The evolution of flash drives is inevitable. Like other disruptive technologies, it offers substantial advantages over legacy solutions—in this case, spinning disks—but its initial costs limited its adoption to such enterprise applications as high-speed transactional processing. Over time, factors like economies of scale kicked in and the cost of flash decreased. Who still uses a laptop with a mechanical drive? As a result, the market share for flash drives increased considerably last year as major storage vendors reportedly sold more all-flash arrays than hybrid or spinning-disk solutions.
Flash technology is also improving. NAND flash began with single-level cells that store one bit of information. Vendors then developed multi-level cells in which each cell can store two bits of information. Now, we’re seeing new NAND technology that stores three bits of information per cell. Providers will be offering this next generation of flash known as 3D NAND flash, which will further improve density and thus capacity.
The market has already seen the introduction of 2.5-inch SAS flash drives with 15TB of capacity and Seagate is rolling out 3.5-inch SAS drives with a capacity of 60TB. We can expect further advances going forward. What this all means is the economics of flash storage are becoming practical for tier 1 workloads and it’s only a matter of time before they make sense for tier 2 storage, obviating hybrid arrays. In fact, would anyone bet against flash drives someday supporting even archival storage?
Make no mistake. Most data still reside on spinning disks, but the trends are clear and inexorable. Flash storage is becoming denser, higher capacity, and more cost-effective. Over the foreseeable future, solid-state drives will become less expensive than their spinning disk counterparts. It’s inevitable that spinning disks will go the way of VCRs and cathode ray tubes.
We’re not going to see all-flash data centers immediately, but that day may be closer than many pundits think. In terms of I/O performance and energy consumption, everyone will be a winner when that day does arrive. Meanwhile, all-flash arrays are increasingly within the reach of small and mid-size organizations. It’s only a matter of time before you migrate your primary storage to all-flash platforms. Your organization will be more effective and cost-efficient when you do.
What are you waiting for?