Flash, has been replacing application media since it was invented back in the 1980s. Photography, music, and professional media were all dramatically disrupted because it became possible to leverage the speed, performance and rapidly declining costs of flash storage in a somewhat seamless way. This in turn opened up new possibilities for both flash technology suppliers and customers.
Many factors have come together to create the ‘flash transformed’ datacenter of today that is invariably based on utilizing flash technology at several different layers of the data center. To achieve the vision painted by analysts and industry thought leaders—i.e. delivering immediate access to complex data through mobile networks, fluid video streaming services, petabyte-scale analytics—we need to create new data center and storage system infrastructures capable of extreme speed, scalability and capacity, while keeping costs within reach.
Why Flash at Scale in the Datacenter
While the need for speed and access to data brought Flash memory into the datacenter, there are other flash characteristics that are also driving its permeation of today’s data center landscape. These include:
- Energy Efficiency: According to the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), SSDs demand 92 percent less power, and operate at 38 percent lower temperatures creating huge cost savings and a more environmentally friendly datacenter.
- Footprint: The same compactness of flash that let to it being the media of choice for small devices, mobile phones and ultra-thin laptops also saves valuable space in a datacenter. Both the density of Flash and the reduced need for over-provisioning reduces footprint.
- Reliability: Recent Lenovo SSD studies show a failure rate of 35 for SSDs vs 0.584 for HDDs, over 150 percent improved rate. Flash controllers and firmware have also become smarter thereby improving endurance.
- Breakthrough Economics: Thanks to Moore’s law, the price of flash has come down over 50,000 times since invention! The use of TLC or triple cell flash has also created compelling acquisition costs without sacrificing performance. Additionally, when you look at total cost of ownership over 5 years flash at scale is the right technology to bet on. These cost curves are only going to go down further with 3D Flash promising further cost reductions and improved density.
The Open Source Datacenter
Over the same period, the use of open source software has crept in through the data center backdoor, and has grown in maturity and acceptance. Proprietary applications will continue for traditional workloads, but many of today’s new data center workloads will be open source based. Three major factors have made this transition possible:
- Open Source Stacks: Both cloud providers and hyperscale companies have driven the use of open source in the datacenter. They have made it ready for production environments at scale. This creates an abundance of available open source projects for use in the modern datacenter with reference models to emulate. When you see AWS and Microsoft sponsoring, attending and speaking at the Linux Foundation events, you know that open source technology is important to their success and growth. Open Source cloud APIs like Open Stack have become a must support technology for anyone who wants to be a vendor and user of clouds. The open source based stack in the datacenter is very complete from open hardware all the way to applications.
- No vendor lock-in: The second reason CIOs are choosing open source based solutions is that they are not locked into one vendor. There are multiple vendor implementations of the same open source code in their products or distributions and CIOs are backing open standards through their use. Open Source support from vendors has also matured over the years and the CIO’s need for 7×24 SLA based support for open source based solutions is available. Enterprises that make changes to the code can upstream these changes through the vendor or directly themselves which puts controls back in the hands of the CIO.
- Disaggregation: Storage has been monolithic. You bought the software and hardware together as a unit. That’s archaic. We are moving to a world where you can buy them separately. The growth of open source based software defined storage and software defined datacenters creates the separation of intelligence and services from the hardware allowing more agile management of the datacenter which is needed when you manage at scale.
5 Key Takeaways for the CIO
While it is hard to change existing infrastructures, here are five key takeaways for CIOs on how the use of flash and open source in your datacenter can help propel your business to the next level:
- Attend events like Open Stack Summit, Linux Conference (hosted by the Linux Foundation) to learn more about how users are deploying flash, open source and other new technologies.
- Try them on new workloads where there is less disruption and more flexibility to experiment.
- Buy from a trusted vendor who is forward looking and have open source thought leadership and presence in the community.
- Build a small open source savvy team for areas on which you are dependent and use them to engage with the project on changes and developments you want drive.
- Ask for open source based products if you believe in vendor neutrality and control.
There has never been a more exciting time than now for the datacenter and the possibilities that open source and flash create—putting control back in the hands of the CIO. It creates a whole new world of possibilities.
Join Me for a Webinar!
Join me on November 17th, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. PT, as I will discuss How to Leverage Open Source and Flash to Meet New Demands. I will be outlining the use-cases for Open Source, and how to leverage the powerful combination of Open Source and flash technology to enable easy scaling, fast deployment of new services and improved user experiences and QoS. Register here.
A version of this article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of CIOreview.
Nithya has been in the open source business since 1999 and brings best in class open source ideas.