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Five things to consider before buying a flash array

Flash storage offers significant performance advantages over disk or tape, but has been too costly for many businesses to consider until recently. Today, if there’s a need for speed, a flash storage array may be the answer, but Logicalis US warns that not all flash arrays are created equal…

“When you want increased speed, there’s always a cost associated with that,” says Frank Nishimori, solution architect for Logicalis US. “To bring the price of flash arrays down, one of the techniques manufacturers are using is something called ‘compaction’ – similar to deduplication or compression of data – which essentially gives you the ability to pack more data onto a drive. The problem is, not all data sets are compressible – and that’s when CIOs who have quickly made the move to an all-flash array have an ‘oh-no’ moment.”

“If you have data – jpegs, video or encrypted data, for example – that cannot be further compressed, then you’re going to need a scalable solution where cost-effective hard disks work hand-in-hand with flash technology to give you a single bundled solution that can store any kind of data quickly and easily,” says Brett Anderson, Senior Director, HP Solutions, Logicalis US.

Five things to consider before buying a flash array

The real advantage of flash isn’t speed – it’s time.  The performance gains that organizations get with a flash array put valuable data into decision-makers’ hands in record time.  But there are other factors to think about before making the move to flash.  Here are five things to consider before buying a flash array:

1. Performance: IT pros who require faster input-output (I/O) may find a flash array an attractive idea, but one of the chief considerations in terms of delivering that performance is whether the array they select is built for the enterprise environment. Before making your selection, ask yourself: Are the replication capabilities there? How’s the quality of service and reliability? Can you segment production and development environments? Does the solution offer self-balancing functionality? Don’t automatically assume you’ll get the same level of enterprise capability you’re accustomed to in every flash array.  Look for an I/O monster with enterprise functionality that can store slow or fat data as well as provide the speed you need for business-critical, compressible data all within a single storage frame and all managed from a single pane of glass.

2. Cost: While flash is currently more expensive than disk, compaction techniques can result in anywhere from 4:1 to 20:1 storage capacity gains; this technique allows vendors to market flash at the same price point as disk with many times the performance. CIOs, however, are finding that if their data is already compressed, they aren’t reaping those kinds of capacity savings.  The bottom line is, flash can be as inexpensive as disk storage when compaction techniques are employed, but it all depends on the kind of data being stored.  Take stock of how much of your data is already compressed before counting on the cost of flash equaling that of spinning disk.

3. Manageability: When planning to deploy an all-flash array, someone will need to be trained to manage it.  And if you cannot take full advantage of flash capabilities, or if you have archival data that can be more cost-effectively stored in other ways, it could take multiple people just to manage the organization’s varied storage environments.  Look instead for an array that combines the performance advantages of flash with the cost advantages of a general-purpose array in a single frame with an easy-to-use interface. The easier a storage environment is to manage, the fewer people will be needed for this task.  The ultimate goal: Select a solution that requires you to dedicate only part of a single person’s time to managing the organization’s storage environment.

4. Migration: When planning a migration of corporate data to a flash array, consider the timing.  Is it better to do this over a weekend when the entire IT infrastructure can be shut down? Or can you perform a live migration without outages of active data? If the flash array has the ability to pull data from the former environment while requests are being made, a mid-week transfer may be possible, but this is the exception rather than the rule, so it’s critical to determine what kind of downtime may be required in advance of migration day.

5. Growth: What happens when the organization grows and more storage capacity is needed? Generally, flash storage is sold in vendor-defined flash modules. These modules typically come in groups of 10 to 12 drives, a costly upgrade to purchase all at once. Look instead for solutions that offer smaller upgrade increments – and be sure to ask about the controller limits as well.  It’s not all about capacity; think about I/O too. Because flash is so fast, it can cause you to exceed your storage system’s performance capabilities; if you exceed your I/O requirements, what’s the next step?  Asking the right questions up front will help you select a storage solution that will not only meet today’s expectations, but one that will provide a pathway for future growth.

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