Stacking flash, cache and tiering for effective data storage

Healthcare orgs looking to update their storage infrastructure for performance gains need to understand some important differences between their options.

Jeff Rowe | Aug 27, 2018 12:00 am

IT shops are always on the lookout for ways to improve application performance without negatively impacting availability or adding cost or complexity. 

That’s according to Luke Pruen, technical services director at StorMagic, a networking provider, and it clearly applies as much to healthcare shops as any other sector. 

Pruen recently looked at some of the key tools IT pros are integrating into their systems – including all-flash arrays, storage tiering and storage caching – and he noted that while performance gains can be derived from all three options, there are some important differences to take into account.

For example, “All-flash arrays are currently getting a lot of attention in the market, and for good reason. They can deliver massive application performance gains in terms of IOPS and sub-millisecond latency.”

Still, Pruen noted, there is a cost to all-flash, but while not every “performance-hungry” application will benefit from all-flash arrays, “if the IT team is confident that all-flash will solve an application’s performance requirements and the budget supports expensive, all-flash arrays, then these could be a good option.”

Flash, of course, is likely part of any IT manager’s considerations when it comes to Pruen’s next option, storage tiering.  

“With this method,” he explained, “multiple different types of drives are configured . . . and intelligent software moves data to the most appropriate tier. Typically, all writes go to SSD first to maximize write performance. Then, data is moved to lower cost tiers as the data ages.”

Similar to storage tiering is Pruen’s last option, storage caching.  “This implementation is similar to storage tiering in that multiple types of drives can be utilized,” he said, but he identified two differences.

First, “system memory can be utilized as a caching tier for reads. Since adding memory to the server is inexpensive, this is an excellent way to improve storage performance for read intensive workloads without breaking the bank.”

The second difference is that since “this is a caching approach, the data being moved between the different tiers is actually a copy of the original source data. This approach minimizes the amount of data being moved around the back-end because only the most active blocks of data migrate up from HDD to SSD or memory cache.”

In the end, said Pruen, “it’s all about the packaging.” By which he means chances are most systems are going to end up with a mix of the three options.


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