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Flash-based storage devices growing in popularity

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September 26, 2013

Of all the many recent changes in the storage segment over the past five years, the most dramatic transformation is the coming of flash-based storage devices.

In mid-2008, we were talking about general purpose, multi-tier arrays, automated tiering and provisioning – all coming together in a single monolithic device.

The multi-protocol filer was going to become the dominant model. This was going to allow us to break down whole silos in the data centre and to simplify things.

Arrays were getting bigger as were the disks themselves. Overall I/O density was a real issue and generally the slowest part of any system was the back-end storage.

And then came SSDs. While everyone knows that flash-based/memory-based arrays have been around for a long time, until 2008 or thereabouts, they were very much specialist devices and their manufacturers were catering to a niche market.

But the arrival of solid-state disk (SSD) – flash in a familiar form factor at a slightly less eye-watering price – was a real game-changer.

EMC and other similar storage firms scrambled to make use of this technology, treating them as a faster disk tier in the existing arrays was the order of the day.

Case in point: Automated Storage Tiering technology was the must-have technology for many array manufacturers, though few customers could really afford to run all of their workloads on an entirely SSD-based infrastructure.

Yet if you talk to the early adopters of SSDs in these arrays, you will soon hear some horror stories-- the legacy arrays were simply not architected to make the best use of the SSDs in them. And, arguably, they still aren’t. While they’ll run faster than your typical 15k spinning disk, you are likely not getting the full value from them.

We think that all the legacy array manufacturers knew that there were going to be some problems. The different approaches that the vendors take almost points to this. Most vendors took several approaches over the years – from using flash as a cache to utilizing it simply as a faster disk.

And soon many moved from using it as extension of the read cache to using it as both a read and write cache. Many of the vendors claimed they had the one true answer, but that fact of the matter is, none of them did.

Such a gap in the market enabled a whole slew of startups to burgeon. Where confusion reigns, there is opportunity for disruption. And the open-sourcing of ZFS soon built massive opportunities for smaller startups, because the entry level into the market dropped in terms of cost.

But if you examine many of the startups' offerings, they are really a familiar architecture but aimed at a different price point and market as opposed to the larger storage vendors.

And we have seen a real snow storm of cash both in the form of venture capital but also acquisitions as the traditional vendors realize that they simply cannot innovate quickly enough within their own business models.

While all this was going on, there has been an incredible rise in the amount of data that is now being stored and captured. The more traditional architectures struggle-- scale-up has its limits in many cases and techniques from the HPC marketplace began to become mainstream.

Scale-out architectures had begun to appear, first in the HPC market, then into the media segment and now with the massive data demands of the traditional enterprises, we see them across the board.

Throw in SSDs and scale-out together with virtualization, and you have created a perfect opportunity for all in the storage market to come up with new ways of providing value to their customers.

So how do you get these newly siloed data-stores to work in a harmonious and easy-to-manage way? How do we meet the demands of businesses that are growing ever faster? We invent a new acronym-- "SDS" or "software defined storage".

But funnily enough, the whole SDS movement takes us right back to the beginning-- many of our early articles were focused on the awfulness of ECC as a tool to manage storage. Much of it due to the frustration that it was both truly awful and was trying to do to much.

But we're pretty certain that we’ll see many of the vendors trying to push their standard and we’ll probably still be in a world of storage silos for a while, like it or not.

In other IT news

MySQL is the most popular open source database there is and there are still a lot of people in the IT community that are worried that Oracle might abandon its development.

Oracle is now responsible for MySQL when it acquired the database from Sun Microsystems in 2010.

To be sure, the Oracle 'MySQL Connect Sessions' may have been just a small part of the massive Oracle OpenWorld conference that they helped kick off this year, but the message from Oracle's MySQL team is that the open source database is thriving and its community is as strong as ever, despite mounting competition from other open source DBs like Post Gre and others.

"A lot of people believed that Oracle was going to try to kill MySQL, that we didn't like it, and didn't want it" Oracle chief corporate architect Edward Screven said in his Saturday morning keynote. "In fact, exactly the opposite is true."

Oracle is committed to improving MySQL, Screven said, because it fills an important niche within Oracle's overall strategy, which is to provide enterprise customers with a full stack of hardware and software to meet their needs. And MySQL fits perfectly in the mix.

"We want to have the best solution at every level of the stack," he explained. "And that means that we solve most customer requirements. We can't do that with the Oracle database only. MySQL helps us solve other issues that the Oracle database is not good at. So MySQL adds to our overall strategy. That's why we're very interested in MySQL. That's why we've invested so much into it, and we continue to do so."

Screven added that the team developing MySQL at Oracle is now the largest it has ever been, and is roughly twice as large as it was when Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems three years ago.

Source: IT Direction.

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