Cutting Through the Hype – The Pure Truth about Flash

Debate over Flash-based SSDs as a new alternative to spinning mechanical disk-based enterprise storage has reached new heights. As is the case with any emerging technology, there is still ample opportunity to separate the hype from the reality. This article will address the realties of all-Flash enterprise storage – specifically its capabilities and value proposition in contrast to disk.

It is clear that the increased adoption of Flash in enterprise storage has and will continue to change the way businesses approach and manage data storage. In order to effectively drive real business value and gain access to its benefits, IT leaders need to understand how all-Flash enterprise storage can improve their business. 

Rise of the All-Flash Enterprise Datacenter storage has failed to keep pace with servers, which have gotten faster, denser, and cheaper following Moore’s law for decades. Thus, the storage market is poised for the most disruptive change in decades as $15B annual spend shifts from ‘performance tier’ disk to solid-state Flash. Similar to how the entrance of disk in data backup operations accelerated tape with backup, recovery, archives and offsite replication, Flash storage is redefining the role of disk. 

Flash inherently provides a level of consistent performance that isn’t available with disk. For businesses, flash improves employee productivity and customer satisfaction by enabling access to more data in a timely manner with greater responsiveness.

It could be argued that the days of disk are numbered. With all-flash alternatives available for less than the cost of mechanical disk, businesses are starting to ask: why buy disk? As Flash continues to unlock new competitive business advantages, it will ultimately accelerate adoption of Flash for performance-critical applications and force major changes within the data center. 

Flash is More Reliable Than Disk A common misconception around flash is the notion that MLC NAND is less resilient than SLC NAND. On the surface this is true – and this is critical to understand – if one treats the flash like a mechanical disk. While both are derived from the same silicon, SLC NAND does differ from MLC – and this is where intelligent software can level the playing field.

MLC NAND can begin to fail sometime after exceeding a threshold somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 program and erase (P/E) cycles. This resiliency concern has led many traditional storage vendors to incorporate the high priced, lower capacity, higher resiliency SLC flash drives. By building a storage array designed for flash, P/E cycles can be greatly reduced by 8X to 9x resulting in resiliency with MLC that is on par or even higher than SLC NAND devices. This is a key difference between a storage system designed for disk and a storage system designed for flash, such as Pure Storage.

Kernel of Truth We have established that storage systems designed from the ground of up for flash, offer more consistent performance, with true resiliency – for less than the cost of disk. It is true that Flash stores and serves data in a manner that is significantly different than disk. This is where software becomes key to making enterprise flash work, as it not only delivers affordability, it enables flash to be more reliable at a hardware level, which dramatically changes the long-held notions that flash is unavailable for broad adoption. This will drive a massive upheaval within the data center over the next five to 10 years, as the concept of All-Flash Enterprise becomes reality.

Michael Cornwell is the Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific and Japan at Pure Storage