Nov 24, 2020

Will flash technology transform the data centre?

storage
Data Centres
IT
hardware
Joanna England
4 min
Flash technology is already fully embedded in the personal computer industry. But will data centres upgrade to the innovative technology?
Flash technology is already fully embedded in the personal computer industry. But will data centres upgrade to the innovative technology...

Flash technology is nothing new. The PC market got a handle on SSD (Solid State Drive) technology almost a decade ago, with Apple installing them in its MacBooks since 2013. 

But while these noiseless, smaller flash drives outstrip the performance of regular, clunky hard drives, the technology is yet to be fully adopted in the commercial data centre industry, where traditional hard drive servers remain popular.

However, like all technical breakthroughs, all-flash array data centres are just a short time away, with the price of flash drives falling, and industry experts looking for ways to cut costs caused by maintenance, power and equipment failure.  

Reliability

All-flash drives provide a much more reliable service than HDD storage disks. Unlike HDD’s, the drives don’t contain any moving parts. This cuts down on maintenance issues because components last far longer. Coupled with this is the lower heat generation as cooling is a main feature of server maintenance. 

Practically speaking, all-flash drives succumb less easily to damage when being moved from one location to another. This makes them a more logical solution for rugged environments. 

Flash technology is also cheaper to buy than HDD, with the price of components in freefall since 2013. As the data centre industry is currently in a transitional phase, many providers believe the right time to upgrade equipment is here.

Ahmed Abdalla, solutions architect at the security consultancy Adapture, explains, “The cost of solid-state drives has reduced to the point where many enterprises can now truly consider all-flash arrays. Advances in SSD reliability, performance, and capacity have led to this lower price point. While price parity for traditional spinning disk is not available yet, the price/performance trade-off is definitely a winning consideration for many enterprises.”

Better security

Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer better security for data because the likelihood of failure is smaller, and SSD support disk encryption. This additional level of safety is preferable for enterprises handling sensitive data, such as financial information. The drives are also non-volatile and rewritable, and access and response times are much faster the HDD. 

Andrew Grimes, principal architect for flash NetApp believes the new technology serves the requirements of today’s operators. “The fundamentals of storage remain unchanged. You still need to serve data with reliability, to protect your data, and to deliver IT services across a range of requirements, regardless of the media under the data,” he says.

“But as flash technology matures, it lets us change the way we deliver those services, namely with greater efficiency and performance and with the potential for major savings for your organisation,” Grimes adds.

Innovations in flash

But while upgrades to all-flash drives will undoubtedly increase, some experts believe many providers are waiting on the next-gen technology, namely, the successor to flash, to become available before they switch out their HDDs. 

NVRAM or non-volatile RAM is a technology that maintains its state, even without a power source. This has obvious benefits when it comes to data centre power outages, which cost providers an average of $740,000 when they occur. 

Ali Hodroj, vice president of products and strategy of high-end application server provider GigaSpaces, says the new solid-state storage technology is only on the market in the form of a limited number of hybrid/NVRAM devices. But it is already gaining a lot of interest.

Indeed, NVRAM has a faster performance rate than flash and Flashtec’s latest NVRAM solution provides ten times the performance power of a pure flash system.

Hodroj says, “NVRAM is faster than flash but slower than RAM and will assume the position that flash once held as high-speed specialty storage,” he says. “These advances matter because they reflect an advancement to high speed coupled with high efficiency and reliability, mainly to service ever-increasing Internet data demands, real- and near-real-time analytics, and forthcoming machine-to-machine or IoT applications.”

He adds, “Continuing advancements will put it on the traditional Moore's Law curve and it will gradually start taking on more functions previously delegated to flash. This process will be years in the making, however, and doesn't represent a rationale for deferring flash investments.”

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Jun 6, 2021

Unlocking the next chapter of the digital revolution

Dell
servers
IT
Technology
Tim Loake
5 min
Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies highlights the importance of often-overlooked digital infrastructure

As the world retreated to a hybrid world in 2020, our reliance on technology took the spotlight. But it was the jazzy new social and video calling platforms that took the encore. Behind the scenes, our servers worked overtime, keeping us connected and maintaining the drumbeat of always-on newly digital services.  Let’s take a moment to pay our respect to the unsung technology heroes of the pandemic – the often-forgotten IT infrastructure keeping us connected come what may. After all, as we look ahead to more resilient futures, they will be playing a central role.

