A Comparison Guide: Flash Systems vs. Solid-State Drive

Posted by VIOLIN SYSTEMS on Jun 12, 2020 10:40:00 AM

All-flash array systems seem to be taking off. Just how much of an increase are we seeing? 

In 2018, the all-flash array market was valued at around $5.9 billion. In 2023, that market value is expected to more than triple with an estimated value of $17.8 billion. So why are we seeing such an increase in all-flash storage? How does it compare to other kinds of solid-state drives?

Perhaps you’ve heard the terms “flash” and “solid-state drive” used interchangeably. While the two have some definite similarities, there are obvious differences as well. Here’s what you need to know:

What Is an All-Flash System?

“Flash” refers to a high-speed data storage technology that is electronically programmable. A lot of what you need to know about flash storage is all in the name: It’s incredibly fast. An all-flash storage system writes data and performs other input-output operations in record time.

Flash uses memory called “nonvolatile memory,” which means that flash systems don’t require electricity to write media and maintain stored data; you never lose the integrity of your data even during a power outage.

What are some other qualities of all-flash storage?

What Is a Solid-State Drive?

An enterprise-level solid-state drive, or SSD, isn’t that much different from a solid-state disk you find in many laptops, mobile devices, and computers today.

How so? There are no moving parts, which means there’s no opportunity for mechanical failure or overheating. Like an all-flash array, they run silently and create less heat.

Some SSDs use flash storage, but they rely solely on existing disk architecture, operating within an older framework that’s already there. This is beneficial for manufacturers, making flash storage compatible with existing platforms, but some issues tend to arise with solid-state drives.

Solid-state drives can consist of flash storage but also can use other mediums of storage too. Any type of storage that isn’t in motion counts as an SSD, which means that solid-state drives can rely on other kinds of storage technology that just may not be up to par.

Ultimately, what you need to know is that flash storage is a kind of storage medium, whereas SSDs are storage devices that may or may not use flash technology. An all-flash array relies entirely on flash storage, while SSDs do not. Some flash storage device manufacturers rely on SSD, pairing it with other storage mediums, but in these cases, they are limited to what the solid-state drive can do; you haven’t unleashed the true performance power of an all-flash array.

Performance, Latency Prevention and Processing Speed

Both all-flash arrays and SSD arrays are known for their fast processing. However, all-flash arrays tend to be a little quicker.

Why is this? Solid-state drives rely on the existing legacy SAS connections and architecture, which can cause latencies that you don’t find in an all-flash array.

With an all-flash system, you aren’t held back by outdated architecture that slows down the processing speed. This is because you’ve removed the latencies that are created by sending lighting-speed flash capabilities through an older SAS interface. A flash-capable SSD creates a bottleneck, and with an all-flash array, you completely free up that bottleneck. An all-flash array provides maximum performance.

With a purpose-built all-flash array, you can create a system that takes full advantage of the efficiency of flash memory. An all-flash array can be created to connect directly to discrete flash modules, which completely eliminates the latencies created in an SSD. A purpose-built all-flash array also can include advanced data protection, leading to higher overall availability and efficiency.

SSD solutions can’t live up to the sustained performance, low-latency, and high availability of an all-flash array.

Maintaining Archival Data

To put it bluntly, solid-state drives just are not ideal for archival data. They can’t hold onto that kind of information for long periods of time. SSDs rely on electricity to maintain their stored data. Left without power or during a power outage, SSDs can start to leak valuable data.

Where do these two storage systems differ? Flash storage systems don’t lose their data. This storage medium is based on silicon chips, which can be written or erased with electricity but don’t rely on electricity to maintain the data. Because of that nonvolatile memory capability, you don’t bleed older data the way you might with a solid-state drive.

The Cost

All-flash storage has a reputation for being expensive. Why is this? When flash storage first came on the scene, it was definitely pricey. Today though, costs have decreased tremendously, making an all-flash array much more affordable than previously thought.

Also, the rate of SSDs is falling, but all-flash array costs are falling even faster, making them more attainable than ever before. You also have to consider the payoff of a system that has a marked difference in performance capabilities; an all-flash array provides a far better value.

All-flash arrays require less power and space to run them, which can cut down on an organization’s costs dramatically. Compare an all-flash array to a hybrid SSD:

  • A hybrid SSD may utilize 100U of rack space for a petabyte of usable data, averaging 19-20 kilowatt hours of energy per month.
  • An all-flash array utilizes around 8U of rack space for a petabyte of usable data, using only around three to four kilowatt hours of energy each month.

Additionally, there’s less maintenance required for an all-flash array, which frees up your IT team for other tasks, which can cut down on your costs. File storage backups happen faster, and they are much more efficient to use all around, reducing the amount of time spent “dealing with” your storage solution.

At Violin Systems, we’ve done the research. We’ve weighed all the options. Why do we stand by all-flash arrays? Because of the sustained, exceptional performance, consistent low latency, high availability and continued lowering costs for our customers.

Do you want to learn more about how an all-flash array can impact your system? Contact us today!

Topics: Flash Array