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More Flash from Flash

Meeting with customers is always enjoyable and it’s often enlightening in unexpected ways. It’s even better when we can do it over dinner and an excellent glass of Chianti. That’s what we did a couple of weeks ago for a meeting with some senior executives who have been working through a pretty big plan for their IT transformation. It includes what they see as a strategic marriage of flash storage and virtualized data. We were fascinated by their insight. It confirmed our own thinking that data copy reduction could lead to a more economically attractive use of flash.

Of course we’re always ready to promote the benefits of virtualized data. And we understand the buzz around the advancement of flash, probably the biggest storage innovation since spinning disk. And we had the working theory of how cool it could be when you put the two technologies together. That’s what these guys were doing and they were getting more flash from flash. No theory anymore.

Start by imagining a really big IT operation. It’s designed to provide software as a service with an extensive environment of hundreds of servers supporting clients with a highly transactional and mission critical application. Their users need maximum performance. That comes in part from lots of high-end storage systems filled with short-stroked drives. But because they only used a little bit of each drive’s capacity they needed a ton of spinning disks which used a ton of energy and ate capacity for lots of backup copies.

It was a big expensive mess.

They were looking for a better way – new ideas. Still, the bulb didn’t light up all at once. It was more like the slow slide of a dimmer. First they began to favor copy data virtualization as a strategic technology. They used it to help consolidate storage, reduce required capacity and enable their own data center of the future. Then they began looking at flash storage as a way to get more application performance.

But the expense was scary.

Enterprise grade flash storage has been around for several years. Adoption was slow at first because of high costs. Now that’s changed as costs have come down but flash is still more expensive than HDDs and has mostly been used for very targeted performance needs.

Now these guys were coming at it differently. It started with their own pain. Managing storage performance – and performance problems – is time consuming and difficult. Beyond that, clients are always looking for better performance and IT operations are always looking to simplify. As data virtualization reduced the total amount of data stored, the capacity needs shrank and the value proposition for flash improved. Data management, performance management, operational simplification and capacity/cost – flash can address all four. They were seeing a quadruple bonus.

The bulb was getting brighter. Elimination of unneeded copies meant the amount of flash required would be reduced to a few hundred terabytes instead of a petabyte plus. Moving to flash in tandem with data virtualization would produce the essential performance and simplify data management at the same time. Data virtualization became the enabler to move to flash at scale without dragging along lots of copies. One of them described it as a satisfying purge, like tossing the attic junk before you move. (Her next battle was to convince her husband to attack the garage.)

So the consolidation started. Big bulky storage systems began to disappear. So did expensive backup software and servers. They were getting the advantages that flash delivers without overloading expensive systems with data copies. We also like to think that reduced energy consumption from smaller storage footprints and more efficient flash is part of the motivation. But even if it isn’t stimulating the makeover, it’s still a very nice extra. (According to SNIA flash is 40x better power per GB and 600x better power per IOPS over spinning disks.)

So their plan started with cleaning up the mess before a move. Copy data virtualization became the pivot in what would otherwise be a very painful transition. Being infrastructure agnostic was an added strength. It works on any disk today and smoothly moves to flash tomorrow. Sounds good to us.

What could be better? A wonderful meal, some great insight and a Tiramisu to finish. No wonder we enjoy meeting with customers.

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