Tech OnTap Articles

Flash Delivers Storage Performance for an Impatient World


February 2015


Lee Caswell
Vice President, Product and Solutions Marketing

In the modern world, patience is no longer a virtue. The net effect of pervasive mobile devices, social networks, and cloud computing is that all of us expect to be able to access information from any device, in any location, from any application—and our tolerance for delay is approaching zero. A few seconds wait in loading a webpage or returning application results is enough to cause us to click over to a different site or abandon a purchase.


At the same time—and perhaps as a consequence—business models are shifting to deliver actionable results more quickly to support data-driven decisions ranging from loan approval to design decisions to manufacturing choices. Businesses face new requirements to deliver a customized experience in every engagement.


For those of us in IT, our task is to create IT infrastructure that is flexible enough and fast enough to power next-generation applications that can meet the expectations of a data-driven world. Storage performance is on the critical path to this goal.


The Architectural Need for Flash


Traditional storage has become a bottleneck. Increasing the CPU power of servers no longer leads to better application performance. Many of us have probably experienced the tremendous speed-up that occurs when you upgrade a laptop with a flash SSD—the solution for the data center is almost as simple.


All-flash storage systems introduce a new architectural option for the data center that delivers much more performance at much less cost.




Figure 1) Flash cost and performance versus DRAM and disk.




Source: NetApp, 2015




Moving performance workloads to all-flash storage saves 100x over disk-based alternatives. Upgrading your IT infrastructure to include all-flash storage not only solves performance issues, it provides immediate return on investment (ROI). It's not uncommon to find Enterprise servers running at 20% CPU utilization, while cloud providers achieve utilization approaching 90%. There's plenty of room for improvement, and with databases and other applications moving to licensing on a per-core basis, increasing utilization is going to become a much bigger priority in coming months.


Pay for Your Flash Upgrades with Software Savings


If you aren't aware of it yet, there's a perfect storm coming to the data center in 2015 that all of us will need to address.


  • Windows Server 2003 EOS. Windows Server 2003 reaches end of support in July—driving new server sales to upgrade the 23.8M servers still running the operating system. New servers with the latest Intel Haswell processors feature more cores and more processing performance, putting data centers even further out of balance.
  • Per-core database licensing. Enterprise databases are now licensed by core on an annual basis—you could be looking at double the software costs. The licensing cost for SQL Server 2014 on a 16-core server is $104K per year, and Oracle licensing costs are 4x higher.
  • New versions of vSphere and Hyper-V. The latest hypervisors encourage more virtual machines per server, but VM counts are being limited by I/O performance. This limits server utilization and once again raises the cost to run a given set of VMs.
  • EOL of Windows XP. The end-of-life of Windows XP in 2014 is triggering a huge transition to virtual desktops. The largest inhibitor to VDI adoption is getting the cost per seat below that of a physical desktop.

The silver lining here is that the right flash storage can help address these issues, and it offers a huge return on investment in the form of increased server utilization and decreased licensing costs.


Simple math shows the magnitude of the opportunity: Doubling CPU utilization opens the door to cut servers by half and consolidate database software licenses for the same workload. Tripling utilization cuts your costs by two-thirds, and so on.


If your data center is facing these challenges, you can't afford not to upgrade to flash.


The Most Critical Workloads are Extremely Sensitive to Storage Performance


There are three critical workloads that are the biggest concerns for many people in IT. Not only are these workloads extremely sensitive to storage performance, but upgrading your storage can generate huge returns:


  • High-performance database. For popular high-performance databases such as Microsoft SQL Server 2014, Oracle 12, Oracle RAC, and MySQL, database administrators (DBAs) have had to plan storage very carefully to deliver the best performance from relatively slow disk drives. The result is often racks and racks of over-provisioned disks consuming space, power, and cooling.
  • Server virtualization. Hypervisors are great at virtualizing CPU and RAM resources, but terrible at virtualizing storage I/O. The result is an "I/O Blender Effect" in which the I/O stream received at the storage system is increasingly randomized—with significant negative effects on storage controller cache and read/write scheduling. Greater storage performance makes it possible to increase the number of virtual machines per server to consolidate physical servers and reduce hypervisor costs.
  • Virtual desktops. Virtual desktop users have an absolute performance standard by which they judge performance—a physical desktop. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) must deliver this level of performance while satisfying heavy read requirements during boot storms, login storms, and virus scans. VDI is also subject to heavy random writes; the Windows file system writes data at 1MB/sec—per desktop—even when idle.

Databases are obviously critical in most data centers, and with 70%-80% of all enterprise workloads now virtualized, the performance of virtualized infrastructure has a direct impact on almost everything. The only impediment to wider adoption of virtual desktops has been the cost per seat versus cost of a physical desktop. Higher storage performance is the solution in all three cases.


NetApp Flash Solutions Deliver Performance and ROI


NetApp offers a portfolio of all-flash solutions with significant advantages to address your high-performance database, virtual server, and virtual desktop needs.


Figure 2) Significant advantages and rapid ROI for your most performance-sensitive workloads.




Source: NetApp, 2015




No matter what your storage performance needs, we've got flash solutions to address your requirements and budget, and we can help you choose the best solution.


We will be bringing you more detailed information on each of these use cases in future issues of Tech OnTap. This month's issue includes an article on flash for database performance. Look for articles on VDI and virtual server environments in March and April.




Lee Caswell is vice president of Product and Solutions Marketing at NetApp, where he leads a team that speeds the customer adoption of new products, partnerships, and integrations. Lee joined NetApp in 2014 and has extensive experience in executive leadership within the storage, flash, and virtualization markets.


Prior to NetApp, Lee was vice president of Marketing at Fusion-IO (now SanDisk. He has held leadership positions with a number of companies, including VMware and Adaptec.


Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Carleton College and an MBA from Dartmouth College. 



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