Too “flash” for you?

Once upon a time … there was a medium-sized manufacturing company in the South West of England. It had a typical IT operation with some ERP, payroll/financial accounts and retail/CRM applications for a shop the company ran on site. The IT team looked at flash/solid-state technology but decided that it was too expensive and probably best for the banks, traders in the City or large retailers where speed was worth paying for. In sleepy Wiltshire, they don’t need to spend that sort of money. Or do they?

Is it time to take another look at flash technology?

It seems that we may be at an inflection point with the adoption of flash technology in Europe. Its use is starting to extend from the early, niche solutions such as virtual desktop, low latency trading, credit checking to more general purpose use cases such as database and Hadoop/BI applications. According to IDC, flash-powered arrays are being used in a wide range of increasingly complex workloads, and all flash arrays are experiencing exponential growth year-on-year.

Is it really all about price?

For many companies, cost per gigabyte (GB) has been an important consideration with this technology and has perhaps limited its deployment to those critical use cases where high performance delivers the greatest benefit. However, a recent 24 percent drop in the cost per GB is enabling business cases for wider adoption of this technology. Compared to other technologies, the adoption of flash has been rapid and is probably driven by a “perfect storm” of relatively few technology issues and a large, fragmented market. This kind of competitive market should be good for buyers as vendors continue to drive prices lower.

Is cost/GB the best metric however? It was no doubt the key metric while cost was high – but maybe cost per input/output operations per second (IOPS), total cost of ownership or even cost per watt may start to become more relevant and would signal a shift from a pure technology choice toward one based more on business value. When this happens, the conversations with business management should become easier.

What are other people thinking?

Another anecdotal data point that might indicate something about where we are on the adoption curve could be an analysis of Internet search terms. I just had a quick look at the keywords being used in the UK and found that the most frequently searched terms were simple: flash, ssd or hybrid drives. Lower down in frequency were comparative searches using terms such as cheapest, fastest or best. However, between these comparative searches and the plain product terms, there were still a large number of searches on “what is flash/ssd storage.” Keywords like ROI or business value didn’t even register. A quick, informal poll during a recent webinar I attended showed that more than one-third (35 percent) of participants are still not yet using flash arrays.

IBM-Bigdata-analytics-cartoon-quotes-IBMBTT
BTT Study –http://bit.ly/1CS0JKi Click to enlarge.

Isn’t there a more strategic view here?
So far, I have been mostly discussing the bits and bytes of flash technology but maybe there is a more strategic perspective to consider? Flash storage is a key enabling technology for big data and analytics as it supports much faster delivery of data. And for more and more companies, having a faster (perhaps even real-time) analytics capability is increasingly critical. In the IBM Center for Applied Insights study,  “Raising the game: The Business Tech Trends Study,” pacesetting companies power their organization’s decision making with insights, with 7 in 10 saying that insights are integral to decision making – that’s over 3 times more than “dabblers.”

Maybe it is time to examine how flash technology contributes to this kind of potential value rather than thinking solely about its costs?

Meanwhile back in Wiltshire

With technology, it isn’t often that you get to see such a rapid progression through the various adoption stages. Flash technology has become more affordable with more broad-based use cases and could even be moving out of the technology-heavy world of cost per GB and into the era of business value. Given how quickly things are shifting, maybe it’s time for our manufacturing company to take another look.

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