Storage Gets Speedier

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  December 22, 2015

Flash-based storage is moving forward at an accelerated pace. That’s good news, since data continues to move forward at an even faster pace. There is an estimated 5 ZB of data out there today, and that’s expected to reach 44 ZB within a decade.

The technology known as flash-based storage aims to address the data onslaught by delivering cheaper, denser, and faster solutions with longer lives. Traditional storage relies on spinning disks, and over time the industry increased the rate of the spinning disks to allow people to boot up their devices within seconds vs. a minute or two, for example, explains Jeff Barber, vice president of IBM (News - Alert). But with the flash technology, which is what is used in our cell phones, there’s no moving device inside and that memory is called flash memory and ensures your device doesn’t lose its data.

Indeed, Western Digital in late October announced plans to buy SanDisk (News - Alert) for $19 billion in a deal that will bring together a computer data storage giant and a flash memory storage powerhouse. This followed an array other recent deals in the storage arena. Last year Seagate purchased LSI’s flash business; EMC (News - Alert) acquired DSSD, a startup that sold server-side flash technology; and Samsung Electronics bought Proximal Data.

EMC in the fourth quarter of last year was the worldwide all-flash array leader by revenue, according to IDC (News - Alert), next were Pure Storage, IBM, NetApp, SolidFire, and Nimbus Data.

“Flash storage is one of the hottest, fastest growing enterprise technology markets today,” blogs Shachar Fienblit of Kaminario, which is among the recent flash memory startups (others include Pure Storage, SolidFire, and Violin Memory). “It’s truly an exciting time to innovate an industry that is disrupting the legacy storage market and growing at an incredible rate.”

Intel (News - Alert) and Micro Technology 3D NAND technology allows for the stacking of more layers of flash vertically, multiplying capacity by three times and addressing power consumption. TLC, which stands for triple-level cell, stores three bits per cell, according to the Micron website. The ability to multiply storage in this way is an improvement on the initial iterations of flash, which started life existing in solid state drives that could only do one operation at a time due to the single actuator arm.

Meanwhile, Toshiba in October announced a new family of NAND flash memory products for embedded applications. They are compatible with the serial peripheral interface and can be used in such applications as flat-screen TVs, printers, robots, and wearable devices.

There’s also been a lot of excitement about Intel’s Rack Scale Architecture and upcoming Red Rock Canyon technology and what they could mean for storage. Intel declined an interview request to discuss Red Rock Canyon, noting it hadn’t been formally released as of press time in mid October. But it had this to say about its Rack Scale Architecture: “Boosting storage performance while controlling cost, Intel Rack Scale Architecture enables large gains in storage performance and cost without imposing a significant cost burden. Like compute and network resources, storage resources are software defined, meaning that application developers can quickly allocate and reallocate resources to deliver optimum performance. When storage speed and latency are critical, users can allocate rack-level next generation non-volatile memory to their applications to create high-speed cache and data stores.

“To ensure that complexity stays in check, Intel Rack Scale Architecture also provides extensive automation and open management frameworks that help customers easily configure and tune storage resources. This enables users to build robust and efficient storage solutions without the complexity usually associated with deeply tiered storage. One further advantage to Intel Rack Scale Architecture is that its disaggregated design allows storage resources to be upgraded independently of other devices, as higher performance and lower cost technology becomes available.”

While some storage solutions in this realm rely on Intel technology, IBM’s Barber said Big Blue has come out with its own Power chip architecture, which is optimized for Unix/Linux and multiple users. Power 8 technology, which IBM uses in all its DS8000 products, can deliver two to three times the performance of competing technology at a lower price point, he said. The low-end version of this solution starts at $50,000, he said, adding that IBM expects to take market share in the $50,000 to $250,000 window of this product category.

The DS8000 is already in use in broad-based implementations by several customers. For example, Tata Sky in India leverages the solution as its primary storage for all critical workloads, including billing, CRM, and disaster recovery.

“As a large, broadcast satellite television provider in India, our business simply cannot operate without mission-critical storage that provides the utmost business continuity and operational efficiency in both our primary and disaster recovery sites,” said N. Ravishanker, CIO of Tata Sky. “With IBM DS8000 hybrid flash storage, our response time has significantly improved and queries now return in less than one second, bringing high efficiencies.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere