December, 2014: One year ago, I came to SanDisk® as an industry analyst who had focused on the worldwide server marketplace, on a systems level. My new job took me on a journey through the flash universe, with major stopovers at conferences in North America and Europe. Take a moment to see the places I visited on my 2014 journey. Throughout the year, speaking with many customers at conferences about the way they leverage flash in the data center, I learned a number of essential truths about flash. Among these key learnings are that flash is:
- Gaining in server shipments. Much of the flash used in the data center is, in fact, shipped in servers. Its presence in servers may not be appreciated unless buyers are opening up the server chassis – or asking OEMs about storage specifications. Locating storage inside the server is an important factor accelerating workload performance. Of course, flash is also shipped in all-flash arrays, hybrid arrays (combining hard-disk-drives and solid-state drives) and storage appliances.
- Gaining in affordability. The old way of looking at flash was to strictly examine the metric of $/GB when comparing flash solid-state drives (SSDs) with hard-disk-drives (HDDs). Today, this is being re-examined by IT managers, who now see that the total cost of deployment, including data center space, power and cooling cost, is far more important in evaluating the cost of SSDs. And in many cases, several dozen flash-enabled servers can do the job of hundreds of HDD-based servers, reducing acquisition costs because fewer servers are required to support the workloads – and the SSD-enabled servers can do the job faster, as well.
- Gaining in density. Flash drive capacity is faster than the growth in HDD capacity. Some SSDs are already passing the top capacities of the fastest mechanically-driven, spinning drives. Today, SanDisk delivers the 4 TB Optimus MAX drive, which was announced as the industry’s first 4 TB SAS SSD. And, PCIe-connected flash, such as SanDisk Fusion-io PCIe, with 6 TB of capacity, already rivals the largest capacities of SATA-connected HDDs.
- Gaining footprints in hyperscale data centers. Many social media and cloud computing companies with massive data centers have already begun to switch to flash. They often install flash in “sleds” that slide into open racks based on industry-standard specifications. That’s due to several factors: increasing performance, increasing drive density, and significantly lower operating costs (for power, cooling and maintenance) – all of which are attractive to cloud providers and hyperscale data centers that require large volumes of servers.
Woven Into End-to-End Workloads
Watching the World Cup and US baseball’s World Series were the moments when I found out the extent to which flash is woven into our everyday life. This is where I saw end-to-end workloads starting with smartphones and video cameras – and tapping into the servers and storage systems in the enterprise and cloud provider data centers. It was truly amazing to see the way that flash melts into consumer products – to the point where the end-user doesn’t even think about how those handheld devices can be so thin, and hold so much data.
But it’s the data center where flash is transforming infrastructure, with faster servers, denser storage arrays and scalable storage appliances—a point brought home by the conferences I attended. Winter brought the Open Compute Summit, with its open hardware specifications for next-gen datacenters – both for enterprises and cloud providers, along with the Gartner and IDC conferences highlighting the megatrends in the data center. The spring brought the Red Hat Summit in San Francisco and the Gigaom conference in New York, where cloud computing workloads were featured, along with Big Data Analytics.
The summer brought Hadoop Summit, IBM Edge and HP Discover – all of which showed flash for Big Data Analytics and Cloud Computing. And August brought VMworld and the Flash Memory Summit – both showing the importance of flash in making wide use of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and virtual servers possible.
These conferences brought home the impact flash is having on business. And there were more enterprise events—too numerous to mention all of them here, but read through the full list of blogs here.
An Agent of Change in Data Center Transformation
Flash is an agent of change in the transformation of the data center. It allows customers to do things that couldn’t have been done before: It makes business analytics run faster, bringing better time-to-results; it scales virtual machine (VM) densities to more quickly meet growing application needs; and it produces rapid response times for enhanced ecommerce and social media experiences. All of this gives IT the ability to address performance levels, regarding time-to-results, that could not be reached using hard drives alone. Importantly, flash gives business the ability to move faster to respond to changing conditions. That’s a powerful lesson I’ve learned from my journey through the flash universe.
I look forward to 2015, as another year when I’ll see many more examples of the way flash is changing the enterprise computing world.