Flash Flood: The Business Case For Flash Storage

PCIe Flash Memory

CIOs are increasingly turning to Flash to ensure their business remains competitive in today’s landscape. Where time equals money, data needs to be instantly accessible for real-time processing, analytics and insights and Flash is well-suited to the performance-intensive applications required, including databases, data warehouse and analytics.

While there is much talk about All-Flash and Hybrid-Flash Storage Arrays, Server-Side Flash, PCIe in particular, is taking off. Gartner Group projects that more than 1 million of these units will be shipped in 2015. Furthermore, as PCIe prices move toward $1/GB, Gartner expects that nearly 50% of all SSD unit shipments to data centers will be PCIe by 2018. Initially adopted by HyperScale customers leveraging horizontal scale-out architectures and NoSQL databases, the price/performance advantages of PCIe Flash have now become mainstream. Added to this, new Software-Defined Storage capabilities are enabling enterprise use cases that previously required external, higher-latency and higher-cost SAN-based approaches.

The most popular use of PCIe Flash is in caching configurations in front of an existing SAN. This approach is completely transparent to the existing SAN and drives latencies down to tens of microseconds from milliseconds. It can also add thousands of IOPs to an existing infrastructure. This use case is widely deployed for databases like Microsoft SQL Server where a single PCIe device and caching software can be purchased for less than $10,000. This delivers dramatic performance improvements to a SAN that might require 5 times as much expense to achieve the same IOPs, but will never achieve the same latency characteristics.

Shared Flash Access

Many Enterprise databases such as Oracle® Databases and Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC), require shared storage access. RAC uses Oracle’s Automatic Storage Management (ASM) as the volume manager for the database. ASM uses disk groups to store datafiles and enables flexible server-based mirroring options. To date, the only way that Oracle ASM could use Flash was inside of a SAN array. Again, latency and cost can make an Oracle database on a SAN very expensive, especially as the environment grows and more IOPs are required for workload headroom.

However, Software-Defined Storage is available from vendors such as HGST, that provides the ability for PCIe Flash to be accessed and managed as ASM disk groups directly within the database server. ASM can aggregate as much PCIe Flash as is required for the datastore. Since the storage is directly on the Server bus, microsecond latency (immeasurable by Oracle’s Calibrate_IO tool) can be achieved with an All-Flash tier for the database. Since ASM is aware of all storage, it can also migrate data to capacity storage on the SAN to optimise price/performance.

Clustering & Server Consolidation

For databases like MySQL, the traditional approach is to deploy servers in Master/Slave pairs. The Master is part of a larger cluster where database rows are horizontally ‘sharded’ across multiple masters to enable scale-out. Slaves are used for off-load of read traffic and act as fail-over nodes in the event that a Master Serves crashes or data gets corrupted. PCIe Flash is so fast and so low in latency that a single device can handle both write and read traffic on the Master Server. Since database corruption and Server crashes are rare, many Slaves sit idle burning power, taking up space and requiring cooling. This ‘server sprawl’ can be easily addressed with PCIe Flash devices and Server-Side Flash Clustering Software.

Clustering Software allows for multiple Masters to aggregate all of their Flash resources into a single pool, then for each Master to be assigned a volume from that pool. A single Slave or ‘Multi-Function Server’ equipped with a small amount of open source software acts as a ‘listener’. When a Master fails, the Multi-Function Server mounts the volume and continues to operate with no downtime and since all Masters are replicating to the pool synchronously, there is no loss of data when the fail-over occurs. The result of this simple, yet elegant change to physical MySQL deployments is a reduction in server count that can range from 38% to 70% depending upon the size of the cluster.

In these mission-critical enterprise environments, latency means wait times, which equates to user response times or fewer transactions per second. Where time is money, Flash is an increasingly attractive proposition. This means the standard for efficiency, performance and scalability will be under close scrutiny. Businesses that want to succeed will need to extract greater value from the data they own. Hardware and software solutions must help CIOs help strike that balance among performance, complexity and cost. This means focusing on peak application acceleration with an all-SSD environment, improving lagging performance by tiering or using caching to leverage combined HDD and flash environments.

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Nigel is Vice President, EMEA Sales and Channel Marketing, at HGST, a Western Digital company, where he is responsible for EMEA Channel Distribution, Regional OEM sales teams and Channel Marketing. Prior to his role at HGST, Nigel held the role of vice president of EMEA at eSys following a long, successful career at Western Digital, where he held numerous leadership positions within the sales organisation. Prior to this role, Nigel served as Western Digital’s director of sales for the company’s largest global customer, Dell. He began his career at Informix Software, where he started as a graduate after achieving a higher national diploma in business and finance from the University of Plymouth, where he graduated with distinction.