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Hybrid flash favoured in Spain – but for how long?

Flash memory is making its mark on Spanish enterprises, with hybrid flash storage that merges SSD and traditional spinning disk holding the upper hand

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Europe: CW Europe: February 2016

For a long time, flash storage has had its niche in mobile devices: USB sticks, smartphones, laptops, MP3 players, portable hard drives, cameras, and so on. But in recent years it has increasingly become a must-have addition to storage assets in the datacentre. 

Flash memory was designed by Dr Fujio Masuoka at Toshiba in the early 1980s. It was released in 1984 and quickly gained traction in the market thanks to its improved performance and durability compared with traditional storage.

Although it is more expensive, and storage capacities per drive are lower, for many applications and uses, the benefits of flash far outweigh those of traditional storage.

Flash memory comes in several different configurations, and each one lends itself to a different task. In Spain, adoption seems to mirror that of other regions, with the type of flash deployment in use depending very much on the organisation’s business requirements.

Many businesses currently opt for hybrid deployments, with a combination of flash-based SSDs and traditional spinning hard drives. This gives them the best of both worlds – the speed of flash and the bigger capacity of traditional storage.

This set-up also has the benefit of being able to store data on the hard drive while caching the most frequently accessed data on the flash drive for quicker retrieval.

For businesses that are more concerned with performance than capacity, all-flash arrays are the way to go. The higher per-GB storage cost is negated by the much lower per-IOPS cost.

The Spanish market for flash storage is now gaining traction, according to David Pena, senior systems engineer and flash business developer at EMC Spain. It is being driven by three main uses, he says.

“Databases need more and more performance to be able to accomplish what applications demand,” says Pena. “Also, with features such as data deduplication and compression, customers can get several copies – hundreds even – of their databases without consuming any additional space but keeping the same performance.”

Spanish companies also use flash to improve performance in virtualised environments, says Pena.

“Virtual environments are a great opportunity for flash as most of the data is identical – clones of virtual machines, the same OS, and so on,” he adds. “And again, because of compression and deduplication in the array, we can reduce the space needed to host these environments to reduce power consumption, cooling and footprint in the datacentre.

“I know customers that have reduced from four racks to one for the same capacity with 75% more performance.”

Read more about flash storage

VDI is another driver for flash adoption in Spain. Pena points out that having infrastructure that can cope with as many as 20,000 users connected at the same time means sub-millisecond response time is crucial. That is where flash shines, he says.

The sheer speed of flash memory was what convinced Spanish gaming company Codere to make the switch.

The firm operates across Europe and Latin America, running gaming halls, sports betting shops, online gaming websites and managing two racetracks. The company runs a total of  51,644 gaming machines, 178 gaming halls and 1,778 betting locations.

Madrid-based Codere had one main problem to solve: the speed of its sports betting application. Miguel Ángel Prieto, the firm’s product technology co-ordinator, says that although the system it used previously gave processing speeds that were “good enough”, it struggled with very heavy loads.

“Codere Apuestas’ volume of bets per minute is very high and we needed a system that would respond to this situation,” he says.

The company decided on NetApp’s EF550 all-flash array, which is targeted at workloads such as the high-performance databases run by Codere. The EF550 can handle a sustained I/O rate of 500,000 IOPS and provides 12Gbps of throughput with sub-millisecond latency.

“We don’t need large storage elements; we need granularity in the storage with growth capacity if needed,” says Prieto. “Using a flash storage array gives us that speed, which is essential to providing good service to our customers.”

All-flash array

Introducing an all-flash array has solved the speed issue for Codere and has also brought a financial benefit.

“With the old system, we had an average of 4.5 seconds per bet,” says Prieto. “By implementing a flash system, it went to two seconds per bet. We went from taking an average of 14 bets per minute to 30 per minute. This has a direct impact on our income.”

Flash storage also helps Codere embrace new ways of betting. After being largely an in-person betting company, it needed the infrastructure to cope with online and mobile betting, mainly through its new mobile app.

“The new storage system was ready to support the increased load transaction and now we are online with several products, the storage system has not decreased performance,” says Prieto.

At the heart of flash storage usage in the Spanish market is the age-old business challenge of solving performance issues and optimising resources without breaking the budget. As the per-GB price of flash falls, businesses that need speed and performance will continue to be attracted to flash.

As more and more businesses in Spain adopt virtualisation technologies and cloud computing, mainly because of lower costs and better performance, flash will continue to grow because it is in those environments that it really shines.

Experts, including EMC’s Pena, think the predominance of hybrid flash adoption in Spain will be relatively short-lived – until there is a tipping point where the price per GB of flash convinces businesses to go all-flash.

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