Flash is to hard drives what hard drives was to tape: Violin Memory

As the gap between the cost of hard drives and flash begins to shrink, Violin Memory is seeing more enterprises adopt flash in their datacentres.

The role that flash is increasingly playing in the datacentre is very much like watching a rerun of an old movie, said Eric Herzog, Violin Memory senior vice president of business development and chief marketing officer.

Herzog believes that much like how enterprises shifted their primary workloads from tapes onto hard drives during the late '70s and early '80s, the same is happening with flash, where hard drives are now being used for backup and flash is being used to store primary workloads.

"This has already happened before; you're seeing the exact same shift now. What it is, is tier 0,1, and 2 workloads are shifting to all-flash, and they're shifting to all-flash not because it's fast, but because there's a huge economic impact across the flash datacentre," he said.

While flash remains more expensive than hard drives, the gaps between prices have shrunk "dramatically", but it is expected to continue to shrink as the demand for it increases.

"The cost of flash has come down because of the ubiquity of flash is in everything; it's not just in iPads or phones, but now in laptops and everywhere else. So the manufacturing cost of worldwide flash has been shrinking, and the cost has been going down," said Herzog. He also compared it to a similar cost scenario that was seen between hard drives and tapes; while tape was still cheaper than hard drives, the overall cost of running a datacentre ecosystem was radically reduced by hard drives.

The knock-on cost benefits that enterprises are beginning to see from adopting flash includes the cost savings of servers, software, licensing, powering racks, and cooling.

"The big message is flash is not expensive, flash solves real-world problems from a niche perspective, but problems that datacentres are facing, whether it be environmental, power cooling, or rack space," he said.

"The other thing is by shrinking the datacentre in a way, what people don't realise is the positive impact on IT process and procedure. If they've got thousands of rack units, there's usually someone running around replacing cables and power supplies, but if you only have a couple of hundreds from 10,000, then you free up one physical human being to do some other IT function."

One Australian customer that has reaped the benefits of flash adoption is the Department of Defence, which engaged with Violin Memory to cut back on its virtual machines to adopt flash arrays into its datacentres.

"So what started as a pure performance play has transformed into a physical server savings play, a save on virtual machines because they now cut back on virtual machines. In turn, that has translated into a licensing savings, and obviously the less licences, the less software maintenance," Herzog said.

Similarly, another of Violin Memory's customers has projected a cost saving over the next four years of $2.5 billion by switching to flash for its tier 0, 1, and 2 workloads, while still retaining certain workloads on hard drives and tape.

However, Ross Lynch, Violin Memory Australia and New Zealand director of sales, said the industry's openness to flash adoption has not always been there; rather, it has been a huge learning curve for the industry.

"Flash was very fairly new, and we've spent a lot of time in this market, educating partners around what flash is and what it isn't, and what it can do for their business. Because it was new technology, there was hesitation to market because some of the things we were telling customers was that it was so far out there," he said.

"What we were able to do it was possible, and, two years on, we've come to a point where our customers realise the benefits of flash and the economic benefits for my datacentre, and what it means. There's a lot more trust in flash, what it can do and deliver to the enterprise, so its really transformed over the last few years."

Catching onto this industry-wide acceptance for flash, Violin Memory announced earlier this year a flash storage array and data services software suite aimed at encouraging businesses to move towards running an all-flash datacentre, including the Concerto 7000 All Flash Array. The system runs its new data services software, which introduces support for tasks demanded by businesses that are more commonly served by spinning disk than flash storage arrays.