Mike Styer, NetAppMike Styer, NetApp

Flash technology is a “game changer” in the storage industry, says Mike Styer, NetApp South Africa country manager, who adds that it is the most disruptive technological change to storage since fibre channel.

Drika Wilkins, product specialist at Drive Control Corporation (DCC), says “going forward, and as technology improves, flash storage is going to bring huge improvements for data centres. With cloud storage taking off, there will be an increase in demand for storage space”.

However, it’s not quite ready to replace traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), Styer says. “Until flash is more reliable or cheaper, HDDs will stay,” he says.

While HDDs still cost less, says Riaan de Leeuw, mid-tier business manager at EMC Southern Africa, CPU performance is scaling too quickly for HDDs to keep up. “Flash bridges that gap,” says De Leeuw, by offering improved performance.

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Craig Paul, HP" src="http://www.iweek.co.za/images/stories/2010/MARCH_2013/craig_paul.jpg" />Craig Paul, HP Storage BU and sales manager for the Enterprise Group in SA, says with flash technology, application response time is significantly decreased. “This allows business to provide data analytics within a significantly improved time frame,” he says.

Styer reiterates the speed benefits of flash. If used correctly, he says, flash technology is “lightning fast”. “The biggest single benefit is performance,” he says.

The other major benefit is the technology’s physical footprint. “Flash significantly reduces array power consumption, reduces the cooling requirements of the data centre, and allows the customer to reduce the footprint requirements within the data centre,” says Paul.

“Disks do take a lot of energy, and generate a lot of heat,” says Styer. “Over time, the floor space requirement will come down as flash gets more dense, offering higher terabytes per square inch. The small format will make a difference.”

Riaan de Leeuw, EMC Southern AfricaRiaan de Leeuw, EMC Southern Africa

Wilkins says: “As there are no moving parts with this storage technology, it is also robust and can weather knocks and bumps.” Another benefi t, says Wilkins, is that all operating systems are compatible with flash.

However, the biggest drawback to flash technology is still its inhibitive price. “It’s fairly expensive,” says De Leeuw, “it’s 30 times the cost of HDD.”

In the short term at least, hybrid storage systems are worth considering. De Leeuw says automated storage tiering is needed to optimise storage. “As the data gets colder, migrate it to different tiers in a hybrid array to reduce cost. You can have an increase in performance and decrease cost.”

But, looking at flash over the next year or so, the consensus seems to be that we can expect density to increase and cost to decrease.

Drika Wilkins, DCCDrika Wilkins, DCC

“The densities within flash will evolve faster than HDDs. It’ll be a difficult one to keep up with,” says Styer. “And greater market adoption will drive down cost.” However, according to Styer, what flash technology lacks is an industry body. “Vendors and small startups are driving it. There isn’t an international standard that governs this,” he says. The technology lacks a definitive set of best practices.

Styer says start-ups are taking advantage of the opportunities offered by flash – and are being disruptive – while bigger companies try to catch up.

De Leeuw reiterates: “More start-ups are coming to market with flash.” Styer predicts the proliferation of flash technology will see an emergence, not of specialised service companies, but of specialised services offered by existing vendors on how to optimise storage for flash.