Are Hybrid Storage Arrays the Answer to the DDSvs HDD Debate?

 Rick Delgado feels blessed to have had a successful career in the tech industry and has recently taken a step back to pursue his passion of writing. He's started doing freelance writing where he occasionally works with tech companies like Dell Computers. He enjoys writing about new technologies and how it can help us and our planet.

A lesson many organizations have learned is that when new demands arise, changes to existing systems have to follow. As big data continues to create vast new opportunities, businesses are finding that their current technology needs to be updated to keep up with these ever-changing demands. One area in particular that is receiving more focus is storage, where current equipment is being given a second look to better handle the new and varied big data projects many companies are implementing. For years, much of the debate has centered around flash storage vs. hard drive, but many view that as an oversimplified debate that focuses on the extremes. While the majority of businesses and technology leaders will concede that legacy storage systems are in need of an extensive update, the discussion has expanded past the two options that are most often talked about and now includes hybrid storage arrays.

First, it’s important to look at both flash (solid-state drives or SSD) and hard disk drives (HDD) when used for storage. Most of the argument can be boiled down to cost and performance. Hard disk drives have been around for decades and are much cheaper to manufacture when looking at cost per gigabyte. The downside is that they suffer from poorer performance when compared to alternative storage options. With big data a more important aspect for businesses than ever before, realisation has set in for many companies that hard disk drives have difficulty keeping up with big data’s demands. Solid-state drives have much faster performance and can handle the increased workloads more easily, but businesses need to pay a higher price (monetarily speaking) to capture that performance. In short, one side features lower costs but poorer performance, while the other is more expensive but much faster.

With so much emphasis placed on getting faster performance, some companies are choosing to invest in all-flash storage arrays. Instead of using the more traditional HDD systems, they’re choosing to adopt nothing but flash. The benefits of this approach include more than just improved performance through a reduction in read latency; all-flash storage also has lower operating costs than those seen with hard disk drives. When comparing the two, all-flash requires less energy to run, less physical floor space, and generally less energy to keep the hardware cool. There are also plenty of reasons organizations choose to go this route. Perhaps their operations require the sub-millisecond latency that all-flash arrays offer. Maybe the business prioritizes a performance-optimized strategy for storage. Or maybe a company prefers to use a system that has a guaranteed quality of service. Either way, with costs for flash storage dropping, more organizations are finding all-flash more affordable.

But it may not be necessary for businesses to contemplate the extremes on this issue. Another option has been developed which may satisfy the concerns many organizations have, and it comes in the form of hybrid storage arrays. Hybrid storage works much like it sounds, combining both flash storage with hard disk drives in an effort to get the benefits of both methods. One way it does this is by making it more economical for those businesses with budget concerns. In one study from the United Kingdom, three quarters of enterprises said the cost of all-flash arrays prevented them from using it.

By mixing flash with HDD, costs come down, but what does hybrid storage mean for the other major factor--performance? While hybrid storage performance may not match that of all-flash arrays, supporters say the gap isn’t that wide. They contend the cost compared to the amount of performance exceeds that of flash storage. Supporters also claim that in some cases hybrid storage performance can almost equal flash provided that the size of the mega cache is expanded. However you look at the technology, hybrid storage arrays appear to provide a balance of cost and performance that meets the demands of budget-conscious businesses where latency issues wouldn’t be a significant problem.

There is little question that storage systems need to evolve to meet the demands of an increasingly data-driven world. How businesses meet those needs will largely depend on what they can afford and what type of performance is required. Both all-flash arrays and hybrid storage arrays can be excellent choices for handling so much new big data. A careful examination of the pros and cons of both will help organizations prepare for what they need to adopt.

Do you think hybrid storage arrays are the answer to the DDSvs HDD Debater? Let us know in the comments section below or via @TechNetUK.