Has Flash Storage Reached Its Tipping Point?

By Lee Caswell, NetApp vice president of Product, Solutions and Services Marketing


In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell describes how hot trends are adopted more quickly than anyone would rationally expect. By mapping how viruses spread, he describes the rapid adoption of powerful new ideas, products, and norms when conditions are right-aka at the tipping point. With adoption rates over 100 percent, flash technology has reached this tipping point. Here’s a look at what makes it the latest hot trend in technology.


Flash Value Started With Performance


Flash was originally introduced as a premium storage performance media. By substituting solid-state performance for mechanical disk drives, flash users routinely realized 10-20 times performance improvements for high performance databases and virtual environments. But flash adoption was limited because flash solid-state drives (SSDs) were more expensive for capacity than hard disk drives (HDDs).


New Flash Prices Create the Opportunity


The price of flash media has dropped dramatically over the past two years. Semiconductor costs are largely driven by volume, and flash technology is used in the highest number of devices in the market, namely mobile phones, tablets, and notebooks. Enterprise storage customers are benefitting from the economic growth in flash while, in contrast, disk shipments are falling.


At the same time, technology improvements in flash cell design cram more information in each cell, and vendors are even stacking flash cells vertically to improve density. As a result, flash SSD capacities this year will surpass the largest hard disk drive for the first time ever. This helps costs since more flash capacity can be amortized across fewer controllers for more efficient use of power, cooling, and rack space.


New compression and deduplication technologies further reduce flash costs by cutting absolute capacity requirements. While disk drive technologies relied on “post-process” storage efficiencies, flash solutions perform compression and deduplication in real time. These real-time storage efficiencies reduce the amount of required flash, and therefore the cost, from 2-15 times depending on the application.


IT Management Scarcity Topples Mainstream IT


A tipping point requires an environment ready for change. The IT reality of 2016 is characterized by a scarcity of IT skills and an economic crunch on cost controls precisely when technology change is accelerating. The first flash solutions made the situation worse with niche applications that solved performance problems with even more complexity and flash data silos.


Now flash can be simply integrated into existing infrastructure to leverage scarce IT management skills and contain costs across flash, disk, and even cloud resources. Customers can easily consolidate management skills across SAN (storage area networks) and NAS (network attached storage) resources now that flash offers both the performance of blocks and the management simplicity of files.   


Even better, flash floods infrastructure with storage performance to slash debugging, tuning, and configuration times in half. Performance problems are the most difficult IT problems to resolve since they are generally urgent and require a deep understanding of the complex interactions of storage, compute, network, hypervisors, and applications. Flash gives this time back and frees up the most senior personnel to work on higher value-added projects.


New Business Incentives Further Tip The Scales


A series of new business incentives has been introduced for the award-winning All-Flash FAS (AFF) offering that is helping tip the scales of adoption. Here are some examples of new business practices available for AFF:


    • 3X Performance Guarantee – backed by professional services
    • Single SKU Simplicity – with 15-minute NAS and SAN installation
    • New FlashAdvantage – includes free controller upgrades after three years
    • New FlexPodAdvantage™ – integrating all-flash for converged infrastructure
    • Extended System Warranties – extending SSD life to nine years


Tools that Streamline Flash Adoption


NetApp’s FlashAdvantage program is designed to make it easy for companies to experience the benefits of NetApp all-flash systems without risk. Here are some added benefits that make it easier than ever to deploy and proactively manage your flash system:


  1. SAN and NASoptimized set up reduces set up time to less than 15 minutes.
  2. Our AutoSupport (ASUP) system helps you get the most from your investment:
    • Reduce support costs with 24/7 monitoring: instantly receive an alert and open a case when a problem is detected.
    • Predictive healthcare for your system: AutoSupport provides actionable risk mitigation plans based on our ecosystem of more than 200 billion diagnostic records in multi-petabyte data lakes.
    • Smoothly add flash to your network whenever you want and get the same visibility from AutoSupport with integrated monitoring on each device.


Customers Share Their All Flash Stories


To further validate what we are seeing, and what analysts are saying, I’d like to provide a few customer examples.


McNeese State University

“Some people might say that moving everything to flash storage is overkill, but we don’t see it that way,” says Chad Thibodeaux, CIO at McNeese State University. “We view NetApp All-Flash FAS as service delivery insurance. We know the reliability and performance are going to be there for anything we want to deploy.”


Goodstart Early Learning

Goodstart Early Learning’s contract database administrators (DBAs) no longer need to be actively involved in managing performance on a day-to-day basis, so their time can be spent more strategically. “We’re increasing the value of our managed services contract by making better use of our allotted DBA time,” says Chris Williams, team leader, ICT Infrastructure and Applications, at Goodstart Early Learning.


UZ Leuven

IT management efficiency is also improving. “Moving our clinical database to NetApp All Flash FAS will reduce the time spent by one DBA to manage database performance by approximately 50 percent, reclaiming that time for other activities,” says Reinoud Reynders, IT Manager, Infrastructure & Operations, University Hospitals Leuven. “It has also reduced power and cooling costs, helping us to become better stewards of hospital resources.”


NetApp Leads with Industry’s Broadest Portfolio


The flash market doubled in 2015, and NetApp enjoyed a banner year with a growth rate far above the market even before acquiring SolidFire in 2016. With SolidFire, NetApp now offers the industry’s broadest all-flash portfolio that can be used to solve business challenges of any type:


    • NetApp EF-Series offers dedicated application deployment for the performance application owner who values lowest-latency response times.
    • NetApp AFF delivers complete data services for mixed enterprise workloads covering both NAS and SAN workloads across flash, disk, and cloud media.
    • NetApp SolidFire product delivers simple scale-out flexibility valued by cloud architects wanting flexible, composable infrastructure.


This unprecedented level of choice puts tremendous flexibility in customers’ hands, and is something I recently spoke about with IDC Analyst Eric Burgener.



What’s Next?


Flash was first deployed for performance applications at a price premium. With the broadest all-flash portfolio in the industry, NetApp is helping customers over the tipping point with new pricing that brings the management benefits of flash to scarce IT resources at a time of economic compression.


The tipping point is now. Let NetApp show you how flash can work for you.


With flash-optimized storage and cloud-based workloads growing at a rapid rate, storage requirements are undergoing significant change. Read this IDC white paper to learn how to prepare for the future of storage.


NetApp Flash Solutions