Server-side Flash & Hyperconvergence – Two of the Latest Ways to Improve Virtualization Performance
By Bill Jones, Senior Solution Architect
Today’s storage market is changing, and it is changing rapidly. I hadn’t realized how quickly the changes were happening until I started writing this blog post. With each week, I discovered new products and new features in the flash market. These features create new opportunities for companies to save operating costs and to improve system performance. So, even if you’ve looked at flash storage in the past, I ask you to look again. Today’s flash isn’t the flash from a few years ago.
Why Use Server-side Flash?
Server-side flash is usually less expensive than other options. Very simply, an SSD drive for a server usually costs less than an SSD drive for an array with a similar capacity. Also, server-side flash is faster than external flash. With the flash closer to the CPU, storage IO has fewer devices to traverse and less physical distance to travel. In environments where every microsecond matters, this difference can be very important.
Applying server-side flash to solve a problem does have some disadvantages. Since the flash is within a specific server, other servers cannot access data on that storage without some assistance at the software and networking layers. In addition, server-side flash is usually used as a cache layer that is backed by mechanical disks. As a result, some I/O will take longer when I/O needs to access the slower, mechanical disks.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of server-side flash is that it opens the door to a very hot topic in virtualization — hyperconvergence!
What Is Hyperconvergence?
Converged infrastructures combine key components of data center technology into building blocks — often with reference architectures. Resources like servers, networking, storage, and hypervisors work together to create an environment which is more easily maintained, which expands simply and modularly, etc. However, in a converged infrastructure, each of these components are discrete resources. The servers are servers; storage is storage. These are individual components of the overall modular design.
With hyperconverged infrastructures, two or more components of the converged infrastructure are merged together — which can further reduce complexity and costs.
Today, hyperconvergence usually means that the server and storage components of the converged infrastructure have been merged. In some cases, the hypervisor is also merged.
Why should You Care?
Do you have a virtual environment? If so, server-side flash can provide improved storage performance. Also, some SAN/NAS technologies are designed to use server-side flash.
Have you had a conversation with your IT team in the last year about cloud? Many companies are finding that deploying an internal private cloud has a lower TCO, provides greater security, and is more flexible than using public cloud offerings — especially for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS).
Private clouds are a natural extension of virtualization. Converged and hyperconverged infrastructures can simplify the design, implementation, and administration of these environments. And server-side flash provides benefits for virtual environments and is key to hyperconvergence.
What Products Are Available Today?
Below is a brief list of technologies that leverage either server-side flash or hyperconvergence today.
- Datrium DVX — Combines server-side flash with external storage device to provide cost-effective, performant storage for virtual environments
- PernixData FVP — Is a software offering that leverages server-side flash to boost storage I/O performance for virtual environments
- Hewlett-Packard Enterprise StoreVirtual VSA — iSCSI virtual storage that can leverage server-side flash
- Hewlett-Packard Enterprise HC250 & HC380 — Hyperconverged systems combining server and storage
- Nutanix — Hyperconverged system that combining server, storage, and (optionally) hypervisor
- VMware VSAN — Hyperconverged reference architectures combining storage, server, and hypervisor based on hardware from multiple manufacturers
- Cisco HyperFlex — Hyperconverged systems combining servers and storage. The servers are Cisco UCS, which already integrate server and networking components.
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