Majority of IT managers duped by common all-flash storage myths

UK businesses are being bamboozled by over-hyped marketing myths about the performance, reliability and power consumption of all-flash storage arrays, despite practical evidence and common-sense arguments to the contrary.

According to a recent survey, close to three-quarters (74 per cent) of IT managers have a rose-tinted view of all-flash storage, despite misgivings about the cost, risk and general lack of need for all-flash arrays.

As many as 76 per cent accepted the myth that all-flash arrays are faster than hybrid arrays. But while flash can undoubtedly assist with lowering latency for random reads, it can often be the same or even slower than well-designed hard disk arrays under some workloads, particularly sequential writes.

A similar number accepted that all-flash solutions use less power and cooling compared to hybrid storage. But real-life testing by numerous users has found hybrid arrays use half the power of all-flash arrays in like-for-like evaluations. Flash modules/SSDs draw less power as raw components than HDD, but enterprise storage arrays are not just raw storage. They use processors, and cache memory is also needed in some designs, both of which require power. On average, all-flash arrays draw double the amount of power and require more cooling than true hybrid arrays.

Two in five (40 per cent) respondents believed that all-flash arrays provide a higher degree of reliability than hybrid arrays, based on marketing messages from all-flash vendors that HDDs are unreliable. But this is not the case. Some enterprise storage vendors have been guilty of using the wrong tool for the job by relying on consumer grade SATA drives to cut supply chain costs, causing hard disk drives to be seen as problematic. When issues with flash media are taken into account, particularly with cell failure on NAND silicon, flash arrays usually have shorter duty cycles than hybrid storage.

It's clear that IT managers are unaware of the truth behind these all-flash myths. Many vendors are trying to convince customers and resellers that hard disks are outdated forms of technology and that flash is the most appropriate media for all use cases. The truth is that hybrid storage is the practical option: it offers the best of both worlds by combining the advantages of flash with the established benefits of hard drives.

The survey was undertaken by independent research firm Vanson Bourne, which interviewed senior IT decision-makers at 100 large enterprises across the UK. The purpose of the survey, commissioned by hybrid storage vendor X-IO Technologies, was to compare the adoption plans of all-flash arrays in the enterprise against the hype being promoted by all-flash array vendors. It also shows where the market is educated about the promise of all-flash arrays and where it is misinformed.

IT budgets are currently under tight restrictions, IT managers need to implement a storage solution which provides the right amount of performance whilst also remaining cost-effective. In time, storage architects and buyers will realise that flash is a tool rather than a solution. But in the meantime, it won't stop some users getting their fingers burnt in the world of storage sales, a place where people push hard to close deals that often fail to offer the best solution to a customer's needs.

It is up to the storage industry to help customers and resellers understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type of storage, helping people cut through the hype in the process.

Gavin McLaughlin is the solutions development director at X-IO Technologies.

Image credit: Flickr (hben22; Richard Hurd)