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All Flash – transforming storage from a bottleneck into an asset

All Flash – transforming storage from a bottleneck into an asset

They say that knowledge is king. Today, that also means that data is power. There are many recent examples of companies being able to leverage data to disrupt their industries – for example GE’s revolutionary “aircraft engines-as-a-service” selling model. Businesses now have more access than ever to data, and more ways of using it, especially thanks to the wealth of information that the Internet of Things can provide.

But one thing is constant. Same as it ever was, data is only any good if you’re able to leverage it to your advantage. Although analytics capabilities continue to become ever more sophisticated, ultimately your effectiveness still depends on that data being stored somewhere, and being easily – and rapidly – accessible. We often hear expert claims that the amount of data we’re collecting is growing exponentially, and that we’re filling up hard drives at a rapidly increasing rate. For the average business, this simply means one thing: you need a clear strategy on how to deal with it, to ensure that your data is an asset and not a bottleneck to future success.

Considering that data storage infrastructure is typically in place for approximately five years, decisions made today will have a significant impact on whether a business can successfully deploy data to compete effectively in the future.

A few years ago, developing a storage infrastructure required enterprises to assemble a solution based on several storage technologies, each to manage different requirements. Most businesses made do with midrange or high-end disk arrays – dense racks of spinning disks. First generation all-flash arrays (AFAs) were used only occasionally, because their huge improvement in performance also came with a massive price tag. It was too expensive to go all flash, so these arrays were typically used to inject a bit of speed into a bottleneck, for example, speeding up a particularly data-dependent application, or as a point solution to solve a specific business challenge.

Since then, all-flash arrays have come a long way. Second-generation AFAs are now making what we call enterprise grade – offering the features and functionality required to support a broad range of concurrent data center workloads with different functional requirements.

To better understand the current adoption rates of all-flash, and to gain insights into what businesses plan to do with this new-found speed, we recently commissioned analyst firm Freeform Dynamics1 to do some research.

Their first finding was that awareness of all-flash has also matured. Historically there were concerns surrounding both the immaturity of the technology and its high cost. These had combined to create a significant inhibitor to purchase. Today, enterprises recognize that the technology has evolved. Few still question the inherent durability of flash drives or their significant role in building resilient systems. In fact, four in five (81 percent) either agree or strongly agree that higher-end flash technology is now enterprise class. And all concerns about durability have shrunk just as the price tags have done: today’s prevailing view is that flash-based solutions now offer superior durability and price-performance in comparison to spinning disk arrays.

Research also showed that all-flash options are already finding their place alongside traditional storage technologies. In fact, over the next two years, one third (34 percent) of enterprises plan to invest significantly in AF, while almost half are planning some form of investment in the technology.

Perhaps the greatest testament to the evolution of AFAs is that the latest generation of all-flash storage is also no longer considered suitable just for point solutions. Enterprises are now convinced that the more efficient, resilient, manageable and tunable AF solutions of today are now well positioned to meet the needs of many other applications. The clear majority (96%) of respondents consider all-flash to be suitable for a wide range of mixed workloads – from high performance computing to email, virtual environments and workflow.

It’s all about size

This consideration for more widespread deployment is in part due to the changing economics of storage systems. Non-stop growth in data consumption requirements has led many businesses to implement larger and larger disk driven systems. These require a significant amount more rack space while also consuming increasing amounts of power, both directly and indirectly through extensive cooling requirements. When you consider that flash is denser than disk, and can therefore solve a problem with fewer AF drives than spinning disks, this enables enterprises deploying all-flash to significantly reduce their space requirements in the data center – which in turn means less power consumed, and this translates into an attractive total cost of ownership.

That said, disk is a long way from being dead. Most enterprises are heavily invested in hard disk drive technology and skills. This  means that a mix and match approach is likely to be the most common. Enterprises must be careful not to relegate flash to discrete silos but understand the need to integrate flash solutions into all aspects of existing storage systems, tools and processes.

The ‘coming of age’ of such a transformational technology has some potentially profound impacts, both in terms of how storage systems are managed, but also in terms of the implications of delivering fast, reliable data access to all applications by default. With the proliferation of digital transformation, businesses that can leverage their data to disrupt their industries and create competitive advantage will be the winners. Those planning to future-proof their storage strategy should consider AF deployments, or they may run the risk of their data being the bottleneck on their path to success. As we enter 2017, one statement is no longer a prediction but a fact: All- flash is enterprise grade and ready for primetime.

To read the full report: “The Enterprise Flash Enabler” – click here.

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1 About the research

The research was designed and executed on an independent basis by Freeform Dynamics. Data was collected from 363 senior European and North American IT professionals via an online survey, with respondents from organizations ranging in size from 500 employees to 5,000+ employees, from a variety of industry sectors (healthcare / life sciences, retail, financial services, manufacturing, automotive, travel and transport and telecoms). The study, conducted  in October 2016, was sponsored by Fujitsu.

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