Servers could be likened to our plumbing – vital to well-functioning homes but rarely top of mind so long as it is functioning. Never seen, rarely heard – our servers do all the graft with little praise. But it is essential to reflect on the incremental advances in GPU and CPU power, which have paved the way for new workloads that previously were not possible. Chatbots and native language processing that provide essential customer touchpoints for businesses across the retail and banking sectors rely on powerful servers. They also keep businesses competitive and customers happy in an always-on world. 

Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies
Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies

Serving workplace transformation

But, as businesses grappled with pandemic disruptions, the focus was largely on adopting connected devices – and awe at the rapid increase in the datasphere.  As they reined in their budgets and attempted to do more with less, one aspect was perhaps overlooked—those hard working servers.

When it came to building resilience into a newly remote workforce, the initial concern was focused on the device endpoints – keeping employees productive.  Many companies did not initially consider whether they had the server infrastructure to enable the entire workforce to log in remotely at the same time. As a result, many experienced a plethora of teething problems: virtual office crashes, long waits to get on servers, and sluggish internet connectivity and application performance, often rendering the shiny new PC frustrating and useless.

Most businesses only had a few outward-facing servers that could authenticate remote workers – a vital gateway as the vector for cyber hacks and attacks increased exponentially. That’s not to mention the fact that many business applications simply weren’t designed to work with the latency required for people working from home. What businesses discovered at that moment was that their plumbing was out of date.  

Business and IT leaders quickly realised that to stay ahead of the curve in the hybrid working world, a renewed focus on building agile, adaptable, and flexible IT infrastructures was critical. More importantly, it accelerated the inevitable digital transformation that would keep them competitive in a data-driven economy. It is now abundantly clear to businesses that they need IT infrastructure to meet the demands of diverse workloads – derive intelligent insights from data, deploy applications effectively, and enhance data management and security.  

Ripe for a digital revolution

Unsurprisingly, IDC noted that there was an increase in purchases of server infrastructure to support changing workloads. However, it also forecasts this uptick will be sustainable and last beyond the pandemic. As the economy begins to reopen, business leaders are looking ahead. IT will continue to play a crucial role in 2021 and beyond – and we have already set the foundations for the digital revolution with next-generation servers. 

As we enter the zettabyte era, new innovative technologies are coming on stream, with 5G turbocharging IoT and putting edge computing to work.  Exciting new services improved day-to-day efficiencies, and the transformation of our digital society will be underpinned by resilient IT infrastructures.  By embracing the technological innovations of our next-generation servers, businesses keep pace with the coming data deluge.

The next generation of server architecture promises more power with less heat, thanks to improved, directed airflow, and direct liquid cooling, resulting in reduced operational costs and environmental impact. As we rebuild post-pandemic, manufacturers and customers alike strive to achieve ever more challenging sustainability goals. With this in mind, a focus on environmentally responsible design is imperative for the servers of tomorrow -  uniquely designed chassis for adaptive cooling and more efficient power consumption will be critical, improving energy efficiency generation over generation.

The most notable evolution is the configuration of these next-gen servers around more specific organisational needs. Unlike clunky and often unstable legacy infrastructure, the infrastructure of tomorrow will be sturdier and more modular. The next iteration is streamlined, and in this modular form, can be more easily tailored to business needs. This equates to essential cost savings as businesses only pay for what they use.  

Resolving the problem of the future, today

Tomorrow's IT challenges will focus on response times and latency as Edge and 5G technologies go mainstream. As businesses develop new and innovative services that utilise supercharged connectivity and real-time analytics, staying on top of these challenges will give them a competitive edge. For example, in the world of retail, automation will power new virtual security guards and even the slightest delay in the data relay could result in financial loss. 

Similarly, in the smart cities of tomorrow, the network must be responsive. With city-centre traffic lights controlled by an AI-powered camera that monitors pedestrians, delays in data transfers could cost the life of an elderly pedestrian who has fallen in the road. The stakes are far higher in a 5G-enabled world. As our reliance on technology deepens, the margins for error narrow, placing greater emphasis on the efficiency of those critical underpinning technologies.

Fully enabling the hybrid work model today is just a stepping-stone towards more fluid, tech-enabled lives. A work Zoom call from an automated vehicle on-route to an intelligent transport hub is a highly probable vision of our future. But it requires incredible amounts of compute and seamless data transfers to make it possible. These glossy snapshots need super servers to come to life, making that IT plumbing glisten with next-gen innovation essential. Without exemplary server architecture, we risk future tech advances and the human progression that it enables. 

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