When it comes to enterprise flash, hybrid storage arrays make the most sense

Flash technology for enterprise storage has been big news for the past 12-18 months. Helping address the ever-increasing needs of performance-hungry workloads like OLTP and databases, flash has also gone mainstream thanks to a dramatic decline in cost and to vendors’ value-added innovations around the technology.

With flash having attained “mainstream” storage status, an interesting and unassailable fact has emerged – customers are choosing to deploy hybrid storage arrays that combine flash with spinning media. IDC estimates the market for hybrid flash to be 10x that of all flash arrays. Here at Dell, we’re seeing a similar trend – in fact nearly 100% of our customers deploy flash with a hybrid approach that mixes flash with spinning disks with intelligent data placement for optimal cost for performance.  The reasons are intuitive. Our customers receive the best of both worlds: High performance flash for incoming data, and low cost bulk storage for aging data.  All data placement is managed automatically behind the scenes, optimizing cost and performance.  This approach continues to be well received by our customers. In fact, we’ve seen a 7x growth in Compellent flash shipments in our most recent Y/Y.

We like flash, and we like flash in the way our customers deploy it – in a hybrid configuration.  Leveraging our sophisticated Phone home tools, we know that 98% of Compellent customers deploy a hybrid system.  EqualLogic is virtually the same, with 97% deploying a hybrid approach.  For server based flash, our customers are implementing Fluid Cache for SAN to move storage closer to the application.

What we’re witnessing is not unique to Dell’s customers.  According to an IDC survey of companies with more than 1,000 employees released in April, 51.5 percent of respondents are currently 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.

Why? All-flash, all the time doesn’t make fiscal sense. Array users want the ability to leverage flash, but they also want an even more affordable low tier for storing cold data all in one array.  We’re also seeing a significant drop off in 15K HDDs, replaced by the combination of a flash tier and 7.2K HDDs.

According to an October 2013 ITIC/Storage Strategies NOW independent survey of more than 550 global IT leaders, Dell is the top choice as the leading vendor for the organizations deploying flash/SSDs. Dell bested EMC, HP, IBM, NetApp and others by six or more percentage points. Just this month (August), research firm IT Brand Pulse announced details of its 2014 SSD Brand Leaders customer survey. Dell was voted by storage users as the overall Price Leader for hybrid SSD/HDD arrays and for All-Flash Fibre Channel arrays, iSCSI arrays, and NAS as well as flash management software. Clearly our approach is resonating in the marketplace.

At Dell, we’re very proud of our market success with flash.  We do offer all-flash arrays, but it’s not what customers are saying they want. They are deploying hybrid flash in record numbers, based on the combination of performance and short and long-term economic value.  With our approach to using intelligent data placement, customers benefit from performance and capacity with a hybrid implementation.  So, while we like flash, we really like hybrid flash arrays.

About the Author: Alan Atkinson