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Every now and again a major technology shift occurs that winds up creating a major opportunity that benefits almost everyone in the channel. Such is the case with flash memory, now being deployed on the server and, to varying degrees, on arrays.

While flash memory on a server greatly benefits applications running on that server, many IT organizations want to be able to make use of flash on an array to improve the performance of applications running on multiple servers. One major challenge with accomplishing that goal, however, is that existing host adapters are not optimized for flash memory throughput on storage-area networks (SANs).

However, manufacturers of these host adapters are announcing offerings based on the Gen 6 Fibre Channel standard, which enables SAN adapters to support as many as 100 million IOPS (input/output operations per second).

Chris Sorenson, director of marketing for the Emulex Components Division at Broadcom, predicts that once those adapters find their way into arrays later this year, the rate of adoption of these new arrays will be substantial, given that there is already pent-up demand to replace magnetic storage systems with flash arrays.

Naturally, some of that demand is being satisfied by flash memory plugged into existing servers as well as flash arrays plugged into existing SAN adapters. But in terms of alleviating the I/O bottleneck that flash memory creates on a SAN, Gen 6 Fibre Channel adapters will make flash arrays much more attractive from a performance perspective than they have been, Sorenson said.

The challenge and opportunity for solution providers, of course, is that the transition to flash storage just doesn’t happen of its own accord. A significant amount of planning, testing and optimization of applications still has to take place. But if solution providers want to start taking advantage of that flash array opportunity, they need to begin that process before these next-generation arrays are formally announced. The good news is that most customers that are even remotely aware of SANs already knew that Gen 6 Fibre channel adapters were coming. Now, what they want to know next is how soon they can get their hands on an array that hooks up to those adapters.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.