytics.

Cosso says, however, there is soft evidence of a more extensive deployment of flash for emerging workloads in Benelux, such as VDI, business intelligence and analytics, and customer relationship management (CRM).

Hybrid flash arrays are the most popular option in the Benelux region. “This is thanks to their ability to bring down the cost per gigabyte of flash to levels comparable to spinning media, while offering the performance enhancement of flash,” says Cosso.

Hybrid flash arrays use a mix of spinning disk and flash disks. They employ form factors and interfaces that are compatible with common hard drive disk bays. This allows for a gradual replacement of spinning disk with solid-state drives if desired. 

Another option is the all-flash array. IDC estimates that 8% of western European spending on this type of flash storage comes from Benelux companies. “This segment is still niche, but it is estimated to have grown fivefold compared to 2013,” says Cosso.

These arrays only accommodate SSD media and are mostly used for applications that require constant sub-millisecond latency. All-flash arrays offer the highest levels of performance, but are expensive.

Another popular option is PCIe SSD, or server-side flash. This type of flash goes into the PCIe slot in the server. It’s a connectivity method that cuts latency by placing flash in the server, right next to the CPU.

SevenP opts for Nimble hybrid flash arrays

When searching for a flash storage product, sevenP, a Dutch hosted application service provider, considered PCIe server flash from Fusion-io. It rejected it, however, because of a lack of compatibility with existing hardware.

“We use Dell M610, M520 and M620 blade servers, and these servers don’t support Fusion-io SSD cards,” says Arjen Furster, technical consultant at sevenP.

Instead, his company opted for Nimble CS460 and CS260 hybrid flash arrays. “Nimble’s CASL [cache accelerated sequential layout] technology combines SSD and Sata disks and delivers high performance and low latency,” he says.

SevenP’s Nimble arrays have 26 Sata and six SSD drives that store 75TB of data. “Nimble can deliver 100,000 IOPS, which is 10 times more than our old Dell EqualLogic environment,” says Furster.

During a proof-of-concept, sevenP tested a particularly difficult maintenance window issue where a lot of machines had to be restarted. That led to some problems. “This was also difficult for our old environment. The workaround is quite simple – we spread the restarts over time,” says Furster.

SevenP made cost savings on management overhead, capital investment, electricity and datacentre costs by moving to the Nimble arrays. The company, which currently rents space at two TelecityGroup datacentres in Amsterdam, was able to move 11 units of EqualLogic storage onto just three Nimble devices. That resulted in a 75% reduction in datacentre footprint. The Nimble hardware consumes just one-fifth the power of the EqualLogic hardware.

Interconnect Services boosts performance with IBM FlashSystems

Meanwhile, Interconnect Services started to consider flash when customers asked for higher performance in 2012. Initially, CTO Stevens chose IBM as a supplier. “During that time I thought there was no other serious vendor offering hybrid flash solutions. We wanted a vendor with a good service organisation, as we use flash for our most critical environment. Startups make innovative products but their service is often lacking,” he says.

The company deployed two IBM FlashSystem 840 systems, one at each of its two datacentres, offering capacity of 80TB. Combined with IBM Storwize V7000 storage systems, the IBM FlashSystem solutions form a cluster managed with IBM System Storage SAN Volume Controller (SVC).

“We chose to implement the solutions ourselves, because we wanted to gain the knowledge of how to do so. It took us just half a day to deploy both,” says Stevens

RAM Infotechnology calms login storms with Pure Storage all-flash array

Utrecht-based RAM Infotechnology is a provider of IT outsourcing services, focused on workplace systems and hosting. Its flash needs centre on a requirement to deal with login storms that result from high volumes of simultaneous customer demand.

Read more about storage technologies in Benelux

“At 8:30 in the morning a lot of our customers start their computers and all want access to our environment. Choosing a hybrid flash array would mean we had to make too many artificial workarounds to deal with this peak time,” explains RAM Infotechnology's director of technology, Wouter Levenbach.

Instead, his organisation chose an all-flash array. The Pure Storage FA-420 is an expandable modular solution that already provides more than 100TB of storage space.

Price is the big disadvantage with all-flash storage, says Levenbach. “The purchase price is higher,” he says, “but Pure Storage has smart software that deduplicates data. With other vendors your useable storage space is less than raw capacity, but in our environment it’s the other way around.”

This results in lower indirect costs, says Levenbach: “We now can offer faster storage, but we can keep the price the same.”

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