Data Center Tech Blog

Shortly after coming to SanDisk® this fall, I started handing out my SanDisk business cards. Jean Bozman Business Card SanDiskWhether at a conference, or in a business meeting, I would generally get the card half-way to its destination – and the person would say: “Oh, I know SanDisk.” Indeed, SanDisk has widespread brand recognition. However, much of that comes from the company’s long-established consumer and retail products, such as memory cards, USB storage, or PC-related products, which are available at hundreds of thousands of retail stores– and used by hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide.

But SanDisk’s presence in the enterprise isn’t as widely known by the public. In fact, SanDisk already has a prominent role as a supplier of flash SSD (solid-state drive) products to server and storage vendors , as well as to large cloud providers that “self-build” their data center systems. Six of the top seven server and storage OEMs sell products leveraging SanDisk enterprise flash. Yet enterprise customer awareness is not as obvious as this widespread presence would indicate, partly because SanDisk supplies flash SSDs that are embedded in systems-level products.

Taking Flash To New Places In the Datacenter

In many ways, flash is going to many new places, and in new ways—in enterprise data centers and cloud provider data centers. These new places in the data center will likely multiply over time, as technology and infrastructure are updated to address Big Data, Analytics, Cloud Computing, Social Media and Mobility. Flash will also help those new workloads to run faster, and more efficiently.

Space

Photo courtesy of
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

But before we venture to places where flash has never gone before, I want to take a look at all the places, old and new, where flash is already being deployed today:

Standards-Based Server Chassis (OEM and ODM): SATA, SAS, PCI-e connected SSDs. This is perhaps the easiest, and most widely used, way to deploy flash SSDs. These drives are installed where industry-standard interfaces are in-place. The standards, including SAS, SATA and PCI-e, are universally supported for all disk enclosures. That means customers can decide, at any time, to replace HDDs with SSDs, or to deploy SSDs in a new system.

Inside Server Memory Slots: SanDisk’s DIMM-Slot enabled UltraDIMM flash SSD. This is a new option, pioneered by SanDisk, in cooperation with Diablo Technologies, to install flash directly into the DIMM slots of server system boards. Diablo has a technology that allows flash SSDs to access the DDR3 memory bus. The payoff for this flash deployment is great: Each ULLtraDIMM houses up to 400 GB of data – and the storage capacity scales up in a near-linear way, as more units are plugged into existing DIMM slots. For example, an 8-unit deployment would bring 3.2 TB of storage online – and the only limiting factor is the number of DIMM slots built into the server system. One design win had nearly 13 TB capacity.

Inside Blade Servers: Flash storage can be incorporated into blade servers, just as it can in rack-mounted servers. This often happens when companies want to consolidate workloads in a virtualized computing environment. By deploying blade servers, less data center space is required, which delivers significant savings on power and cooling. For example, blades can be used to consolidate Microsoft SQL Server database workloads, Microsoft Exchange and support for VDI (Virtual Data Infrastructure) end-user environments.

Microserver Enclosures: Microservers are a new form-factor, incorporating a “fabric” that ties together multiple CPU units, or cartridges. These systems support mixed-use scenarios by incorporating many low-power chip types (e.g. Intel Atom, ARM), and many software environments (e.g., Linux, Microsoft Windows, VMware). This offers customers a flexible deployment option, which can change as often as the application workload profile changes.

Open Compute’s Open Rack Designs: The Open Compute Project’s Open Rack specifications, announced in 2011, provides a blueprint for how to house all of the server and storage components within an open framework. This approach, which anticipates future changes in form factors, is quite hospitable for storage SSDs—and multiple configurations built on the Open Rack framework were shown at the recent OCP conference in San Jose, CA.

Integrated Systems (Converged Infrastructure Architecture): This form-factor builds on the converged architecture model of IT—combining servers, storage, software and services. Converged architecture is based on modular building blocks – and many of these systems have already been built with flash attached to facilitate high-speed data transfers. The advantage is that customers can take a holistic approach to deploying new workloads – with much of the building and measuring taken out of deploying new projects.

All-Flash Arrays: This kind of deployment is already well-established in data centers. It purely uses flash storage in arrays that might otherwise have used hard drives. These arrays address the I/O needs of latency-sensitive applications, which require high I/O rates (IOPS) to maintain service level agreements (SLAs) from business units running demanding workloads, including VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure), and transaction processing (OLTP).

What to Expect Next

Market research shows that flash SSDs are growing rapidly overall – and they expect that flash SSDs in the enterprise will grow at double-digit compound annual growth rates (CAGRs). For many customers, the future will bring several waves of technology refresh – each a new opportunity to evaluate flash storage to see how it can be applied to specific horizontal and vertical solutions.

To leverage flash SSDs in their enterprise, customers must take inventory of their storage needs, in light of the performance demands of Big Data, Analytics, Cloud, Social Media and Mobility. The form-factors they select for their data centers will be based on those needs. The types of flash storage that are deployed will depend on the workload mix within each data center – and the industry (vertical market) in which the business participates (e.g. financial services, retail, manufacturing, health care). That’s why a broad portfolio of products is needed to serve as building blocks for more complete, flash-enabled solutions.

Summary

Given the megatrends in the IT marketplace – Cloud, Big Data/Analytics, Social Media and Mobility – the need for rapid updates to enterprise applications and databases will only increase in coming years. Wave Data TsunamiFlash can be a big part of the answer as to how data centers will cope with the data tsunami that’s already flowing into data centers worldwide.

SanDisk is accelerating its go-to-market activities in the enterprise space, and helping enterprise and cloud data centers take advantage of the qualities of performance and capacity that flash storage has to offer. As we do so, SanDisk’s image is expanding – impacting that business-card ritual at conferences, as mentioned at the top of this post. As the flash storage industry boldly goes to places in data centers where flash has never gone before, I’ll be blogging here from its front lines.

Where do you think flash is heading? Join the conversation with Jean on Twitter at: @jbozman

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