BLOG: Solid-state NAND Flash storage has come a long, long way into general use after 10 years in the enterprise spotlight
When Tom Coughlin’s Flash Media Summit debuted at the well-worn Wyndham Hotel in San Jose 10 years ago, about 300 storage folks came to hear about how important solid-state storage was going to become in the future.
Now the future is here. Data center systems are loaded with NAND flash, and IT managers are planning to buy more.
Six thousand people attended this year’s annual conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center, and interest in the sector has never been higher.
Why? Because NAND flash is able to absorb a lot of content, it has no moving mechanicals to break, and it has constantly improved its return on investment. Storage networking software moves data from Point Wherever into flash storage faster than any other media.
Make no mistake about it: IT in 2015 is all about speed and usability. Security, sure. Reliability, certainly. Availability, you bet. But, as many athletic coaches like to say: You can’t coach speed; either you have it, or you don’t.
NAND flash has speed. The name fits.
Storage at the Heart of a Digital Business
Faced with that continuing deluge of data and new applications and devices to manage, CIOs are under pressure to deliver improved levels of IT performance, better and faster business insights, and improved customer and business user experiences. Resolving these challenges is complex, but some of them can be addressed by simply speeding up the data storage process, and much of this can be done by migrating to next-generation storage systems optimized for flash memory. Companies are doing this in large numbers.
Speedy storage processing not only reduces complexity and accelerates IT infrastructure, but it also improves business continuity and productivity. In a data-driven, mobile-first world, fast storage often can be the difference between higher yield and lower margins, customer engagement and abandonment, productivity and downtime, Pure Storage CEO Scott Dietzen told eWEEK.
While the data center is the lifeblood of every digital business, the heart of every new-gen data center is servers and data storage. This is foundational for a successful IT strategy, supporting myriad needs of the performance-intensive, next-generation system required to modernize and propel digital businesses and gain a competitive edge.
All-Flash is the Answer for Some Workloads
From virtual desktops to increased database processing and faster time to insight, to accelerated enterprise applications, all-flash storage can provide the performance and efficiencies required to keep operations moving and functioning optimally.
Forward-thinking businesses are always looking for ways to reduce IT waste and shrink their carbon footprints in the process. Moving to an all-flash storage system can significantly cut IT energy requirements, resulting in reduced power and cooling costs and lowered storage total cost of ownership and operating expenses.
Still, all-flash storage isn’t the be-all and end-all for every business. Users want options, because often their use cases require reliability and cost-containment (think HDDs and digital tape) more than speed or anything else.
Other Legitimate Points of View
Thus, there are other forward-thinking folks who contend that the future of the data center is not about all-flash, and this is a legitimate point of view. After all, there is certainly room for hard disk drives and tape, as there has been for decades. It always depends on the production use case.
“Some say that the future of the data center is all flash, and that is utter nonsense,” Jay Kidd, former NetApp CTO who’s now with Wing Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif., told eWEEK. “IDC published a report saying that by the end of the decade, 80 percent of enterprise data will still be stored on disks, and flash will be mainly used for the hot, active data. But there is a lot of data that is not hot at any moment in time.
“The companies that advocate a flash-only environment will find themselves niched. The companies that can integrate high-performance flash with high-capacity, cost-effective disk environments in a seamless, transparent way—that’s going to become the workhorse of data management in IT.”
Flash Costs Have Come Down Over Time
Generally speaking, flash costs about one-tenth as much per gigabyte as DRAM (dynamic random access memory), but it still costs 10 or 15 times more than spinning disk drives. Much of the talk at Flash Memory Conference was around industry competition here.
Another topic: NAND Flash and DRAM are becoming interchangeable in the data center. Again, it’s all about use cases and requirements.
“You’d be surprised at how often IT folks are using straight DRAM for (handling) hot data,” Phil Brace, President of Seagate’s cloud systems and electronic solutions, said in a keynote address Aug. 12. Brace’s presentation, “Flash and Hard Drives: A Winning Combination for Future Data Centers,” explained how his company is optimizing and offering both types of storage media because choice is what the real world wants.
There was plenty of technical talk, as always. Diablo Technologies, a relative newbie in the memory sector that has been getting some attention recently, has demonstrated that putting NAND flash into server main memory slots and actually addressing it at the bit level (like memory) and not at the block level like regular NAND flash, is going to be a disruptive technique.
More New Ideas Coming Down the Pike
New solid-state memory-type data storage is evolving continually. Back in 2013, Diablo developed Memory Channel Storage — which extends DRAM — along with SanDisk and IBM, and the jury’s still out on that one.
The most recent development in non-volatile memory IT is the 3D XPoint memory from Intel and Micron Technology, introduced only a few weeks ago, that is sampling now and will be shipping next year.
“This will fit somewhere in between DRAM and NAND Flash, and it has a lot of potential,” Brace said. “There’s always something new going on in this business.”
Originally published on eWeek