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Hybrid flash storage for businesses: Is it time to switch?

by David Strom
Moving to SSDs has been out of the reach of most businesses due to cost concerns. Now that prices are dropping, is it time to reconsider?

The idea of replacing ordinary magnetic hard drives with solid state drive (SSD) electronics isn’t new: there have been desktop and laptop computers with SSDs for many years now. What makes them attractive — and increasingly popular lately — is how fast they can access data and speed up operations.

Speed is the name of the game in the new world of work. But is flash storage right for you?

How to use hybrid flash storage

With SSD prices dropping, there are many more potential uses for flash storage, such as in network-attached arrays. Rotating and SSD media can now be combined together in a hybrid format, and proprietary management software can quickly move data between the two types of storage.

These hybrid arrays have many different uses for enterprises:

  • Backup and recovery devices, which can shorten your backup or restore times to meet particular objectives such as finishing an overnight backup job
  • Virtual storage systems, both SANs and NAS, to better handle virtualization needs
  • Reduced application latencies with storage-intensive database apps
  • Storage for virtual desktop infrastructure deployments, which typically consume and stress existing storage needs. This is because lots of files are being accessed concurrently, and “boot storms” can occur when everyone tries to sign on to the network when they arrive at their desk.

How it looks in real life

Here are two examples where having a hybrid flash array can help. One company had an SQL database with which complex queries took six hours to execute. After installing a hybrid array with higher-performing flash drives, these queries now take a few minutes. The second example involves the gaming vendor Digital Chocolate, who was trying to deliver their games from the public cloud. They ended up going to a private cloud, where they could deploy hybrid arrays to boost their performance.

Is hybrid flash storage right for you?

If you’re interested in hybrid flash storage arrays, consider these four factors:

1. How often does your data change? Make sure whatever storage device you purchase can scale up quickly to meet your needs.


2. Can your storage management software automatically provision and work with your applications? You don’t want to do this manually.


3. How seasonal is your storage demand? Your storage solution should be able to handle the peaks and valleys equally well.


4. How does your storage solution handle empty space? It may seem like an odd question, but overprovisioning (the technical term for having lots of empty storage on your arrays) is very common and can be costly. This is because when you provision your storage arrays, you generally don’t know exactly how much storage you’ll first need, and so you tend to err on the high side, with volumes large enough to meet your needs for the life of the server. We don’t think about this when we buy desktop PCs, because their storage is under control of one user, and also because big drives are common these days. But when we have to share our storage among different virtual machines and applications, it can be an issue. Storage vendors use thin provisioning techniques to cut down on this wasted space, and also use the process of deduplication, so commonly used files are saved in only one place.

Is flash storage right for you?

The right partner can help determine your needs and find the best solution for your organization.

Hybrid flash storage may not be for every business. But the benefits can be large — especially when it comes to business productivity. Has your company transitioned yet, and if so, what results are you seeing?

David Strom
David Strom is one of the leading experts on network and Internet technologies and has written and spoken extensively on topics such as VOIP, convergence, email, cloud computing, network management, Internet applications, wireless and Web services for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in,,, Network World, Infoworld, PC Week, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, c|net and, eWeek, Baseline Magazine, PC World, and PC Magazine.