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With the rise of flash memory, customers are trying to figure out where to apply this technology to the most benefit. Given the cost of flash storage systems, most IT organizations obviously can’t afford to store all their data in flash.

The challenge is that many of them are not sure how much “hot data” they actually have that, for performance reasons, should be stored in flash. Worse yet, the amount of hot data they have today versus a few months from now is likely to be substantially different.

While a lot of flash storage is being provided via a card that plugs directly into a server, there’s a significant amount of demand for all-flash arrays that can be more easily shared across servers running multiple applications. As one of the leading players in that emerging segment, Violin Memory has been evolving from a company that initially depended on direct sales to one that now relies a lot more on the channel.

To make it easier for organizations to adopt flash arrays, Violin Memory created a “pay-as-you-go” pricing model around its flash arrays. Rather than acquiring individual boxes with discrete amounts of flash storage, Violin Memory is now shipping flash arrays that provide access to up to 52TB of flash memory.

This approach serves two purposes, said Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of alliances for Violin Memory. First, it allows Violin Memory to add 17.5, 26 and 35TB configurations of its flash arrays that make its product lineup more accessible. At the same time, it reduces the cost of up-selling storage arrays because all customers need now is a key to turn on additional flash storage capacity as needed.

Selling capacity on demand is not necessarily a new idea. But in a world of flash storage, where most customers are unsure just how much flash they need, such an approach can be compelling. With flash storage array pricing already falling under $4 per gigabyte, interest in flash arrays is on the rise across the channel.

The challenge is just finding a way to make flash storage arrays more appealing to deploy by lowering the cost of entry as much as possible, while at the same time providing a mechanism to instantly add capacity as soon as the customer figures out that they don’t have enough flash storage to address their actual application requirements.

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