“Isn’t flash storage just storage,” a customer asked earlier this year. There have been quite a few articles written about the blurring line between specialty flash storage and general purpose storage products in the last twelve months. I believe this is being driven by three factors: pervasive flash media as options in nearly all storage subsystems, flash capacity and lack of performance/latency-sensitive workloads that need flash.
Storage subsystems continue to evolve. As we see with Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Solid-State Arrays (SSAs), it can be difficult to define the actual market. Gartner segregates based on a product being All-Flash and no option for traditional disk. They do a great job of providing general guidance, but it is not all encompassing, and should not be used as a buying guide. Many organizations have had great success with storage products that are all-flash, but are not on the list of Gartner’s SSAs because the manufacturer allows options for old spinning disk for the product, or Hybrid design. And, nearly all vendors now include flash media options across their storage product portfolio. This gives customers the flexibility to choose traditional storage subsystems or newer flash-only designs.
As for capacity, Samsung announced the 15TB SSD in 2015, and storage providers scrambled to support it in the fall of 2016. Even before it shipped in a subsystem, Seagate announced the 60TB SSD in August of 2016. 60TB!! The largest HDD is only 10TB, a 6x disparity between the 2 technologies in terms of capacity, not to mention latency performance for random workloads. As manufacturing increases supply, the price per TB will continue to drop. It is inevitable that all storage will soon just be flash. Besides, when asked, almost all customers would buy flash over disk if it was the same price.
Like all IT solutions, there needs to be a problem that it solves to be compelling to customers. Flash’s entrance into the market stemmed from the high cost of disk subsystems that needed to be short-stroked (i.e., using less than half the capacity of drives) to gain performance in the number of available disk arms for random workloads. Flash solutions provided sub-millisecond latency, and valuable time savings in high IOPs workloads since those milliseconds add up over tens of thousands of operations per second. But, those applications represented about 5-10% of all the workloads in an environment. We (all vendors collectively) already fixed most of the issues that existed back before 2016.
This leaves general storage pools and refreshes of those environments. Companies now facing a storage purchase can take advantage of lower costs for flash and reap the reliability, power and floor space savings for the general pool. With the mix of options across vendor portfolios and economies of scale for dense NAND, Flash Storage, IS NOW, just Storage!
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