Are All-Flash Vendors Afraid of Tiering?

Moving less active data to a lower-cost storage tier is the best way to reduce the total cost of storage, but for some reason, all-flash vendors are afraid of tiering. Their fear of the technology is evident by their stance that all-flash is superior to Hybrid Storage, no matter the storage problem. All-Flash Array (AFA) vendors claim, again and again, that tiering, the technology behind hybrid storage, is risky and unpredictable. One vendor even goes so far as to call tiering evil! Why are all-flash vendors afraid of tiering?

All-Flash Vendors are Hiding Behind the Deduplication Curtain

All-Flash vendors are hiding behind the deduplication curtain because they are afraid of tiering
All-Flash Vendors Are Hiding Behind Deduplication

All-Flash vendors claim that a flash array, armed with deduplication, is a superior choice. Thanks to deduplication, the theory is that tiering from flash to less expensive media is no longer a requirement. They also claim there are risks associated with tiering. They never explain the hidden expenses related to deduplication or the dangers of deduplicating data.

The primary reason all-flash vendors fear tiering has nothing to do with the tiering. It is because their software isn’t intelligent enough to tier. All-flash vendors are afraid of tiering because their software is already inefficient. Adding another process is too much for them to handle, especially if that process isn’t integrated into the core code. Instead of doing right by their customers, all-flash vendors find it easier to declare something good as evil.

Should You Be Afraid of Deduplication?

Instead of being afraid of tiering, maybe IT should be afraid of deduplication or at least question its value. The problem is deduplication; the feature all-flash vendors build their companies around, loses value every time flash comes down in price. Remember, when all-flash systems first came to market, flash media was $14+ per GB, but now it is $0.30 per GB. Deduplication is also a very inefficient process and comes at a high cost, risking data, and dramatically impacting performance more than a tier miss ever will. To get a deep dive on understanding the high cost of deduplication, check out our white paper “The High Cost of Deduplication.

Should You be Afraid of Tiering?

There are two primary concerns with tiering data from one form of media to another. The first primary concern is the impact on performance. In theory, the second tier’s performance will not be as good as the performance of the first tier.

Don’t Be Afraid of a Tiering Performance Impact

The tiering performance concern is either no longer accurate or IT can work around it to save money without impacting performance. For example, our All-Flash has a tier of Intel Optane and a tier of quad-level cell (QLC). The upper tier of Optane can sustain over 1 million read IOPS and 300K sustained write IOPS (most all-flash vendors never report a write IOPS result). You can get our Intel Optane powered AFAn performance report here.

The AFAn’s QLC tier cannot deliver anything close to the write IOPS of the Optane tier. But before you think the all-flash vendors were right, you need to understand how the AFAn uses the QLC tier. First, the AFAn stores all the data users or applications are creating or modifying, on the Optane tier at Optane performance levels. The Optane tier’s capacity gives AFAn the time it needs to allow data to become persistent (stop changing).

Once data has become less ephemeral, the AFAn writes it sequentially to the QLC tier. The sequential write is critical. It enables AFAn to extend the QLC drives’ life by 10X, and it empowers the QLC tier to deliver incredible read performance. That means when the application reads data from the lower tier they are delivered at practically the same speed as the upper tier. There is no noticeable performance impact reading from the lower tier. The combination of tiering from Optane to QLC delivers dramatic savings in cost while setting a new standard for enterprise performance.

For customers looking to provide and deliver the best possible combination of price and performance, Hybrid systems with Flash and HDD is the way to go. The key is to make the flash tier large enough so that a tier’s chances of a miss are minimal. Most Hybrid vendors charge too much for the flash tier, making customers select a much smaller performance tier. Thanks to our very affordable flash pricing, having a large flash tier is well within most enterprises’ budget. You can see in our Hybrid TRUprice configurations that we include a larger flash tier than any other Hybrid vendor.

It is true, however, that no matter how big you make the upper-tier, occasionally access to data on the lower tier occurs. With AFAn that is a non-issue. With our HybridX4 systems it could occasionally be, but with our software, you can create flash-only volumes, on our hybrid systems. Also, even if the lower tier is HDD, a large flash tier means that accesses to data on the HDD tier are to information that is so old that the customer isn’t generally looking for high performance. Finally if accessing data from a lower tier is a performance concern then we still offer AFAs.

Don’t Be Afraid of Tiering Complexity

The second concern leveled against tiering is complexity. Developing an efficient tiering mechanism is hard work on the developers, but if the tiering developers do their job, then it is easy on the user. Our tiering is transparent to the administrators and users. You don’t even have to configure tiering intervals. The system automatically does that for you. Most importantly, in our software, tiering is not an afterthought bolted on years after the system was in production. As our live performance demonstration on AFAn proves, our tiering is seamless and has almost no impact on latency even during the worst conditions.

Tiering with a Commonsense Approach to Performance

A commonsense approach to performance means you don't have to be afraid of tiering
Common Sense Tiering

At StorONE, our all-flash solutions can become hybrid anytime the customer wants by adding a shelf of hard disk drives. We include the tiering feature at no charge. Start with AFA today, but when you upgrade, add low cost, high capacity disk and let that years old data trickle to HDD.

Despite the popularity of our AFA, an increasing number of customers now start with hybrid systems like our high-performance All-Flash (AFAn) or our more traditional HybridX4 Flash/Hard Disk Drive (TLC/HDD) hybrid solutions. The AFAn delivers much higher performance than legacy AFAs, and at a lower cost. Our HybridX4 solutions provide customers with excellent performance at very economical prices. Hybrid Instead of All-Flash makes sense for many data centers.

Don’t Be Afraid of Tiering At All

The point is that the choice of tiering should be yours, not the vendor’s. If you need high performance in excesses of 1 Million IOPS, you can choose our new AFAn and not have to worry about storage performance for the next ten years. If you need consistent mid-range performance, our AFA technology will deliver hundreds of thousands of IOPS at very competitive prices. If the cost per GB is most important, then a HybirdX4 system is ideal for you. You can price and configure your Hybrid system right now with our TRUprice page.

The reality is a product like AFAn makes deduplication obsolete while opening the data center up to true consolidation behind a single system that can address all workloads. To learn more, listen to our on-demand webinar with Intel, “The Five Requirements of True Consolidation”.

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George Crump

George has over 25 years of experience in the storage industry, holding executive sales and engineer positions. Before joining StorONE, he was the founder and lead analyst at Storage Switzerland.

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