This malaise of ‘boy cry wolf' would make flash storage a particularly hard sell. On a straight comparison to traditional spinning drives, it's more expensive. It's also accompanied by a chorus claiming how transformational the technology is. If taken at face value, flash storage is the culmination of all technology's self-important, over-priced hubris and far too good to be true.
But believe the hype, because flash storage passes the ultimate test. The proof is absolutely in the pudding, says Dean Irwin, Sales Manager at Edgetec Systems.
"Sometimes all it takes is to put a flash box in a company as a POC. Business immediately complains after the trial phase ends. This is a bad thing for any salesperson to admit, but once it does its thing, flash storage sells itself."
The experience is echoed by Adrian Futcher, Solutions Partner Representative at IBM: "One of our customers, a large local retailer, had a problem getting delivery trucks out on time in the early mornings. The system would take too long to process the relevant jobs and they'd get moving as late as 10 or 1 am. We ran a flash storage POC and suddenly things were flying. The trucks left on time. Then we removed the box and the business guys cried out. They demanded the flash box back!"
Flash storage, for all of its technical and infrastructure credentials, has paradoxically found a firm fan base among business people. The leaps in application performance, particularly ERPs, CRMs and database jobs (though practically for any workload you can muster), are so incredible they could be called nonsense. Ten, twenty, even forty-fold jumps have been documented – not in labs, but in working environments.
Any doubt around these claims quickly cede in the face of a practical demonstration. Yet the real market momentum is from users themselves, says Refiloe Oliphant, Solutions Partner Representative at IBM.
"The first major adopters were the banks and large retailers, then other peers and industries started catching on. All the major flash storage providers in the market are growing by double digits. That's because it works unbelievably well."
So what is going on here? Traditional storage, so-called spinning disk drives, are limited. Even though they work at very high speeds, there is a physical threshold to how quickly such a drive can access information. But nothing much could be done about this, so efforts to improve speed have gone toward upgrading processors and memory. Storage remained in a speed orbit that slipped further behind the rest of the infrastructure stack.
Flash does not rely on moving parts, but instead configuring electrons through the use of power currents. If you can recall your high school physics, that speaks of near speed-of-light performance. Engineer this technology with advanced controllers, intelligent management software and cutting edge compression – and you have a flash storage box, a persistent shot of adrenaline to the heart of your operation.
"It's lived up to everything. The market loves it. Flash storage works – it's a no-brainer. You put it in and you see the performance like that," says Futcher, snapping his fingers.
The habit is to segment flash storage as an enterprise technology, no doubt because this was its first major adopting market. But Oliphant notes the options have grown substantially and cater for every business:
"This is not solely an enterprise solution. There are SMEs and midmarket customers who require the same performance jumps. Because flash storage doesn't mean rip-and-replace, you can use it to enhance your existing stack, and you can buy as little capacity as 2 terabytes. It is very easy to scale your flash investment, so you are never trapped in your choice."
It may be worth reiterating that flash storage is a fanatical leap in performance. Even batch jobs, infamous for taking hours to days, have been reduced to minutes. The very notion of a real-time data corporation, a technology bedrock that responds to the business where and when it needs it, requires flash storage to come into being. This is the reason why Irwin recommends close consultation to find the right fit:
"Flash storage can do a lot for a company. To appreciate its true impact, as well as plan for the future, companies should have conversations with solution providers such as Edgetec. I don't have to do much to prove it works – the proof is in the POC. This technology is such a gear shift, the real question is how it will change the business."
Technologists love to sell a miracle. It just so happens they have one in a box, ready to turn your applications from hogs to hawks. In times of uncertainty, when purchases should be made prudently, the value of flash storage is undisputed. It won't take you a month to decide if you need it, but only a day to never want to live without it.