All-flash and hybrid flash storage build momentum in Poland

Hybrid flash and all-flash storage gain popularity in Poland, hybrid flash going mainstream and all-flash used for high performance

All-flash arrays offer previously unimaginable performance compared to spinning disk. But Polish users are generally satisfied with hybrid storage, which mostly comprises classic HDD and small amounts of flash SSD.

Hybrid flash storage is in a leading position in the Polish market and price is the main reason. All-flash arrays are at least a dozen times more expensive and, in times of market uncertainty, organisations are cautious about spending money. For this reason alone, they prefer hybrid systems.

The hybrid model sees a small amount of data – about 5% to 10 % – held in flash, which can result in trebling performance for the entire disk group.

“Hybrid flash arrays today are completely sufficient to meet performance needs. Moreover they offer significantly greater capacity,” says Artur Matzka, director of IT infrastructure at Integrated Solutions, an Orange subsidiary.

Hybrid systems control which data is placed in the fastest flash drives, using either automatic tiering algorithms or users manually defining data placement policies.

“Use of hybrid systems is currently a leading way of storing data. Customers frequently ask us for hybrid storage. Such systems allow them to use the fastest flash disks in small amounts to accelerate whole groups of rotating disks,” says Piotr Biskupski, storage solutions technical leader at IBM Poland.

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All-flash arrays gain ground in Poland

In recent years, all-flash arrays have slowly gained market acceptance in Poland. This trend will intensify in coming years, according to analysts IDC.

At first, systems were offered by largely unknown all-flash startups such as Pure Storage, Nimble Storage, SolidFire and Violin Memory, but now the big storage market leaders – EMC, IBM, HP, Dell, NetApp, Hitachi and Fujitsu – have similar products in their portfolio.

As the price of all-flash systems gradually falls, the number of enthusiasts for their use in business is growing.

A flash drive can be characterised by three parameters: Capacity, expressed in GB; speed, described in number of input/output operations per second (IOPS); and general performance.

SATA spinning disk HDDs can attain 100 IOPS and SAS 250 IOPS. In contrast, flash offers I/O rates at the level of 10,000 IOPS to 40,000 IOPS, depending on the model and type of load.

“All-flash drives are invaluable for any transactional application that records small data packets often and quickly. In contrast, when a record is more streamed and the need to access data is not urgent, then classic hard drives are sufficient,” says Zbigniew Swoczyna, product manager at Asseco Poland, the largest software house in Poland.

An important driver behind Poland's growing interest in all-flash devices is doing business in highly competitive markets. In some, the company that cannot offer constantly available services and cannot make proper use of its own data will find it very difficult to compete, especially when it is large and complex.

“Data is becoming the new ‘money’ in business. Therefore, tools that create insight from quick and efficient data processing and analysis have practical value today,” says Piotr Biskupski.

All-flash storage systems are characterised by extreme speed of response and high efficiency.

“Our customers use all-flash arrays to assist business, because the speed offered by traditional hard drives is not fast enough,” says Radosław Machnica, general business technical manager at Hitachi Data Systems Poland.

Case study: flash storage at Alior Bank

Alior Bank launched its operations in 2008. By the end of 2013 it had just over two million customers.

In June 2012, the bank introduced Alior Sync, an online and mobile bank service. In 2014, the bank entered a strategic agreement with telecoms giant T–Mobile and went paperless at the same time. The IT department needed to ensure the bank's digital information was suitably protected, and that it had quick access to data.

Along with development of products and services, Alior Bank decided to modernise its storage systems at its two datacentres in Krakow.

For most critical applications and systems – including databases – the bank uses a replication mechanism built into its storage. Since 2008, Alior Bank has used two enterprise-class Hitachi Universal Storage Platform V systems.

As it grew its storage infrastructure, the bank implemented a number of mid-range Hitachi Adaptable Modular Storage 2000 models.

After several years, when it became necessary to provide additional capacity, the bank decided to buy new systems, rather than upgrade the older models.

“We decided to continue our co-operation with HDS. HDS storage is characterised by a very favourable cost-quality ratio. From our point of view, data availability is the key factor,” says Tomasz Fryc, deputy director of IT maintenance at Alior Bank.

Alior Bank implemented four Hitachi Unified Storage VM (HUS VM) systems, two in each of the datacentres. The first system is equipped with traditional hard drives (more than 170 TB of raw storage in total), while the second comprises high-capacity Hitachi Accelerated Flash drives.

Performance boost to critical systems

Flash drive systems filled a gap in the most critical applications, including debt collection systems and online banking. These applications require uncompromised performance and instant access to data, rather than just capacity.

“We are impressed by the high performance offered by the HDS system. With a single drive structure, we can achieve results incomparable to many midrange systems,” says Fryc.

“In addition to storing block data and files on a single centralised platform, HUS VM also provides advanced storage virtualisation capabilities.”

Alior Bank used HUS VM built-in virtualisation to consolidate storage on legacy systems and take advantage of dynamic relocation of data between tiers. Most of the storage system environment is managed by Hitachi Command Suite (HCS).

“Thanks to HCS we know exactly what resources we have. For example, we know if we have enough storage to launch a new service without additional investments. Sometimes it is enough to migrate data and put it in a suitable place. This capability is provided by centralised storage system management,” says Fryc.

Deploy all-flash – but study the risks

The performance of one all-flash device is equal to the output of two racks filled with traditional HDDs. Organisations use it to save space, power and cooling expenses. Flash arrays do not compete with conventional drives and hybrid matrices, and so complement traditional storage.

Currently, all-flash arrays are of particular interest to the financial sector and telecommunications companies.

“Companies that have large database systems and those with large VDI environments show the greatest interest in implementing all-flash devices. In the last two years the share of all-flash systems in the total storage market has grown significantly,” says Integrated Solutions’ Matzka.

Introducing all-flash arrays in a company requires high levels of competence and the ability to adjust storage infrastructures to specific needs – without which flash devices can fail.

“Sometimes flash storage enthusiasts show a lack of knowledge about implementation and afterwards complain that a system has ‘performance islands’ that cannot be shared between different storage arrays,” says Asseco’s Swoczyna.

“Many models of all-flash arrays available on the market still do not offer important functions, such as replication, snapshots and backups. Their further development is possible, but only to a limited extent. It means that, with a proliferation of databases and a need for extending storage space for applications, the only possibility of extension will be to add another flash array.”

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