As the data center continues to evolve, the rapid adoption of enterprise flash storage today is helping organizations contend with business demands to store and access a growing amount of applications and digital data at rates faster than ever. Over the past year or two, enterprise flash storage has gained significant market traction, helping to address the ever-increasing needs of performance-hungry workloads like OLTP and business-critical databases. Flash’s popularity has grown quite rapidly due to dramatic declines in cost and vendors’ unique approaches to bring down overall storage costs.

Flash solid state drives (SSDs) improve the latency or speed of access to stored applications and data. The two key architectures in enterprise flash storage arrays are all-flash and hybrid arrays.

All-Flash Arrays

All-flash arrays contain no traditional, rotational spinning disk storage, and all data is stored on solid state drives (SSD). Since SSDs offer massive performance with relatively low capacity, all-flash arrays often use data reduction technologies such as compression and deduplication that lead to lower price per GB. This is attractive to customers looking for faster storage performance; however, despite recent cost dips, the all-flash storage price point often deters customers away from going this route. In the vast majority of use cases, IT leaders want the ability to leverage flash, but they also want an even more affordable lower tier for storing cold data.

Hybrid-Flash Arrays

Hybrid-flash storage offers the best of both worlds: High performance flash for fastest performance with the most frequently accessed and highest demanding applications, and low cost bulk storage for aging, or colder, data.  While some workloads call for race car speeds at all times, more often than not, an organization has needs for supporting both high performance applications and less accessed data, which doesn’t require expensive storage. This is why most organizations can benefit from a single SAN that handles both ends of the spectrum at the same time.

Hybrid arrays can support SSDs and hard disk drives (HDDs) to offer this combination of high performance and lower overall cost. Additionally, with intelligent data placement software, all data placement can be automatically managed and moved to different drive types and tiers, behind the scenes, thereby optimizing cost and performance.

With the hybrid array approach, the SSD layer provides the fast performance processing and the HDDs retain all the older, colder storage that organizations need or want to retain but don’t access as often.

In the end, organizations want the capacity and long-term storage retention of disk at lower costs with faster performance and lower latency at the flash layer. Hybrid flash offers this with a balance between cost per GB and cost per IOPS while satisfying organization’s business needs.

The best hybrid arrays optimize costs by offering customers the flexibility of supporting all-flash or a hybrid mix of drive types, managed autonomously, and providing optimal economics for customers’ varied workloads.

Companies Deploying Hybrid Storage Arrays

The estimated $8.3B worldwide hybrid-flash market is ten times the size of the all-flash market of $800M today, a gap that will remain in the future as more storage buyers are choosing hybrid flash storage arrays over all-flash arrays. According to an IDC survey of companies with more than 1,000 employees, released in April 2014, 51.5 percent of respondents currently are using flash in their external disk storage environment, but only 7 percent of this group -- around 3.5 percent of all surveyed -- are using an all-flash array deployment model. By 2016, all-flash arrays are expected to remain around only ten percent of the combined hybrid-flash and all-flash array market.* 

While HDDs might be slower, they serve an important purpose of reducing total storage costs through greater capacity and lower drive costs. The technology is not going anywhere. While the faster HDD drives are seeing a steep decline in sales, expect to see a continued increase in the most affordable 7.25K RPM drives, which are becoming solidified as the lowest data tier.

Storage arrays that have the ability to automatically tier across multiple SSD drive types offer numerous advantages. While many available flash arrays leverage write-intensive SSD drives, a balance of write-intensive and read-intensive SSD drives offers customers greater overall cost for performance. Overall flash reliability is increased when an array leverages the less expensive read-intensive flash tier mostly for reads. Capacity of the more expensive write-intensive tier can be kept to a minimum, just large enough to handle inbound write traffic. As a result, arrays that can leverage this model dramatically reduce the overall cost to implement flash to a price point equal to or even better than traditional spinning disk.

With the combination of SSD drive types and HDDs, customers are finding the best mix of price for performance. HDDs store aging data most cost effectively and SSDs gives organizations the speed and performance they need to keep up with the pace and breadth of new data managed on a daily basis. Through this combination of technologies, organizations have the best of both worlds with hybrid flash storage arrays.  To take advantage of flash performance and make the most out of an IT budget, the hybrid approach makes the most practical sense.

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