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Forget solid state, hard disk and flash: Hybrid storage is perfect for your business

The UK business landscape is experiencing positive momentum, with a new economic climate fostering and encouraging growth, investment and development, heeding the lessons learnt from the 2008 financial collapse. We are seeing consistent upgraded growth forecasts for the UK economy, the most recent of which has seen the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sharply increase its expectation for the UK economy in 2014 to grow by 2.4 per cent, up from 1.9 per cent, and faster than any other major European economy.

As a result, many organisations are moving away from the "just survive" mode and starting to positively plan and execute growth and investment strategies. To achieve this, many are critically reviewing existing IT infrastructure and processes to ensure there is no redundancy or wastage. The expectation is that due to this analysis, businesses will seek to improve or streamline the technology solutions they have, creating a competitive environment for suppliers with plenty of opportunity for new players in the industry.

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Delving into the storage industry, we can see it as at an inflection point, regarding the best approach to satisfy the increasing needs of performance-hungry applications, while staying true to the bottom line. With companies now making investments in a more considered way and seeing the greatest return on investment (ROI) achievable, we expect hybrid storage - which marries the best of SSD and HDD - will make tremendous gains this year.

Hybrid storage has a stronger performance rate than traditional hard disk-based storage at a significantly lower cost than all solid state arrays. This means it can provide organisations with the speed of flash media, without sacrificing the capacity or cost advantage of spinning disks – responding to the business needs of the new economic climate.

Looking at the options, standard hard disk-based arrays offer capacity at a low cost but cannot keep up with today's performance requirements, while solid state disks deliver high performance but not the required capacity at a reasonable cost. Hybrid storage provides the best of both worlds – balancing high performance with high capacity, at a competitive cost.

There has also been a lot of recent news about the gains in IOPS of all-flash arrays but the reality is that, for 99 per cent of businesses, this kind of performance gain is unnecessary and will never be used. Those organisations operating in the big data and scientific research environments may benefit from systems that can deliver one million IOPS but, for most corporate businesses, their applications require only a fraction of this performance. The benefit of hybrid arrays is that they can service the vast majority of high-performance workloads for a fraction of the cost of all-flash systems.

Organisations looking to make the most of IT investments by adopting a hybrid approach need to find solutions that deliver faster performance, higher capacities and robust data protection with near-instant recovery times, all while being affordable, efficient and easy-to-use. This is not a small task, particularly as not all hybrids are created equally.

Some of the features users should look for in a hybrid solution:

  • Truly effective hybrid array solutions need to be engineered to address all demands of the modern data centre, rather than simply being a combination of multiple disparate technologies sold as a single offering
  • Unified access of both block protocols (iSCSI, Fibre Channel) and file protocols (NFS and CIFS) to provide flexibility in solving business challenges with a single storage platform
  • Intelligent use of SSDs with DRAM and flash in the data path to protect user data by storing it permanently on hard disks while using the faster technologies as a high-speed cache. This is a superior approach to solutions that rely entirely on flash for data storage
  • Integrated data protection functionality, such as automated snapshot schedules for recovery points, fully redundant metadata storage and replication that is designed to survive multiple disk failures, in order to ensure anytime availability of business-critical data
  • Inline compression and deduplication utilised throughout the array to reduce the acquisition and operational cost of storage. Reducing all application data, not just secondary applications, can help organisations use up to 75 per cent less capacity
  • Leverage the benefits of SSDs throughout the data path, rather than as a tier of storage, to ensure every application receives a performance boost with flash storage. This combine with intelligent, application-aware software means the storage system can configure and optimise itself.

When considering some of the key challenges that companies face as they seek to return to growth in 2014, it's clear to see why a hybrid system is increasingly held up as the optimum solution. A recent signal of approval has been the overwhelming success of Nimble Storage's IPO and subsequent gains in the company's stock price. These gains are in stark contrast to the fall in stock price of all-flash array provider Violin Memory.

The appeal of making a smarter, more efficient investment, while still reaping the business benefits is helping companies gain the vital competitive advantage in their market, which in turn is driving not just survival but a return to growth in the UK in 2014. Ultimately, the winners in this new economic climate will be those who are able to match business requirements accurately against market solutions and make key decisions that enable them to achieve a lot with only a relatively small budget.

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This is why 2014 is set to be the year that more users will discover how hybrid storage arrays can gain the performance benefits of solid state without sacrificing the cost benefits of hard disk storage at the right price point.

Paul Silver is the vice president of EMEA at Tegile