Start Waiting on 3DXP arrays, by Woody Hutsell, AppICU
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Most storage systems will eventually offer 3DXP. Why? Because adding 3DXP SSDs to a storage array will be easy.
A second thing, I think the early usage for 3DXP will flow largely to server vendors (and their suppliers). This is a major point and central to my thoughts on storage and 3DXP. In the server, 3DXP reduces cost and increases density versus RAM.
3DXP in external storage will lag expectations until there are major advances in density and price.
I have worked in the part of the market that 3DXP external storage solutions will target for the last 17 years. For most of those 17 years, I think we could comfortably call this space Tier 0. These are customers whose end-customer satisfaction, missions or revenue are directly tied to the performance of their storage arrays. When I say performance, I really mean latency sensitive. They are so latency sensitive that they will not tolerate storage services getting in the way of application performance. There are customers in the financial, telecom, defense, government, retail, e-commerce and logistics businesses that I could probably with a high degree of accuracy predict their interest in this solution.
These customers are willing to pay for low latency. Customers in this category bought all RAM solid state storage. They were early adopters of all flash arrays. They still buy based on latency curves (who delivers predictable low latency at the IOPS level they require).
These are not the customers buying Tier 1 arrays with a full suite of storage services. They will not tolerate data reduction or storage services if it impacts latency. These are not the customers buying primarily on cost/capacity though they still have budgets and need a solution that fits that budget.
I love this Tier 0 market, because these customers are solving world class problems and must stay on the bleeding edge of technology to grow their business. These customers will buy 3DXP arrays that deliver on the low latency potential of 3DXP. The phrasing of this sentence is no accident, if the array offers 3DXP but only delivers modest latency improvements, it will be largely ignored.
The first enterprise market to hit it big with flash was inside the server, particularly PCI flash (think Fusion-io). The second enterprise market to hit it big with flash, a few years later, was the Tier 0 external storage market (think Texas Memory Systems (subsequently as IBM) and Violin Memory). These splashes were nothing compared to the tsunami of business when all flash arrays entered the Tier 1 market with compelling economics driven by adoption of flash in consumer devices and supported by inline data reduction technologies to further reduce the cost per capacity. These were majority buyers who were confident that the technology wrinkles were ironed out and who by and large wanted better performance than they could get from their disk-based solutions but were very focused on storage services, cost and cost/capacity. They are not Tier 0 buyers though they won’t go back to disk having tasted the sweet nectar of low latency storage.
Tier 1 customers are unlikely to buy into all 3DXP storage arrays until the cost approaches the cost of flash because for these customers the difference between 120 microseconds of latency and 20 microseconds of latency is not as motivating as the difference between 5-20 milliseconds of latency and ½ a millisecond of latency. And can you really get 20 microsecond latency on a Tier 1 device loaded with storage services?
What does this mean for the industry? The market for 3DXP in external storage arrays will appear vibrant due to product introductions but the revenue that can be directly attributed to 3DXP in external storage will be low until the cost and density make meaningful improvements. Storage architects are already designing ways to use 3DXP as a RAM replacement/supplement in the storage array. There is some interesting potential here given the memory requirements for flash metadata and caching and the use of 3DXP as a tier of storage. These steps are reminiscent of the way flash was gradually introduced into Tier 1 before it became Tier 1, for example in RAID cache backups. As with the all flash arrays, the all 3DXP arrays custom built for the best latency curve at the right price will start out in the Tier 0 space waiting for the cost and density improvements that bring it to the big time. This time around, that transition could take much longer than it did with flash based arrays. Flash arrays benefited massively from the density and cost reductions needed in the consumer space. 3DXP does not appear to have the same tailwinds yet.