Flash Storage Explained in a Flash

March 20th, 2019 Flash Storage Explained in a Flash
Cristina Perez
Marketing Specialist


Hotels, Klingon and Disco Balls

For 12+ years, I worked in and managed coffee shops, cafes, bars, bistros, restaurants, hotels (select & full service, big & small), etc. I have multiple degrees in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management – hospitality was my life.

In February of 2016, I left the hospitality industry and joined Mainline as a Marketing Specialist. I found myself surrounded with acronyms (B8ZS, CICS, TWS, QRSTUVWXYZ), odd terms, products and solutions, which were rejected even by spell check (Storwize, FlashSystem, multicloud). And, what in the world is a skuzzy? Was this Klingon? Is there a Rosetta Stone for “how to speak techie”?” I was like a deer in the headlights. Except, the headlights were strobe lights, and my eyes were disco balls.

Flash Storage Seems Flashy

Flash forward, 3 years later, after being fully immersed, I am proud to say that I can add basic-conversational tech to my resume. In learning the language, I have also witnessed an upward trend in discussions around Flash Storage. True, even though I am now more comfortable with the lingo, I still find myself smiling and nodding through most Flash conversations. Embarrassingly, my first thoughts were… what the heck is Flash, and why does it need to be stored? Is it perishable? Silly culinary brain. So, I did some Googling.

Here’s what I learned: Flash storage is any type of system, drive or repository that uses flash memory to keep data for an extended period of time. The speed of flash storage is how it got its name: It writes data and performs input/output (I/O) operations in a flash. Flash-based storage comes in various forms ranging from portable USB flash drives to enterprise-class all-flash arrays.

From there, things got a little blurry, so I put aside (what was left of) my pride and decided to turn to a flash-pert, Laura Tuller, Mainline Systems Engineer and expert in all things flash.

Turns out, there are a few ways flash is integrated into an enterprise storage environment. Laura broke it down, “A flash drive, often referred to as ‘solid-state drive’ [SSD] is flash storage masquerading as a traditional or legacy spinning ‘hard disk drive’ [HDD].”

Spinning drives have been around since the 1950s. They rely on motors, spinning disks and read/write heads, using magnetism to store data on a rotating platter.

Laura added, “Though capacity has grown denser, the speed can’t get any faster due to physics. Flash Core Modules [FCM] look more like memory DIMMs [duel in-line memory modules] you’d put into your personal computers.” Since they’re not caught-up imitating something else, FCMs operate at breakneck speeds. As my favorite flash-pert phrased it, “they aren’t constrained by pretending to be a different form factor.” Well, that’s certainly enough to make my head spin!

Bravo IBM

IBM was recently recognized as a Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader for all-flash storage, for the 5th year in a row. It’s also pretty sweet that in this industry, they’ve found an acceptable way to use the words magic and flash in the same sentence. But I digress… IBM Storwize V7000F (part of the IBM Storwize family) is a prime example of an all-flash storage system. And, though I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, the V7000F with NVMe-oF deploys all-flash performance with storage virtualization to consolidate workloads.

Introducing NVMe. Non-volatile Memory Express is an interface protocol that makes SSDs faster. Here’s how I see it: NVMe is a new car. Most older cars top out around 100 mph. Our new NVMe can peel out of the lot at 1,500 mph! Vroom!

Sponges, Baggage, and a New Car

When I first heard this next acronym pronounced, I imagined a scrubby sponge used for pots and pans. I was way off, obviously. SCSI pronounced skuzzy, originally stood for Small Computer System Interface, but has recently outgrown the small label. SCSI is a set of standards for physically connecting and transferring data between computers and peripheral devices.

All things (software, hardware, spouses, in-laws, etc.) come with baggage. I can relate. Flash or SSD also comes with baggage, in the form of SCSI commands. My flash-pert, Laura, explained that traditionally, there are 225 SCSI commands to write data to a hard drive. That means there are a lot of useless commands, wasting time of the flash… making it slower and less flashy than what it should be. Remember our fancy new car? Here’s where NVMe comes racing in! It only takes 6 commands to write data to flash media. Yup, a measly 6 commands. Talk about cleaning out the closet!

Closing Thoughts

Laura: “The adoption of flash is spreading like wildfire, production is ramping up to meet demand and price is decreasing. One day soon, it will hopefully meet the inflection point of hard drive price, so many companies are slowly phasing out traditional spinning or hybrid arrays in favor of all flash.”

Me: “Maybe next time I should write about food.”

Need More?

Watch Laura Tuller explain IBM Hyperswap, a function of the IBM Storwize family: High Availability a management nightmare?

Bryan Samson give us Top five reasons why it is time for flash storage.

Please contact your Mainline Account Executive directly, or click here to contact us with any questions.

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