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Living Like it's 1999 or 2016?

Welcome to Virtualization and Beyond

Living Like it's 1999 or 2016?

By James Honey, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, SolarWinds

Flash Storage!

Have I got your attention? Unless you've been living outside the solar system, you know flash storage has been a hot topic of conversation in the IT world for a while now. A couple of years ago when I was a product manager for enterprise solid state drives, I attended regular meetings with various flash vendors who would show great stuff on their roadmaps ranging from more capacity, better performance and, of course, lower costs. Today, we are seeing most of that coming to fruition with 15TB drives on the horizon, sub $1/GB costs and more options to use flash in the data center. Not only is this changing the face of storage in the data center, but it's also changing roles and business decisions. 

However, something is missing, and that something is more conversations around best practices when deploying flash devices. 

To lay the groundwork, let's take a quick walk down memory lane.

If you've been in IT for a while, you probably remember the processor speed wars of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Almost every day there was another processor with a higher clock speed-450 MHz, 500 MHz, 700 MHz and so on and so forth. Moore's law was in high gear and CPU cycles were available everywhere. This lead to server sprawl, wasted resources and poor best practices because there was plenty of processing power to go around. 

Then virtualization came onto the scene and consolidation of server resources started to happen. I remember some of the earliest virtualization solutions I was a part of and the stir it caused: "Wait, I can put, like, multiple applications on a single server and they run separate from each other? Isn't that, like, mainframe?" It was an exciting time to be sure, but organizations had to start adjusting how they planned, deployed and managed their servers and applications. Server resources (CPU and memory) were shared and best practices were needed to maintain the balance of having enough resources to cover everything and not have too much extra that was wasted.

Looking at the current flash landscape, I see this same cycle repeating. Right now, in most situations, just adding a flash device will generate an incredible jump in performance for most data centers. Even without adjusting settings, a flash device will usually deliver much better performance than a hard drive based solution. But what happens when you get questions like, "Adding the flash device has helped decrease the run time of that report from 12 hours to 4, but how can we get it down to 1?," or, "This application is running great on that flash device, we need the same kind of performance for this new application, so can we put it on there, too?"

Like the saying goes, "If you build it, they will come." Or in this case, "If you have available performance, they will use it." Management will want to make sure that any investment is maximized and optimized. 

With all that in mind, let's cover a few best practices that should always be a part of a flash device deployment:

  • Understand ALL the bottlenecks - Storage has always been the end of the line when it comes to blame for application performance problems, and most of the time, that is rightfully so. However, as we all know, there are different levels of "bottlenecks" in the data path. Having a clear, consistent picture of all the bottlenecks in your data path is needed to maximize any flash investment.
  • Understand the differences between "fresh out of the box" performance and "steady state" performance - As we all know, flash storage is fast, very fast. But how consistent is that speed? As flash fills up with data, there is a performance drop off due to various processes going on at the drive level. Knowing this and understanding where your array's thresholds are is key to long-term success.
  • Understand your application needs - This may seem obvious, but all too often people fall into the trap of simply answering "faster." Applications can have very different needs and clearly understanding those needs in your data center will help optimize how a flash device is used.

In summary, flash storage is a great technology that is changing how businesses run and grow.  However, just putting it into your data center without taking a disciplined approach to planning, deployment and flash storage management and monitoring will create problems down the road, or at least cause the problems you were trying to solve when you implemented it in the first place to reappear. You might not see them today because flash performance can mask poor planning, but believe me, eventually you will.  

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About the Author

James Honey is a sr. product marketing manager for hybrid IT performance management software provider SolarWinds. He has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry focused specifically on storage technologies and virtualization solutions for SMBs to enterprise environments. His current role includes responsibility for all storage monitoring and management-related product marketing initiatives, including SolarWinds Storage Resource Monitor.

Published Thursday, April 21, 2016 7:45 AM by David Marshall
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