Industry Outlook is a regular Data Center Journal Q&A series that presents expert views on market trends, technologies and other issues relevant to data centers and IT.
This week, Industry Outlook talks with Ty McConney about the applications, advantages and future of flash-memory technology. Ty is the vice president of flash products at NetApp. In this role, he is responsible for building the field-sales, support and product-management functions for NetApp’s all-flash product line. Before this position, Ty was vice president and general manager of NetApp Japan and has previously been responsible for leading all professional services, global support and systems engineering technical teams across Asia Pacific. Before NetApp, Ty held various senior-level positions at Compaq, Digital Equipment and IBM/Lotus Development.
Industry Outlook: Can you explain how and why flash memory is one of the most important trends in the technology industry?
Ty McConney: There’s no arguing that flash memory has redefined what’s possible in data storage and IT today. Already one of the biggest innovations in IT, flash has been gaining momentum in the broader IT market as much as in the data center because it can deliver the extreme performance, IT efficiency and proven reliability that organizations need today.
Flash technology is highly disruptive because it changes the way performance can be delivered to applications from storage systems. Mainly, it improves IT operations through the acceleration of business-critical application performance. This means 24/7 uptime and instant access to data, which allows customers to transform their businesses by making real-time IT an expectation rather than an aspiration.
In addition to increased performance, another massive advantage of flash is its ability to replace thousands of hard-disk drives while providing low latency and a much lower space and energy footprint. With flash, for example, transactional workloads such as databases, OLTP, web services and VDI can run 500 percent faster than in traditional storage environments.
IO: How does flash improve the customer experience and impact business needs?
TM: Flash is really all about improving performance and efficiency. It can improve every aspect of the customer experience by ultimately transforming the speed of business. And although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to flash, organizations today can use flash technology in various ways to help improve IT operations and accelerate business-critical application performance to reduce both opex and capex.
The top ways flash improves the customer experience are through the following:
- Faster application response times
- Reduced storage acquisition costs
- Improved capacity utilization
- Increased IT efficiencies
- Reduced data center real estate, power and cooling costs
Flash is not magic; every workload is different, and many organizations require different features such as performance, efficiency, reliability, flexibility and choice to maximize the value of flash. To realize the greatest benefits from flash, organizations should consider deploying a broad portfolio of hybrid and all-flash arrays that allow them to create the most optimal solution for their business.
IO: What are some flash deployment trends that you've seen with customers?
TM: Flash has been operating in the shadow of traditional hard-disk technology for a while, primarily owing to cost factors. Despite its performance capabilities, flash was previously expensive and hard to justify. In recent years, however, the price of flash has come down to a point at which its performance benefits outweigh its costs.
As a result, many companies today primarily use flash storage in the form of hybrid arrays, a practical best-of-both-worlds approach that uses a mix of flash and traditional hard-disk drives. Hybrid arrays provide the right level of performance at the right cost for the majority of business applications.
Gaining in popularity among a growing number of organizations today though are all-flash arrays, which deliver extreme responsiveness for performance-hungry applications. This technology is ideal for companies in which information or data-access delays or consumption can constrain business dramatically, affecting competitive advantage. More than ever, companies see the benefit of faster access to data and look to the storage industry to give it to them.
Essentially for customers, it is not about when they will deploy flash; it is about how, taking into account their specific business needs and own IT economics.
IO: What benefits do organizations gain from real-time IT today?
TM: For the most demanding enterprise applications, real-time IT responsiveness drives time to market, customer satisfaction, productivity, revenue generation, and other forms of competitive advantage that are crucial for businesses today.
An example is the increased I/O performance that flash enables in storage infrastructures, which can equate to real-time IT performance gains for a business, such as large financial institutions that make millions of transactions each day over their networks. High-performance storage I/O can allow these institutions to not only conduct high volumes of transactions in real time, but it can also enable more transactions per second while also providing faster access to information for more-informed business decision making—ultimately improving the company’s bottom line.
IO: What are the adoption rates for flash technology?
TM: The enterprise flash market is estimated to grow to $4.5 billion by 2015, and hybrid flash storage arrays remain the most widely implemented solution, with shipments growing at a 64.1% CAGR for 2012–2017. NetApp sees this situation as an opportunity for growth in the storage industry, especially as more vendors expand their portfolios to offer appealing hybrid flash offerings. Additionally, the increase of real-time business demands on IT spurs continued adoption of flash as the preferred IT solution.
IO: What factors are driving market growth for flash?
TM: The two main factors driving market growth for flash today are affordability and real-time business demands on IT. Flash technology is becoming more affordable and accessible for a broader set of organizations to deploy. As the needs of organizations today continue to change rapidly, flash can also deliver the responsiveness they need to meet the demands of high-performance applications and cloud-computing models, especially in industries such as retail and health care.
IO: Where do you see flash headed in 2014 and beyond?
TM: Looking ahead, we will see increased adoption rates of flash in the enterprise as more companies begin to deploy it at every layer in the stack to solve a wide variety of IT challenges. We will also see growth in international markets led by the mainstream legacy players who have the ability to deliver and support products globally. Additionally, the battle between mainstream players and startups with all-flash offerings will soon be won by those that enable customers to deploy the right level of performance, reliability and scalability for their specific needs and workloads.