Many consider storage to be a decidedly unglamorous part of IT infrastructure. Yet IT professionals who underestimate the importance of storage and an effective storage management strategy do so at their own peril.
According to the ESG 2015 Data Storage Market Trends report, effective storage strategies are critical to business processes and can provide competitive advantage. Flash-based storage in-particular - already ubiquitous in the consumer market (mobile devices and laptops) - is growing in popularity among enterprises, where it is replacing hard disk drives thanks to improved cost to performance ratio.
While hard disk drive storage won’t be dispensed with entirely due to the relatively low costs to store and access cold data, businesses that overlook flash storage are in real danger of missing opportunities to innovate.
When to turn to flash storage
There was a time when IT professionals needed specific business justification and stringent integration plans to offset the relatively high cost of flash implementation. Thankfully, flash storage solutions are now far more affordable, enabling businesses to more freely explore innovative ways to best use flash and implement it wherever there is a need for greater performance.
Generally speaking, flash storage should be allotted to any applications and associated data that have unpredictable, high I/O requirements (perhaps an employee-facing web application that could be accessed by hundreds of people at different times of day).
In addition, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which requires high IOPs but little actual storage space, is a good candidate for flash storage utilisation, as it can effectively handle related challenges, such as boot storms, which can occur when hundreds or thousands of end users spin up resources to run their applications. Traditional hard disk drives do not work as well to solve this issue because it requires hundreds of spindles to handle the number of IOPs from the workload spike caused by any sudden influx of end users starting up virtual desktop instances.
So, what next? A new generation of high-performance data centres is emerging thanks to the new backbone of all-flash array (AFA) storage. The performance bottlenecks caused by storage once common no longer exist. Instead, AFAs enable high IOPs with consistent low latency. This combination allows IT administrators to run more applications per array and moves the bottleneck to the overall capacity of the storage resources.
In addition, more -as-a-Service storage options are coming to market. These hybrid solutions are moving data to the cloud, where it can take advantage of big data cloud services to glean business intelligence, create more cost effective cold storage for archiving that’s available across distributed locations and more effectively run tiered hybrid applications that interact with flash-based back end storage.
However, these new paradigms introduce new challenges along with the advantages. To be efficient and effective in optimising storage resources and in turn the applications that rely on them, management of the AFAs with discipline is key.
Best practices for managing storage
While the high rate and the large scale of change in storage is exciting, it does place a greater emphasis on due diligence. Now, with continual movement of data from hard disk drives, flash and the cloud, the need to monitor storage resources with true discipline is more vital than ever. With this in mind, IT professionals should be wary of creating vendor silos, with flash storage vendors often providing their own monitoring tools, but that often don’t extend beyond their own ecosystem.
To monitor and manage today’s storage environments and ensure the benefits of flash storage and the cloud aren’t lost due to increased complexity, organisations should look to leverage a tool that consolidates the monitoring of all storage resources and provides a single point of truth in regard to storage performance.
It is also vital to understand your performance needs. All too often, storage administrators and other IT professionals will rush to implement flash devices without considering what level of performance they actually need. This is why a proof of concept exercise is valuable - to show what performance quality will look like over a period of time to help inform configuration and provisioning decisions. Understanding your company’s current situation is important, but so is taking into consideration its future. Data volumes will undoubtedly increase, so your organisation should plan to prioritise what data gets stored on flash, and what can remain on existing storage solutions. Failing to prepare, after all, is preparing to fail.
Finally, while the urge to purchase and implement AFAs may be strong, it’s important to remember that IT departments still need a carefully crafted transition and integration plan. As with all moves of this kind, such careful planning is required to ensure success.
Over the coming years more and more businesses will seek improvements in performance, cost and innovation by turning to flash storage to handle more data operations.
While this journey may not always be entirely smooth, IT organisations can greatly reduce the pain of transitioning by deploying a comprehensive monitoring solution, and building and executing plans to properly transition and retire technology debt.
Kong Yang, Head Geek, SolarWinds
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