How To Evaluate All-Flash Storage Array Vendors

In today’s business climate, most users expect data to be available instantly. Waiting for applications to open is not only an inconvenience—it can be a real drag on business performance. That’s one reason why all-flash arrays are becoming an increasingly popular enterprise storage solution. Flash memory offers faster data transfer and stronger performance than spinning hard disk drives.

Do you need an all-flash storage array upgrade?

Slow application performance can be a red flag indicating possible storage upgrade is needed. Watch out for departmental delay issues, or end user complaints. It all depends on the workload.

All-flash arrays can solve some problems in certain IT environments—but not necessarily all. Some points of caution:

  • All-flash storage arrays are generally too expensive to suit all needs. Hybrid arrays, combining flash memory and hard disk drives, are still viable for most environments.
  • You’ll derive the most value from an all-flash array that is purpose-built for a performance-intensive workload, like Oracle or SQL databases.
  • Your bottleneck may have less to do with storage than you think. In my experience, the storage system causes app-data gaps only about 40 percent of the time. Network issues and CPU exhaustion are also common culprits. There’s no point in investing in all-flash arrays if the bottleneck is being caused by something else.

Once you’ve identified the performance issues you want to solve, it’s time to dig deeper into the all-flash array features available.

5 considerations when evaluating all-flash array vendors

How do you choose an ultra-high-performance solution that’s right for your environment? Many worthy options are available, such as Nimble Storage, which offers great ease of use, and integrates well with hybrid arrays; PureStorage, a powerful, cost-effective product; and XtremeIO, with high performance and the cost to match.

Keep the following factors top of mind when choosing from today’s all-flash-array vendors:

  1. Throughput. Flash can handle countless input/output operations per second (IOPS)—but throughput is equally critical. Throughput is measured by the number of data bits read or written per second. So, you’ll need to understand how much throughput your workloads actually need to know whether and what kind of a flash drive is the best storage solution.
  2. Read-Write Ratio. How will write amplification (WA) affect performance when data changes? Since solid state storage cells must be erased before they can be written over, data and metadata are written multiple times—and a flash drive accepts only a finite number of write cycles before it fails. You’ll need the read-write ratio that best aligns with actual workload.
  3. Block Size. Can your all-flash array storage handle different block sizes without impacting performance? A vendor may claim a high IOPS rate—but the rate is based on a 4KB block size. Look at the actual block sizes required by your workloads to obtain a more realistic idea of an all-flash array’s performance.
  4. Feature Management. In some cases, certain features won’t always support best performance. For example, many all-flash array products have deduplication and data compression capabilities, but using these features will slow performance. And, not all applications or data types need deduplication or compression. Understanding how these features work will be critical to balancing write amplification and performance.
  5. Longevity. Performance will naturally change as an all-flash array drive fills up—it’s inevitable with any solid state drive. What is the vendor’s strategy to remediate inherent performance issues over time? Understand when you will need to consider upgrades, and also look for the product’s ability to scale.

Compare features, strategy, and trends before you make your decision

Many all-flash array vendors offer a feature checklist that will address these items. Make sure you look beyond their checklist to understand how the features will support your unique applications and workloads. Be sure to compare the best options, carefully considering read/write ratios, performance levels, and capacity—then document what you learn.

You’ll also want to consider your bigger picture backup and disaster recovery strategy. Do the all-flash array vendor capabilities meet the technology requirements in your business continuity plan.

And lastly: take into account industry trends and innovation. Your vendor should have an eye on industry trends for storage and data management and an answer for how they relate to their product road map.

For more about all-flash arrays, contact our team today.

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