The way of all flash in Asean

Are all-flash arrays the hottest storage technology in Asean and is it only a matter of time before flash will replace hard drives for all hot and warm data?

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Over the last decade, flash memory has redefined the consumer technology experience and many storage suppliers in Asean claim customers in the region are adopting all-flash arrays (AFAs) at unprecedented rates. 

Flash is not new. It was invented around 1984 but has always been very expensive. Back in 2011, flash was about 10 times more expensive than a fast hard drive (15,000rpm). That relegated flash to a niche tier in the datacentre, but if you needed performance, you bought it.

The other issue was that early flash systems did not have data protection elements. So all it had was performance. The flash industry as a whole focused on the performance of flash to replace that fast hard drive, and most fast drive enterprise applications have successfully migrated to flash.  

Tan Hong Hock, head of products and solutions APAC at NetApp, said: “Storage efficiencies from storage suppliers and enhanced benefits to total cost of ownership have made the commercial and technology value propositions for AFAs as the storage choice for primary workloads even more compelling.”

Philip Davis, general manager at HPE’s Asia Pacific storage division, said two things had changed recently. “First, our flash system has all the data services and enterprise resilience of our standard disk systems – that is important to a corporate IT datacentre,” he said.

“The second thing is just economics. Flash prices have come down to one-hundredth of what they were 15-20 years ago and are continuing to fall. Flash is now pretty close to the cost of a 10,000rpm drive.”

Davis said there were other cost savings with flash as well as price. Flash usually took up much less physical space, so there were savings in real estate costs and huge reductions in power consumption, he said. “In some countries in Asean where power is very expensive and not always available, you can cut power consumption by 67%. It is a big deal.”

He added that fewer processors were needed to get great performance with flash, so fewer licences were required, too. “We saved a Korean company $4m in licences by moving to flash,” he said. “So, by moving to flash, you save hard dollars, real capex. That is why you see the flash market growing by 80% (first quarter, Asia Pacific and Japan) and the disk market shrinking by 5%.”

Michael Cornwell, CTO Asia Pacific and Japan at Pure Storage, said the growth of the ICT industry in Asean could be attributed to the region becoming a global hub for industries such as insurance, banking, gaming and manufacturing over the past decade.

“These industries are quickly taking advantage of the speed of all-flash clouds,” he said. “They are adding value to their respective businesses with new services that could only be delivered by the instant performance of all-flash clouds, and reducing costs by simplifying management and cutting datacentre costs around power, space and cooling.” 

AFAs the hottest technology in Asean

Despite being a hot technology in Asean, the adoption of flash is only just starting in the region, according to Rajnish Arora, vice-president, enterprise computing at IDC Asia/Pacific.

“All-flash array adoption remains lacklustre across Asean with the exception of Singapore,” said Arora. “IDC believes the adoption of AFAs remains slow across Asean because customers continue to compare the cost of raw flash with spinning disk, compared with assessing the cost of AFAs based on the effective capacity available using storage optimisation capabilities and features such as inline compression, deduplication and snapshots.”

Flash gets cheaper: Is that all that matters?

When it comes to storage, is cost the critical factor for CIOs in Asean? “It is important to note that storage costs have become the least of our concerns in recent years,” said Kunal Sehgal, APAC head of information security and IT risk at Schroders. “Looking at the holistic cost of computing, including hardware, software, network and maintenance, storage cost is not significant.

“I believe there is no single winner in flash versus hard disks. IT really depends on the requirements of each system. Usually there are two factors to consider – cost and performance.

“In terms of cost, disks are significantly cheaper than flash. Although costs are falling year on year, as a ballpark estimate, flash ends up being six to seven times more expensive when cost is compared per gigabyte. But on the other hand, it easily has twice the life of the average hard disk.” 

Sehgal added: “Looking at performance, flash drives require less electricity, and their heat output is lower. This is easily measurable and is usually easily agreed. In terms of input/output, some believe flash can be up to eight times faster, but this is disputable. It usually boils down to what the system is being used for.”  

Tiong Gee Ng, senior vice-president technology at Singapore resort and casino Resorts World Sentosa, said: “The price of flash technology has dropped to a point where it is viable for deployment. Flash brings the advantage of speed, but I think it is not a matter of preference, but usage.

“Applications that require fast and frequent access will benefit from flash. Disks will have a role in backups and in less frequently accessed applications.”

James Woo, CIO at healthcare and wellness organisation Farrer Park Company, said AFA was considered more relevant and robust in today’s context, especially for businesses that require higher performance and lower latency.

But Woo said flash storage was not yet cheap enough to prompt companies to totally replace their traditional disk storage.

“Even if the price has gone down substantially, most organisations have to ensure their disk storage investment is amortised to a reasonable level before they start to look to replace it with AFA technology. At the end of the day, it will be a cost-versus-benefit exercise that will determine when an organisation changes its traditional disk storage to AFA storage, or even a hybrid solution.”

Will flash adoption continue to accelerate?

“Flash adoption will accelerate in the next two to three years as customers become better educated about the value of flash, both from a technology and a business value standpoint,” said IDC’s Arora. “We believe that cost comparisons between flash and spinning media will not go away, at least any time soon. 

“Flash prices continue to plummet while the capacity and density of flash modules continue to increase at an incredible pace. A key imperative for flash adoption will be business drivers – agility, performance and greater infrastructure flexibility.”

Another key driver for AFAs will be the management of copy data, said Arora. One of the key challenges for most CIOs is the multiple copies of data, and the infrastructure and IT headcount required to manage them effectively. 

By using AFAs with snapshot and deduplication capabilities, users can dramatically reduce the number of data copies, which helps them save costs and build greater agility and faster response times, he said. 

The disk is not dead – yet

“Disk is certainly not dead or facing a point of extinction any time soon,” said Arora. “IDC feels that many of the customers in the Asean region who are concerned about the upfront cost of AFAs will be adopting hybrid flash arrays in the interim. This provides a good mix between performance and cost/price.”  

Cornwell added: “Disk will not die – it will just become irrelevant, like many other storage mediums that flash has replaced. The hard drive manufacturers have recognised this and have quickly started purchasing flash companies to maintain their relevance in the datacentre market.” 

But disk may continue to be used for archival and other applications that need huge storage capacity in the near term, said Anjan Srinivas, senior director, product management at Nutanix. “Disk, with its moving parts, is slow and prone to failures, making it unattractive for mission-critical and production workloads.

“Nutanix’s hybrid approach allows the mixing of SSD for performance tier and data tier, as well as HDD for data tier, providing customers with a compelling total cost of ownership in the short term. Once prices drop further, this may be moot.”

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