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All-Flash Arrays – Overhyped & Impractical

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In what is traditionally a quiet time in high tech as the big boys finish up their Q4 bookings at the end of the year, there sure is some good scuttlebutt going on in the enterprise storage market regarding EMC’s XtremIO acquisition and how it is being integrated into EMC’s line card.  It appears to be a lot of “flash” about flash, but where is the practical scrutiny we have learned to apply in the storage business?  The age-old tension between performance and capacity optimization has been completely missed by EMC and the others. Chris Evans, in his blog, The Storage Architect, does a review of speculated design points and performance specifications that have been released into the market by StorageNewsletter.com.  The first point that really surprises me is that EMC seems to have simply pumped up the Clariion’s back-end DAE architecture with XtremIO technology.  Isn’t it time that we move away from the Data General architecture of years past?  Teaching an old dog a new trick certainly seems to be the challenge in Hopkinton here.  I was also amused to read Robin Harris, over at StorageMojo to call the EMC offering an “Xtreme embarrassment” Both server and desktop virtualization sent the storage players back to the drawing board.  There are many all-flash vendors scurrying around trying to vie for position as the end-all-be-all answer.  We at Tegile, are certainly participating in this vying for a spot in this market as well, but there are several questions we believe the all-flash vendors leave unanswered.  What is surprising is that these are not new questions.
  1. What about capacity?  Most all-flash systems, EMC included, are selling systems in the 1-8TB per node capacity range.  This is quite anemic in today’s market.  With all the talk about unstructured and “big” data, it is odd that the capacity issue remains unaddressed by most all-flash vendors. 
  2. What about $/desktop?  If you peel the VDI marketing hype away, an all-flash system will cost the typicalenterprise about $100/desktop.  Our friends at Pure Storage validated this today by releasing their reference architecture for VDI right at $100/desktop.  Gartner stated during their Data Center Conference last week that traditional storage consumes between 40-60% of a VDI project budget.  At $100/desktop, the all-flash vendors have not addressed this challenge.  We all love to look at Ferarris, but then how many of us actually own one . . .
There are several other fundamental flaws in EMC’s design that Tom Isakovich, over at Nimbus Data raises, so I won’t belabor those points, but we agree. I invite you to take a look at Tegile’s HA2800.  We like to call it an “all-flash array with a hybrid twist”.   We leverage our Metadata Accelerated Storage System (MASS) architecture to deliver up to 200,000 IOPS (right in the wheelhouse of the EMC-XtremIO solution), but we are able to scale to 500TB, about a half a petabyte, of usable capacity.  MASS allows us to do all the fancy things most all-flash systems do (de-duplication, compression, etc), but execute these functions on a system that leverages rotating disk as well.  It is a proven fact: rotating media will always be cheaper than solid state.  Knowing this, why not leverage both media types in an optimized design that addresses performance and capacity?  MASS with high performance SSD and low cost HDDs enables our customers to implement VDI at a rational $/desktop.  The typical Tegile customer using our systems for VDI is running at less than $30/desktop.  This has proven to be a true enabler for VDI projects to be deployed at scale. The virtual desktop market is heating up.  The use of flash in storage systems is heating up as well.  So much for the traditionally quiet times in the second half of Q4.  With the HA2800 being able to fit 200,000 IOPS and a half a petabyte of usable capacity in a 12U package, I’m glad it will fit under most CIO’s Christmas trees in a couple weeks.

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