The Role of Flash in the Journey to the Cloud

One thing that seems to be universally true is that enterprises no longer want to be in the business of running infrastructure. They have been embracing private cloud and “As-a-Service” offerings at a stunning pace. This adoption has posed a challenge for a lot of security and IT teams. They have struggled with using cloud storage as a place for business critical data. For as long as anyone can remember, data has been the lifeblood of an organization. Each year they spend billions of dollars building disaster recovery plans, designing backup solutions, and formulating data loss prevention strategies. Giving up that level of control is hard for many organizations. But, that same organization wants the benefits of data hosted in the cloud. They have been focusing on data reductions techniques, local data tiering, and other cost savings mechanisms. One of the biggest ways to archive data reduction is by using flash storage. The speed of flash makes it possible with no noticeable performance impact. Local flash storage is a step in the right direction, but flash storage can also help in the journey to the cloud.

The idea of flash as part of the journey to the cloud may seem a bit ridiculous at first. After all, flash and cloud have both proven to be disruptive technologies. Further, it would first appear that flash and cloud support very opposite needs. Enterprises use flash when they want to get the best performance in the least amount of physical space. Cloud is used when an organization doesn’t want to manage infrastructure. To understand how flash can help the journey to the cloud, you first must understand one simple problem many business have hosting applications externally: latency. The time it takes data to move from a user or application to a server in the cloud can be too much for many environments and many applications to tolerate. In this consumerization of IT world in which we live, users demand access to data at lightning speeds. It comes as no surprise when you look at the services we all consume while at home. We can stream movies with the push of a button or have video chats with far away loved ones with the tap on the trackpad. Moving data from the data center to the cloud adds latency. Data locality matters.

In nearly every modern enterprise-class storage device, we have a concept of data tiering. Data tiering allows data to move from one class of storage to a different type based on performance needs. The movement of data happens continually and, hopefully, automatically. Data moves at small chunks between several tiers of storage. One minute a blob of data becomes “hot” and it may move up to solid state drives. A little while later, the data moves to nearline SAS drives, where it sits idle. Tiering is nothing new, but the speed of flash allows us to be disruptive in innovative ways.

The best place for latency sensitive data is next to the application. The cheapest place for data to live is in the cloud. The price of many solid state drives is reaching the $1 per GB mark. Cloud storage is available for under $0.01 per Gb per month. If we figure the useful lifespan of a solid state drive as four years, we are left with a savings of $0.52 by moving data off premises. This savings comes at a cost, though, due to data locality. But what if it didn’t? To leverage the total cost of ownership benefits of cloud we need to find a way to remove latency and locality from the equation. The speed of flash storage allows us to do just that. To do this the speed of flash needs to be leveraged as a fast tier of data, just like in an enterprise storage solution. Except now instead of using nearline SAS drives as the lowest tier of data, another tier is introduced – the cloud tier. Data needs to be free of locality constraints. The ability to move hot data from a local tier and cold data to cheap and deep storage is going to be a requirement for enterprises. Enterprises no longer want to run infrastructure, but they do not want to give up the benefits of data locality. This type of storage tiering is one way for enterprises to have their cake and eat it too.