Tag Archives: Flash

Data Storage War: Flash Vs. Hard Drives

The struggle for market share between flash-based drives and hard-disk drives is so similar to physical conflict that we can apply the same language. Wars are essentially territorial, with outcomes determined by who owns the battlefield. Logistics chains and technological leadership often determine point battles and having superiority of resources is always a major factor in sustaining an attack.

We often see the flash/HDD battle portrayed as a cloudy whole, forgetting that there are in fact a series of battlefronts. The devil is in the details and a map of the storage world today shows how, insidiously, flash-based products have gained almost all the available territory.

Storage today ranges from small drives used in medical and industrial gear to super-fast all-flash arrays that deliver millions of I/O operations per second. Factors such as weight, physical size, and power help determine the best storage match, together with price and performance. Logistics — for example, the availability of component die — are a major factor in setting storage prices and thus the balance of competitiveness.

To complicate issues, however, flash and HDDs are miles apart when it comes to performance. Using a solid-state drive may make a server run three or more times faster than the same configuration using HDDs. This is the technology component of the battlefront. Many comparisons of HDD and SSD prices ignore the impact of the difference on overall TCO, so consequently they overstate the cost of SSD-based solutions. This oversight has slowed SSD sales for years, though the industry today has mostly savvied up.

As we fly over the storage drive battlefields, what do we see? SSDs have established total technological dominance in most areas. For example, 15K and 10K RPM hard drives are topped out and starved of future investment; they just can’t keep up with SSDs and they cost more. This concedes the enterprise drive space to SSDs, with a resulting decline in RAID arrays and SAN gear. It’s interesting that SANs aren’t surrendering yet, but I’ll touch on that later.

The mobile PC space faces a race to the bottom, which has forced vendors to enrich configurations to make any margin. An obvious play is to go all-flash, implying longer battery life and less weight, among other benefits. SSDs now own most of this territory.

As we go territory by territory, we see that flash has won or is winning handily. The one exception is nearline bulk storage, where top hard-disk drive vendor Seagate, projects 10 more years of HDD dominance in bulk storage. I don’t buy that story and you’ll see why in this slideshow!

Note that battles may be won, but storage is a conservative market and change takes years. Businesses are still buying 15 K hard drives and nearline SATA drives won’t go away overnight!

(Image: Satakorn/Shutterstock)

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Flash Storage Adoption in the Enterprise

We’ve heard for a while that flash storage is going mainstream, but how are companies actually using it and what results are they getting? A new report by IT analyst firm Evaluator Group sheds light on enterprise adoption of solid-state storage and why the technology has become so popular.

The firm, which specializes in analysis of data storage and information management, surveyed larger enterprises with more than 1,000 employees that had already deployed all-flash systems. That kept the study focused on organizations with first-hand experience with solid-state storage, Randy Kerns, senior strategist and analyst at Evaluator Group, told me in an interview. After the survey, which was conducted across various vertical markets, analysts interviewed many of the participants to get deeper insight.

Evaluator Group found that most of those surveyed bought all-flash arrays with the goal of speeding database performance so that certain applications ran faster. “The majority of them justified paying extra based on getting the databases to run faster,” Kerns said.

Another top use case was accelerating virtual machine environments, which involves supporting more virtual machines per physical server due to the improved performance with solid-state technology, he said.

Enterprises reported strong results with their flash storage deployments, the study found.

“In all cases, they got what they expected and more, to the point that they added additional workloads that weren’t performance demanding…They had more capabilities than they planned on, so they added more workloads to their environment,” Kern said. “And the future is adding more workloads or buying more all-flash systems for putting more workloads on.”

Organizations surveyed also reported improved reliability, with fewer interruptions either due to a device or system failure. “That was a big improvement for them,” he said. “It’s something they hadn’t counted on in their initial purchase.”

Survey participants said they valued the data protection capabilities of solid-state storage systems, such as snapshots. “The systems had the capabilities to do things differently so they could accelerate their data protection processes,” Kerns said.

Data reduction functionality wasn’t high on their list of solid-state features, as they considered it a basic capability of flash storage systems, according to Evaluator Group.

While solid-state storage has a reputation for being pricey, it wasn’t an issue for the survey participants, Kerns said. “These people already had them [all-flash systems], so the battle about cost is in the rear view mirror,” he said. “First-time buyers may have a sticker-shock issue, but for those who bought it, that’s history.”

When buying flash storage, enterprises tend to turn to their current storage systems vendor, the study found. “Incumbency wins,” Kerns said. A few bought from storage startups, but the majority preferred to stick with their existing vendor, enjoying new systems that operated in a similar fashion what they already had.

As for going all-flash, enterprises expect that will be the case eventually, but certainly won’t happen overnight. “They have a number of platforms that have a certain lifespan. They’ll just age those systems out, so it could be a number of years until they get to that point,” Kerns said.

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How Flash Storage Supports Broadway Video’s 4K Growth

All-flash system enables fast, cost-effective production for entertainment and media company.

