Flash storage defined

Flash storage is a solid-state technology that uses flash memory chips for writing and storing data. Solutions range from USB drives to enterprise-level arrays. Flash storage can achieve very fast response times (microsecond latency), compared to hard drives with moving components. It uses non-volatile memory, which means that data is not lost when the power is turned off. It is highly available and uses less energy and physical space than mechanical disk storage.

Types of flash storage

Storage array

A storage array combines multiple disk drives to enable block-based data storage. It separates storage from network communication and connection functions to provide more capacity than a group of file servers. With a storage array, multiple servers across the organization can efficiently access the same stored data. Also known as a disk array or disk storage array.

SSD flash drive

A solid-state disk (SSD) flash drive stores data using flash memory. An SSD has advantages over a hard disk drive (HDD). Hard disks have an inherent latency, caused by mechanical components. A solid-state system has no moving parts and therefore less latency, so fewer SSDs are needed. Since most modern SSDs are flash-based, flash storage is synonymous with a solid-state system.

All-flash array

All-flash arrays use only flash memory for storage. These modern architectures are designed to maximize performance, without the constraints of SSD storage area network (SAN) legacy functions. They have ultra-low latency and are highly available. Ideally suited for multicloud environments and storage protocols such as NVMe.

NVMe storage

Non-volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is an interface used to access flash storage over a peripheral component interconnect express (PCIe) bus. NVMe enables thousands of parallel requests on a single connection. It eliminates overhead between applications and storage and significantly improves performance.

Hybrid flash storage

Hybrid flash storage uses a mix of SSDs and HDDs, providing a balanced infrastructure for a range of workloads. Hard drives are an inexpensive technology, well suited for large files and data backups. Where high throughput and low latency are needed, data can be moved to SSDs and flash arrays.

Hard drive storage

Hard drives use electro-mechanical hardware to store digital information. They are cost-effective and ideal for long-term storage and large files. Hard drives are vulnerable to physical damage over time and have latency issues due to moving components. Flash media can be used to augment this type of storage, enabling applications to work faster and scale further.


Flash storage use cases

Flash storage plays a significant role in infrastructure modernization, and it has helped transform the economics of storing data. When applied to new or existing storage, it increases usable capacity while significantly improving application performance. The following are examples of how flash systems can meet a range of requirements.

All-flash solutions

To support high-performance applications, enterprises need to deliver data quickly and efficiently. All-flash storage systems provide secure, ultra-low latency and mission-critical reliability to meet modern business demands.

 

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Hybrid flash solutions

Organizations are looking for storage solutions to get more from their data assets, while also managing costs. Highly available hybrid systems can revitalize data centers and make the best use of both legacy and modern technology.

 

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Flash storage past and future

History of flash storage

Flash is a type of floating-gate memory, which was invented in 1984 by Fujio Masuoka at Toshiba. In 1986, Toshiba introduced the first NAND-type flash chip, and Intel released the NOR chip. Flash memory offered breakthrough performance and quickly disrupted the data storage world. As data usage grew and devices became lighter and smaller, flash systems proved the fastest way to store, write, reprogram and transfer digital information.

Current trends

In 2000, the USB flash drive was developed to store and transfer files. The portable device was compact, with far more capacity than earlier systems. In 2005, Apple released its first flash-based iPods. Today, flash memory is in everything from mobile devices and digital cameras to vehicles. For large enterprises, the speed and density of flash has made it the storage technology of choice, and it has largely displaced hard disks in data centers.

Future of flash storage

Trends and advancements are occurring in these areas:

HDD vs SSD

SSDs and flash offer higher throughput than HDDs, but they can be more expensive. Many organizations are adopting a hybrid approach, mixing the speed of flash with the capacity of hard drives. A balanced infrastructure enables companies to apply the right technology for different storage needs, and it offers an economical way to transition from legacy HDDs without going entirely to flash.

SAS/SATA

Serial attached SCSI (SAS) and serial advanced technology attachment (SATA) are flash storage interfaces used for data transfer to and from HDDs. They can extend the lifespan of legacy systems and are also used in SSDs to support applications requiring fast input/output (I/O). SAS and SATA are designed around the mechanics of HDD, and have some legacy constraints. Many organizations have transitioned from these interfaces to NVME.

NVME and multicloud

NVME is an extremely fast protocol that is well suited for artificial intelligence (AI) and real-time applications. It reduces I/O overhead between CPUs and storage, resulting in significant throughput improvements. With the move toward cloud, NVME is also well placed to support hybrid multicloud and mainframe storage environments with its built-in performance, data protection, resiliency and high availability features.

NVME over fabric

NVME over fabric enables data transfer between a host computer and an SSD over a network such as Ethernet, Fibre Channel or the internet. The benefits of fabric connectivity include shared access, greater capacity and enhanced data protection. Using a fabric also eliminates single points of failure and simplifies management.

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