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10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy an All-Flash Storage Array

10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy an All-Flash Storage Array

Before purchasing a flash array from any vendor, it is a good idea to ask the right questions to be sure you will get the right storage solution in the end. If the potential vendor cannot answer "YES" to all the questions below, contact a StorTrends representative to find the right solution for your IT environment.

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Was the system built with Flash in the Design?

It is important to know if the product leverages SSDs from the design standpoint, or are the SSDs just a bolt-on/add-on feature to older technology. This truly matters today as SSDs have come down in cost dramatically in the last few years and vendors are adding them at a whim. Traditional SANs and other units designed for HDDs and not designed around the capabilities of SSDs and can cause problems and headaches once in production. SSD thrashing from a poorly conceived caching algorithm, or poor tiering performance from a system designed around 15k and 7.2k drives can lead to misuse of SSDs. Just because a system has SSDs doesn't mean that the system can perform at a low latency for prolonged periods of time.

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Does the company have a rich history, or will they be a flash in the pan?

This truly matters today as SSDs have come down in cost dramatically in the last few years and vendors are adding them at a whim. Traditional SANs and other units designed for HDDs and not designed around the capabilities of SSDs and can cause problems and headaches once in production. SSD thrashing from a poorly conceived caching algorithm, or poor tiering performance from a system designed around 15k and 7.2k drives can lead to misuse of SSDs. Just because a system has SSDs doesn't mean that the system can perform at a low latency for prolonged periods of time.

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Does the product provide low latency and high IOPS over sustained load?

Any SAN can provide low latency and high IOPS for a short cycle, what shows a truly thought out and engineered product is being able to handle high loads of IO at low latency for sustained periods of time. Many of the flash vendors only have a finite amount of cache available, and once the cache limit is reached they perform at the backend drive speed. This can wreak havoc on an infrastructure and bring production to a standstill. Be sure to not only ask what is the max IO, but how long can the system perform at this rate, and what happens if the cache becomes over-run.

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Does the system provide integration into today's VM enabled architectures?

This is extremely important today as network administers lean heavily on VM integration within the SAN. Having a SAN on the HCL for whichever hypervisor shows due diligence on the vendor to ensure compatibility, and additional integration adds in performance potential and expedited processes.has SSDs doesn't mean that the system can perform at a low latency for prolonged periods of time.

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Is the system built on proprietary or commodity HW design?

This is important as time goes on. Utilizing a commodity hardware design or open architectures allows for the provider to easily move onto the next generation of hardware technology which reduces cost while also increasing performance. Companies that utilize their own HW design required customers to purchase at a premium pricing and make the customer be stuck within a vendor lock-in. Utilizing commodity hardware vendors are able to focus their engineering efforts on the software features and functionality while providing a product at a significant cost reduction.

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What is the actual usable capacity within the unit compared to raw capacity?

Technologies like in-line deduplication and compression, as well as thin provisioning allow for vendors to skew their numbers in terms of capacity. Many vendors today will sell storage based upon a pre-determined deduplication ratio, and then also account for thin provisioning to provide "additional capacity." Be sure to understand what the true system is providing and what worst case scenarios are.

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Does the vendor provide tools to understand the needs of the SAN environment?

If the vendors only hear your capacity requirements then provide a "standard" amount of flash space, or even provide additional capacities, how do they know this is the correct amount of flash needed? Seek a vendor that has tools available to see how much data is currently consumed, how much data is hot data which would require the need for flash space, and tools to show what the true deduplication of the current data would be. If a vendor is promising 3:1, 4:1, or another number, make sure that this is actually attainable.

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What is my expansion capabilities and process?

Be sure to view a demo or get your hands on a system before purchase to make sure you are comfortable from a management perspective. Some SAN vendors use their own terminology, or utilize a GUI that is difficult to understand. If the management doesn't make sense, then chances are when issues occur, it will be more difficult to diagnose and solve. Vendors also should be able to provide Proof of Concept (POC) units which allow users to know that the system will provide as expected.

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How do I manage the system?

Be sure to view a demo or get your hands on a system before purchase to make sure you are comfortable from a management perspective. Some SAN vendors use their own terminology, or utilize a GUI that is difficult to understand. If the management doesn't make sense, then chances are when issues occur, it will be more difficult to diagnose and solve. Vendors also should be able to provide Proof of Concept (POC) units which allow users to know that the system will provide as expected

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What kind of support is provided?

Service and support are one of the highest needs in IT solutions. Does the product provide early warnings of drive failures, or capacity alerts, or any other aspects that would cripple a SAN environment? Be sure to ask where the support is located as well, or if it is just a call center taking calls and not providing help. Real support should be able to troubleshoot and provide comprehensive services for the on-going management of a SAN system. Technical support reps should be the first person you talk with so that you do not have to wait for a call-back or other method of closure.

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