It would be an understatement to say the digital media and entertainment business changes quickly. At Broadway Video, we’re doing business every hour of every day, and one of the biggest challenges we have is maintaining headroom, bandwidth and storage space. The shows we produce and the file sizes that are required to stay relevant have exponentially increased, making it challenging for production companies like ours to maintain bandwidth and storage.

While 4K seems to be an industry standard now, we understand that broadcast technology is constantly evolving. In three years’ time or less, 8K 120p could be the new content resolution. This means that companies must maintain agility and relevance by offering a wide range of frame rates and sizes to deliver and distribute content in 4K and higher.

To enhance 4K offerings and beyond, we added an all-flash storage system into our infrastructure that allows for quick-turn, efficient and cost-effective production, post-production and delivery of TV shows and commercials. For Broadway Video, Hitachi’s Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) G Series was the obvious choice.

What does all-flash mean for Broadway Video:

Managing quick-turn, mission-critical data: In the media business, edits to a show are often being made 30 seconds before delivery to distribution channels. Overflow work, like recoloring jobs and editing an opening sequence, are quick turn. Some shows are written on Wednesday, shot on Friday and edited from Friday to Saturday before going on air that night. In these moments, being able to turn data around quickly is essential and made possible with a flash-based storage system.

Flash-based storage systems give companies high-speed turn, incredible efficiency and data throughput that 4K, high frame rate, HDR content requires. A virtual storage lineup delivers performance, resiliency and workload scalability for even the most challenging digital environments. 

Providing quality, industry-leading service: On the cusp of 4K technology, media companies must find ways to save money and manage efficiencies, hitting hard with multiple workstations and working at a high frame rate and density in the 4K workspace and above. There are unique challenges to delivering large files required when doing 4K 60 or 4K 59.94, and this is often where systems fall apart.

Companies that expand to support 4K content and technology must ensure they have robust and optimized storage solutions that are not only fast, but reliable and efficient. A flash storage system will improve performance of business-critical applications by eliminating storage bottlenecks and delivering immediate response rates while ensuring that no data is lost in the process.

In an ever-changing industry, partnering with a technology vendor is essential for digital transformation. We must predict upcoming trends and pivot to meet needs with solutions that are both cost effective and efficient, placing a tremendous focus on digital distribution and data storage systems. For Broadway Video, our strategic partnership with Hitachi Vantara allowed us to transition to a complete digital workflow and create a foundation for future growth to our post-production and digital distribution services.

Stacey Foster, President and Managing Director, Broadway Video Digital and Production, has worked with Broadway Video since 1981. Stacey has served as Coordinating Producer for Saturday Night Live since 1999. Having joined SNL in 1985, he has overseen all technical aspects of production for the show, as well as for numerous SNL and NBC specials, as well as lending his expertise to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night (working with hosts David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Fallon), and Mark Burnett’s Survivor. Stacey graduated from Montclair State University.

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HPE Snaps Up Flash Supplier Nimble Storage

Hewlett Packard Enterprise on Tuesday said it signed a deal to buy Nimble Storage, a maker of all-flash and hybrid-flash storage arrays, for $1 billion in cash.

HPE said Nimble’s predictive flash products complement its 3PAR and MSA products and advance its hybrid IT strategy. The company plans to integrate Nimble’s InfoSight Predictive Analytics platform across its storage product portfolio.

Founded in 2007, San Jose, Calif.-based Nimble has been a prominent player in the rise of flash storage in the enterprise data center. In a 2014 Network Computing blog post, storage expert Howard Marks described Nimble as successful not only with its technology, but also in selling the product. The company went public in 2013.

Krista Macomber, senior analyst at Technology Business Research, said Nimble has been one of the more successful flash storage vendors by combining innovation in flash components with its InfoSight analytics platform. Bringing analytics to the table for functions like performance monitoring “can help customers maximize their investment in flash technologies,” she told me in a phone interview.

While the cost of flash storage has come down in the past couple years, it still carries a premium, Macomber said. Being able to use analytics software to optimize flash is a valuable capability for an enterprise customer, she said.

She called HPE’s purchase of Nimble a sign of the times as the storage market moves away from traditional disk and standalone technologies and towards flash-based converged and hyperconverged models. “HPE has been very active in making acquisitions to accelerate the pace that it can evolve its portfolio towards these markets,” she said.

In January, HPE announced an agreement to buy hyperconverged startup SimpliVity for $650 million in cash.

“Nimble Storage’s portfolio complements and strengthens our current 3PAR products in the high-growth flash storage market and will help us deliver on our vision of making hybrid IT simple for our customers,”  HPE president and CEO Meg Whitman said in a prepared statement.

Rohit Kshetrapal, CEO at Nimble competitor Tegile, said in an email statement that the deal will fill the gap in its product lines created by its “aging LeftHand and MSA lines.” He also said HPE will need to draw the line between the Nimble and 3PAR products, describing them as overlapping.

The Nimble deal is expected to close in April.

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