FMS 2015: Flash Hits the Storage Mainstream – Eric Slack

By , Tuesday, August 18th 2015

Categories: Analyst Blogs

Tags: 3D XPoint, Flash Memory Summit, FMS, Intel, Micron,

FlashEvaluator Group attended Flash Memory Summit 2015 in Santa Clara, this past week. Besides being markedly bigger and better attended than FMS events in the past, overall, the impression we got from this show is that there’s clearly an evolution underway in the storage industry. Flash, originally a high-performance accessory, has become a mainstream storage medium. Where the norm had been to use disk and buy flash if you could afford it, now it’s use flash and buy disk if you have to.

Also, with the exception of VMWorld, Flash Memory Summit has become perhaps the primary storage show. Flash was always one of the more ‘sexy’ topics in storage but now there’s enough participation and industry interest to make this show worth a special trip to Silicon Valley.

More than Tier 0

Flash discussions have always focused on performance, initially cost per GB and eventually, cost per IOPS. But many flash systems now include data reduction (dedupe, compression, thin provisioning) so that one really should be looking at “effective” capacities, further complicating any total cost of ownership calculation. But there’s another imperative at work here.

People want to use flash if they can – it’s really the ‘set and forget’ storage medium. It’s not just about performance, cost justification and price-per-whatever. Flash is the storage ‘easy button’ – to steal a tag line from office supplier Staples.

At FMS we talked with vendors about flash system customer wins that were clearly outside of the performance category. One was a private high school that bought an all-flash array because it went in easily, worked for everything and they didn’t have to mess with it.

Flash on Every Line Card

A few years ago designed-for-flash arrays were largely the purview of startups and smaller companies. In the past few years all the established storage vendors have introduced all-flash systems and most are having good success, a trend that’s accelerating. One told us their all-flash system is the fastest growing product on their line card and another is seeing significant growth, even in the mid-market.

The hybrid vs. all-flash debate seems to have cooled a bit as the market realizes it’s not an either-or proposition. There are strong applications for both. One long-time hybrid array manufacturer said that all-flash configurations have grown to 30% of their overall business. As an example, many of their customers choose all-flash for the data center and a hybrid array for their DR site.

Flash as Server Memory

At FMS two years ago we were introduced to Memory Channel Storage from Diablo Technology. That product was designed to provide a more cost-effective option than DRAM, but didn’t really operation like system memory. Now, the company has improved upon this with Memory1, which allows servers to access flash in DIMM slots at the byte level, like memory. They still require a BIOS modification and a driver but now essentially set flash DIMMs up as a second tier of system memory, moving data from a single (or pair of) DRAM device(s) to flash using a caching algorithm.

No New 3D XPoint Announcements

Micron and Intel were present at FMS but there was no official information made available about their new 3D XPoint technology. This was a little bit of a disappointment, given the buzz this new solid-state memory/storage technology has created in the industry. From our perspective 3D XPoint will eventually offer an alternative for system memory and non-volatile storage, given its endurance advantages over flash and its cost and density advantages over DRAM.

Evaluator Group is attending Intel’s Developers’ Forum this upcoming week where we do expect to get some additional information, which we’ll pass on in a future post.

Many products have long lists of features that sound the same but work very differently. It’s important to think outside of the checkbox of similar-sounding features and understand how technologies and products differ.

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