Flash Storage Offers Fast Path to VDI, Better App Performance

As traditional storage environments hinder application performance and increase latency, enterprises are turning to flash storage to improve performance and implement virtual desktop infrastructure. More widespread use of flash storage, though, may require vendors to be flexible with their pricing.

By John Moore
Tue, February 19, 2013

CIO — TripPak Services hit the storage wall about a year ago.

TripPak, a Xerox company serving the trucking industry, began experiencing daily performance issues with its NetApp and EMC arrays. The company's databases, virtual servers and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) taxed storage to its limits. TripPak experienced 200 to 2,000 ms latency for several hours a day across every system in its environment, says David Abbott, the company's IT manager. Outside those hours, latency averaged 4-15 ms.

The company's workload "generated massive I/O…that was destroying the NetApp each night," Abbott recalls.

TripPak decided to move beyond its conventional storage systems. It found the answer it was looking for in flash technology. Last spring, the company brought on a flash-based storage array from Pure Storage to assume the organization's storage-area network chores.

A beta deployment went into full production in late summer and now runs the company's SQL Server and Oracle databases, which had previously resided on the NetApp and EMC arrays. The Pure Storage array also handles TripPak's virtual servers and virtual desktops. "There were no more latency issues," Abbott reports, noting a 10x to 15x performance boost.

The impact was impressive enough that TripPak decided to tap flash for network attached storage as well. The company acquired a hybrid array from Starboard Storage Systems, which uses a combination of traditional hard drives and flash storage. That array went into production in January.

Flash Storage Has Specific Roles—For Now

Flash's performance edge over hard drives has begun to win over some enterprise IT managers. The numbers tell the story. Kevin Brown, CEO at Coraid, an Ethernet storage vendor that uses both flash and hard drives, says flash drives provide more than 10,000 I/O operations per second (IOPS), while a SATA drive offers 100 IOPS.

While Brown adds that speed comes at a price—a SATA array comes in at $0.40 per gigabyte, while a full-flash array costs something less than $4 per gigabyte—flash vendors use software techniques such as deduplication to make their arrays cost effective.

Analysis: Flash Storage Can Help Some IT Operations, Despite Cost

Organizations opting for flash storage may acquire the technology in several forms: Cards for servers, specialized storage appliances, hybrid storage arrays housing both flash and traditional disk drives, and storage arrays strictly built on flash. Some buyers get assistance from resellers and integrators as they evaluate the choices—but other enterprises question whether the channel has much to offer yet in an emerging market.

Brown says flash storage has specific roles to play in the data center and therefore won't absorb all storage requirements in the near term. "It's a great tool and a fantastic technology that complements different workloads," Brown says. "People want to use flash as an enhancement, either from a caching perspective to turbo charge things or for specific applications."

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