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Solid state storage in the datacentre: More than a flash in the pan

As IT organisations transform their datacentres to meet the efficiency and agility demands of the digital enterprise, flash storage is increasingly viewed as a key element

A combination of price decreases and substantial research and development investments over the past decade has meant flash storage is in use in the vast majority of enterprise datacentres.

As a result, flash is used to underpin a growing range of applications.

Flash is no longer the sole preserve of a deep-pocketed financial services firms looking to gain an edge in low-latency trading. Organisations of all sizes, and across all major verticals, are implementing flash.

The primary benefit they experience is in the area of improved storage performance but, depending on the implementation model, organisations see other benefits to flash-based approaches.

These include lower operating costs through simplified management and potentially significant savings in terms of datacentre real estate and associated power/cooling efficiency.

In some cases, organisations are taking out multiple racks of spinning disk and replacing it with a few shelves of flash storage. Meanwhile, in other organisations flash is an important factor in enabling a broader infrastructure transformation to leverage next-generation capabilities in areas such as cloud-based IT and in-memory data analytics.

The headline growth story for flash storage in recent years has been the all-flash array market. Our research indicates that just over a quarter of organisations have an all-flash array in-use  – phenomenal growth for a product type that barely existed five years ago – with a further 28% looking to deploy this technology over the next two years.

All-flash seems here to stay, and it’s being used across a broader set of workloads. Just a few years ago, most all-flash arrays were being used to power a single application. Now, around three-quarters are deployed to power multiple applications.

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But while it’s clear that many are buying into the promise of all-flash approaches, a substantial number of IT decision makers continue to be put off by what they view as the high-cost.

As a result, we think hybrid approaches utilising flash with conventional HDD-based storage will remain popular over the short term.

Some forward-thinking organisations are beginning to combine flash-based storage approaches for primary storage with object-based approaches – chiefly utilising large capacity HDDs – for less performance sensitive data.

This “Flash and Stash” model is in use by many large cloud providers, and offers a blueprint for those looking to move to a more efficient operating model for enterprise storage.

What happens to the macro-picture beyond the short term is still very much up for debate.

Start of the flash journey

The emergence of the hyper-converged infrastructure model has given a new lease of life to something like server-based flash. It’s a model that is proving popular in smaller organisations, for RoBo deployments and for applications such as VDI, and is now starting to make in-roads into core datacentre-level deployments.

Meanwhile, flash prices continue to fall, SSD densities are increasing at astonishing rates and next-generation non-volatile memory technologies, such as 3D XPoint, are waiting in the wings, promising substantially higher levels of performance and durability.

Flash has considerably re-shaped the datacentre storage infrastructure, but we are still only at the start of the journey.

451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise: Storage service tracks and analyses the disruption occurring in the market today and exposes the major opportunities for enterprises, IT service providers and vendors, suppliers and investors.

The study represents more than 1,000 completes of a web-based survey, completed by IT and storage decision-makers worldwide, primarily based in North America and Europe, and supplemented by 25 in-depth, phone-based interviews. The sample is representative of small, medium, large and very large organisations in the private and public sectors.

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Member benefits include a subscription to 451 Global Digital Infrastructure Alliance reports, bi-weekly newsletter, access to exclusive 451 Alliance member website with free archived reports, and complimentary invitations to 451 Research webinars and events. Join here.

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