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Think Flash Storage is Too Expensive? Think Again

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Jason Coari, Global Director, Product and Solution Marketing at Quant

Everyone agrees that flash can deliver outstanding performance. And for some processes and workflows, that kind of performance is clearly indispensable. For example, when editors are working with numerous streams of uncompressed 4K (or increasingly often, 8K) video, flash can provide the kind of responsive experience needed to create the most compelling content.

However, there is a broad belief in the media and entertainment industry that flash technology is too expensive. When Quant surveyed video professionals – ranging from post-production houses, broadcast organizations, creative agencies, studios and content delivery firms across North America, Europe and Asia – more than half of the respondents cited cost as the primary drawback to deploying flash-based solutions.

This is only a partial truth, and one that only therefore tells half the story. The cost of an all-flash storage solution will appear more expensive when the analysis only considers the comparative price points by capacity ($/TB) for HDD-based vs. SSD-based solutions. However, when the total cost of ownership (TCO) is factored in, not to mention performance density, the economics of flash storage, and especially non-volatile memory express (NVMe) flash storage, are compelling.

First things first – What is NVMe?

Until the introduction of NVMe, most flash-based storage – such as solid-state drives (SSDs) – used SATA or SAS technologies to connect storage with the rest of the computer system. But SATA and SAS were initially designed to support hard disk drives (HDDs), and as manufacturers developed newer, faster flash-based drives, these older technologies limited the performance of the SSDs.

NVMe was designed specifically for flash-based storage. With NVMe, each CPU core communicates directly with storage using the high-speed PCIe bus instead of the slower SATA or SAS interface. Using PCIe, flash-based drives perform on par with memory instead of traditional HDDs. NVMe achieves the higher performance in part by supporting many more commands per queue, as well as communication lanes, than SATA or SAS protocols. SATA and SAS each have single command queues, which can handle up to 32 and 254 commands, respectively. By contrast, NVMe can support approximately 65,000 queues with 65,000 commands per queue.

Compared with SATA and SAS, NVMe enables significantly faster randomized read requests. NVMe can handle approximately 1 million random reads per second, compared with SATA at approximately 50,000 and SAS at approximately 200,000 random reads per second. And, even with all those reads, NVMe keeps latency under 20 microseconds, compared with under 500 microseconds for SATA and SAS. For those

using storage to support multiple clients requiring parallel streams of data, SSDs significantly outperform HDDs.

NVMe can also deliver exceptional throughput over a network. In internal testing by Quant, NVMe storage was found to deliver more than 10 times the read and write throughput performance with a single client compared with NFS and SMB attached clients.

Compelling TCO

NVMe is a flash technology that allows users to not only unlock the true potential of flash, but to do so while reducing TCO. The benefits of more commands per queue, faster reads, lower latency and exceptional throughput combine and enable NVMe to deliver a compelling cost and value advantage.

In the past, using flash for networked storage was partially cost prohibitive because organizations used high-performance Fibre Channel connectivity. Networking is typically the second largest expense after storage media, and Fibre Channel networking can be three to four times more expensive than Ethernet.

With NVMe, organizations can attain Fibre Channel-like performance using much more cost-effective Ethernet technology. Ethernet technology allows users to save money not only on equipment but also on management, since Ethernet management does not require the specialized skills of Fibre Channel management. Depending on the size of the organization, there is an opportunity to save tens of thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of dollars on networking by using Ethernet.

Those savings alone often offset the investment in NVMe storage.

When considering NVMe, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing

When people think of NVMe, they often tend to view it as black and white – all NVMe or nothing. But there’s a vast grey area to be explored. The engine that drives any advanced hardware platform to its fullest potential is software. Implementing NVMe storage with a modern file system and data management platform can deliver a multi-tier storage environment with a single, global namespace. Organizations can purchase only the amount of NVMe storage needed for particular tasks while taking advantage of other storage options as well – including disk-based arrays, tape libraries, and cloud storage – for functions that don’t require the same level of performance. This ability to create hybrid storage environments allows organizations to minimize their purchase of more expensive flash-based storage, while still enjoying all their benefits.

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With 4K now mainstream and 8K quickly becoming the new standard, a bit of vision and planning today will reap big savings in the future. Flash-based storage infrastructures provide the ability to support 4K formats today, as well as those of the future including

8K and beyond. Organizations that deploy flash-based technology to support their storage architecture will be well positioned to work with current and next-generation NVMe technologies. And as the service life of these systems is extended, depreciation costs will decrease – making the investment go that much further.

For organizations that have limited or restricted flash investment and deployment due to the perceived higher cost of flash-based storage, I would pose the following questions:

· Did the cost analysis consider data center costs, staffing costs, depreciation costs, and networking costs when compared with a HDD system?

· What is the price being paid for performance per client, not capacity?

Exploring these questions in more depth may lead you to find that deploying NVMe is the answer – not despite the cost, but because of it. Sometimes the truth really is in the details.

About Jason Coari

Jason Coari, Global Director, Product and Solution Marketing s at Quant, is a veteran in the technical computing industry, with more than 20 years of experience in senior sales and marketing positions at leading technology vendors. Jason leads the company’s product and commercial strategy for scale-out storage across all industries. Previously, he worked in a variety of global roles at SGI, most notably directing HPC product marketing strategy and leading the European and APAC marketing organizations.

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