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Not just another flash in the SAN

A contributed article from Robbie Wright, SolarWinds, Geek Speak Blog

There's been lots of talk in the virtualization market about using flash-based storage or SSD to enhance performance. The major premise is that the bottleneck, in many environments is storage I/O instead of storage capacity. This isn't a new problem - storage administrators and DBAs have been dealing with this for years. I distinctly remember designing EMC CLARiiON storage arrays earlier in my career that were loaded with 36GB 15K RPM fibre channel disks simply to maximize IOPS. It's only been in the last few years that solid state storage has become a viable option. The big question is how to implement it.

Today at VMworld, I got to hear one point of view promoting the use of flash as a cache. The concept is to install flash storage at the server layer in order to avoid a lot of the storage network congestion. In this scenario, the flash storage would behave a lot like DRAM, with persistent storage across reboots and performance similar to that of memory, but at a fraction of the cost. Fusion-IO, the primary purveyor of this type of technology (through myriad OEMs), argues that deploying flash at the host level allows back buy storage for capacity rather than performance. I think this is probably over-simplifying as we know that there are economic advantages of tiered storage, and I don't believe for a minute that this technology will allow us to run everything on the cheapest tier of disk without a performance risk.

At the end of the day, I think that host-level flash storage should be viewed as another option in deploying tier 0 storage that might, in some cases, not exclude the deployment of SSDs within the same environment. So, what's the right technology for a specific environment? As usual, the answer is, "It depends." The most logical path is to assess your storage environment using a good storage monitoring tool to understand exactly where bottlenecks exist and treat the issue appropriately for each application. Rifles are more efficient in getting the job done than shotguns, in most cases. The problem in most virtual environments is that we don't know what we're shooting at! Performing a thorough analysis of the storage environment from the VM to the spindle to identify the problem sounds like a daunting task, but with the right storage performance management tool in place, it can be pretty simple. SolarWinds Storage Manager is a great, easy-to-deploy solution that you can download and deploy in less than an hour - a small time investment that could save you lots of time, effort, and money. Did I mention that Storage Manager has free 30-day trial?

Read and comment on the original Geek Speak article.

Published Wednesday, August 29, 2012 12:52 PM by David Marshall
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