Nov 24 2014

Applications Require Move to Flash Storage at Colleges

IT managers look to flash systems as they roll out VDI and other software that requires enhanced processing.

New computing environments, such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), that provide users with anytime, anywhere access to their desktops also require updated storage technologies.

That’s why David Blaisdell, assistant IT director for Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H., took a close look at flash storage when he began migrating to VDI a few years ago. “We have harsh winters in New Hampshire, so the ability for staff and faculty to access their work desktops from home via VDI is especially important,” he says. “And as we added more VDI, we realized we needed more input/output processing capabilities with spinning disks.”

Opting for the Fusion-io ioControl Hybrid Storage System, Blaisdell selected the n5-100, with 1.2 terabytes of flash and 32TB of spinning disks, and the n5-150, which has 2.4TB of flash and 48TB of spinning disks.

The Fusion-io ioControl hybrid system has built-in intelligence that determines service levels based on usage and which blocks to store in flash. “The system offers a quality of service capability that lets us prioritize our most important applications in order to provide the necessary performance based on I/O requirements,” Blaisdell says.

Colby-Sawyer College runs its mission-critical applications in the highest quality of service group, which includes VDI, Microsoft SharePoint, its student information system, a self-service web portal and business tools such as Microsoft Dynamics. It runs test systems at lower quality of service levels.

Eric Burgener, research director for IDC’s storage practice, says that while hybrid arrays remain popular with many organizations, ultimately all-flash units will replace the hybrid products currently offered by manufacturers. Recent IDC research shows that 18 percent of organizations already use all-flash arrays, while 23 percent use hybrid arrays. Another 37 percent use existing spinning disks with flash drives added as cache.

“People move slowly when mission-critical applications are at stake. Plus, there’s a comfort level with spinning disks,” says Burgener. “Overall, we expect the transition to all-flash for primary storage environments to take five to seven years.”


The percentage of IT managers who currently use flash in their external storage environment

SOURCE:IDC, “Storage Purchasing Intentions Survey,” July 2014

Adjusting to Mobility

Craig Kitko, manager of network services at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, says that much like Colby-Sawyer College, the university needed enhanced storage capabilities for its VDI and ever-expanding business applications.

For the past 18 months, the university has been using a hybrid system from Nimble Storage to service the university’s 7,000 users. Roughly 5,000 are students and the remainder are faculty and staff.

“The flash systems primarily read the data when people make queries, and everyone seems to like it; we get response times under five milliseconds, ,” Kitko says.

Baldwin Wallace University uses the Nimble system in tandem with NetApp storage for shared drives, documents and files.

Multiple Flash Flavors

Eric Burgener, research director for IDC’s storage practice, outlines the three prevailing flash storage options available today.

  • All-flash arrays: Products such as the EMC XtremIO and IBM FlashSystem 840 are geared to mission-critical database and business applications that need the fastest processing available.

  • All-flash configurations of hybrid arrays: Manufacturers target these devices for organizations that seek more mature data services in an all-flash array, such as snapshots, clones, replication, thin provisioning, encryption and quality of service. The Hitachi Data Systems Hitachi Accelerated Flash Storage offers a good example.

  • Hybrid systems: Systems such as the EMC VMAX offer some flash capabilities for mission-critical applications and spinning disks to offload shared drives or documents.

Dario Lo Presti/THINKSTOCK

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