Hybrid Flash vs Flash Storage: Purchasing your new enterprise storage

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    The hybrid flash vs flash debate has historically come down to one thing: what do you value more — cost or performance? But many vendors were unsettled by the fact that one has to be a priority, and so hybrid was born as a happy medium between the performance of SSD (Solid State Drives) and the low set-up costs of HDD (Hard Disk Drives).

    Hybrid was created to increase Input/Output Operations per Second (IOPS) compared to HDD, and ease the transition from legacy components without the large up front cost of all-flash. That being said, the price of flash storage has reduced in recent years which has made the debate over the right storage solution more complex — so we’re here to break it down for you.

     

    Flash Storage

    All Flash arrays store data on Solid State Drives (SSDs) rather than on Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). They use compression and deduplication to reduce storage capacity, whilst limiting the amount of space they take up. Flash Storage has no moving parts, but are instead smaller, faster storage solutions. They are however more expensive than other options.

    Pros

    • Speed — The performance benefit of All-Flash storage cannot be overestimated. An All-flash array is faster than a Hybrid array, and can produce millions of IOPS.
    • Running costs — Running an All-Flash array is cheaper in terms of space cost and electricity cost. The power consumption of an all-flash array is notably cheaper per GB. For example, a petabyte of data in an 8U flash rack generates ~3-4kWh a month. Compared to a typical 100U hybrid rack which stores the same amount of data, you are looking at ~19-20kWh a month. The energy savings alone could make it worth it. This is all because there are no moving parts in an All-Flash array, meaning there is no need for a cooling system which allows for smaller, faster storage.

    Cons

    • Storage space — SSDs do not have the same storage capacity as HDDs. Whilst SSDs are faster, they trade speed for storage capacity, so to get the same amount of space with an All-Flash array as you would with a Hybrid or HDD array, you will need more SSDs.
    • Costs — Whilst they may be cheaper to run, they are certainly not cheaper to buy. This is because of its superior performance and while the prices have started to fall, they are still high enough to act as a barrier to some businesses.

    Use Cases

    For businesses where speed is important, an all-flash array is definitely the way you want to go. It is great for data analytics, transactional work and fast-paced, deadline-heavy work. However, the initial costs vs the storage capacity may make it unsuitable for smaller, more data-heavy businesses.

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    Hybrid Flash

    Hybrid Flash Arrays are exactly what they sound like. They are a hybrid solution to Flash’s price and storage limitations, while also providing the speed and maintenance savings that are not present in the spinning disks of the Hard Disk Drive. They are a networked mix of both SSDs and HDDs, theoretically giving the best of both worlds.

    Pros

    • Space and speed — While a Hybrid array will not have the raw space of a pure disk drive storage solution, they are a close second. The amount of data that can be stored on a Hybrid Drive exceeds that of a flash-array. However, they also use SSDs and flash software, meaning that taking data off the system is faster than HDDs.
    • Set-up costs — Hybrid arrays are cheaper than flash as they supplement a pure flash system with the cheaper HDDs. This means that the purchase costs of Hybrid are significantly lower than that of flash. What’s more, the £/GB ratio of Hybrid systems means you can get far more space for far less than flash. In the end, Hybrid systems have a far lower barrier to entry to set up.

    Cons

    • Performance — Hybrid solutions have a variable record when it comes to uses in business. Getting a single across-the-board estimate on both space and speed is hard when Hybrid systems are so variable throughout the industry. This can make it difficult to accurately gauge whether a specific hybrid solution is right for you.
    • Tiering — Hybrid systems are a complex combination of HDD and SSD and require a great deal of management in order to get the most efficiency out of them. Having a system correctly tiered is important to ensure smooth running. Automatic tiering is not always 100% effective, and this raises the maintenance costs of running a hybrid system. Incorrect tiering can lead to an overloaded flash, which then stalls the whole system meaning that the speed benefits you were once enjoying are reduced.

    Use Cases

    A hybrid flash array can give you the benefits of both Flash and Disk storage, meaning that businesses that rely on both speed and storage space can benefit from a hybrid solution. The customisable nature of this solution means that businesses whose storage needs often change are best suited for Hybrid solutions. They provide flexibility and the ability to prioritise workloads. Their lower cost to space ratio makes a hybrid system perfect for a smaller business with not much starting capital, as well as older businesses who want to transition from disk to flash without losing their data.

     

    Hybrid flash vs flash: How to choose the right storage solution for your business

    In the end, what storage solution you require really does depend on your storage needs. There may not even be a need for a flash solution at all, as Hard Disk Drives still have a place within smaller businesses.

    However, for a modern solution to your storage needs, you need to look at what your storage requirements are right now, and what they will be in the future. Then, you need to plan accordingly. There is no correct answer to the question of storage, but using this guide of pros and cons, as well as doing your own research can help you make that decision, especially if you consult specialists who can find the right tailored solution for your needs.

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    Troy Platts

    Troy has spent over 20 years helping organisations solve their data, storage and compute conundrums. He is a regular speaker at vendor events and spends any free time he has keeping abreast of advances in data platform technologies. He also makes a mean curry.

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