Flash Solutions Taking the Data Center by Storm

By Michael Vizard  |  Print this article Print
flash memory market

For flash solution providers and their customers, the wealth of options spanning multiple types of SSDs and flash memory modules poses opportunities and challenges.

Sorting out different price-performance levels associated with various classes of SSDs and flash memory modules requires a fair amount of expertise on solution providers' part. Most IT organizations are still sensitive to the cost per gigabyte of storage acquired.

"I would say that price per gigabyte is most often the most limiting factor when moving to flash," said Shawn Scanlon, director of solutions architects for HPM Networks. "But at least 80 percent of the time now customers want to be able to use some kind of flash."

However, while flash storage today is roughly equivalent to a magnetic disk in terms of cost per gigabyte, the sticker shock associated with replacing thousands of gigabytes of magnetic disk storage can be considerable. Because of that, solution provider HPM Networks has found that all-flash arrays from Exablox that allow IT organizations to employ third-party SSDs at price points in the range of 50 cents per gigabyte is an attractive offering, Scanlon said. In contrast, other vendors tend to mark up the actual cost of the SSD by 100 percent or more, making the overall solution prohibitively expensive, he said.

Other solution providers, however, steer clear of the cost per gigabyte discussion.Consiliant Technologies CEO Dave Cerniglia said cost per gigabyte is a legacy mindset left over from when hard disks dominated enterprise storage.

"From a customer perspective, it's noise," Cerniglia said. "It winds up being a complicated question because of how the vendor twists maintenance fees, data deduplication and compression."

Because of these issues, Consiliant Technologies chose to partner with Kaminario for all-flash arrays because Kaminario guarantees I/O performance levels, Cerniglia said.

A Flash Memory Market for SMBs

In general, there is now a concerted effort to expand the appeal of flash technology into the small- and midsize-business (SMB) market. For example, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has already pushed the cost of its flash storage arrays to under $10,000 as part of an effort to increase the appeal of the technology to SMBs—a market segment where the channel tends to wield the most influence.

"We think this will create a major new opportunity for our channel partners," said Brad Parks, director of go-to-market strategy and enablement for HPE Storage.

Flash storage is only the beginning of a major transformation from traditional memory architectures. The cost of dynamic RAMs continues to drop, while new forms of non-volatile memory such as the 3D X Point architecture are being built by Intel and Micron that promise to accelerate the rise of in-memory computing altogether.

It may take time before those technologies go mainstream, but it's already apparent that traditional magnetic storage devices are being relegated to secondary and tertiary tiers of storage in new deployments. That doesn't mean, however, that magnetic storage systems will disappear from the IT landscape overnight.

"Flash is in the process of replacing hard disks in tier-one storage," said David Hill, principal analyst with the Mesabi Group. "But that doesn't mean that every tier-one application will need flash."

In the meantime, solution providers across the channel that are looking to tap the most lucrative segments of the flash memory market would be well advised to put themselves in a position to proactively drive the shift to in-memory computing in all its forms today versus waiting for IT organizations to embrace flash memory one new application workload at a time.

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications, including InfoWorld, CRN and eWEEK. He currently blogs daily for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, Channel Insider and Baseline.