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Virtualization: Article

How to Get Full Value in a Flash Upgrade

Networked Flash Storage Improves Application Performance for Virtual Environments

Author:  Eric Slack, Senior Analyst, Storage Switzerland

Companies that need to improve application performance, for example, in server virtualization or VDI environments, frequently come to the conclusion that flash is the best strategy. SSD technology is becoming the "go to" solution for enhancing the performance of these kinds of critical production applications. After realizing that a flash-based solution is warranted, the next question involves implementation. What is the most cost-effective way to add solid state flash technology into an existing production environment? For IT organizations that have multiple primary servers needing this performance boost, most find themselves looking at network based storage appliances as they can be easily shared across all servers and applications.

Two alternatives, all-flash arrays and hybrid storage systems, are often considered. The price tag of an all-flash array can run well into the six-figure range so many are turning to hybrid storage systems. Hybrid arrays contain both NAND flash for the ‘hot' data and traditional SAS or even SATA disk drive capacity for everything else. These systems typically include a tiering or caching software technology that attempts to keep the most critical data on the faster flash storage.

While they're generally less expensive than all-flash arrays on a cost per GB basis, these hybrid appliances still require that the application being accelerated be moved from its current storage location. This introduces the potential performance problem of a cache ‘miss', something that all flash systems don't encounter.

Some of the key advantages of all-flash systems is that they offer consistent, predictable performance and actually a lower cost per I/O. Deploying a hybrid also assumes that the only way to improve the performance of an existing array is to replace it. For many IT managers this kind of "forklift upgrade" is difficult to get approved and very disruptive.

Instead of re-buying storage capacity a more cost-effective solution may be to install a flash-based storage appliance that's designed to augment the performance of an existing storage system - not to replace it. Why throw out a storage system that's fine for most workload scenarios, just to get the performance that's needed a small percentage of the time?

In addition to storage savings, this strategy can also save money in the implementation phase. Instead of migrating all existing application data to a new hybrid array, storage augmentation is non-disruptive to the existing storage infrastructure. The majority of data stays where it is and only the most critical subset is moved onto the flash appliance. Since the rest of the data set remains on the existing storage system, it consumes less that it would on a hybrid array. The result is a more efficient use of flash capacity and a more cost effective solution.

For more information tune in to the upcoming webinar on March 5, 2013 with George Crump of Storage Switzerland and Len Rosenthal from Astute Networks and learn how to get full upgrade value from your adoption of flash technology.

More Stories By Derek Kol

Derek Kol is a technology specialist focused on SMB and enterprise IT innovations.