HASSELT, Belgium — A European managed service provider (MSP) has turned to an all-flash storage array to meet customer expectations while maintaining efficiency in its datacenter.
Cegeka, a cloud provider that offers services such as infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), software-as-a-service (SaaS), and telephony throughout Belgium, The Netherlands, Poland, and Romania, initially incorporated IBM's FlashSystem 820 storage system into its infrastructure to speed up performance of a specific client's SAP applications.
Luc Greefs, Cegeka's director of shared technology and infrastructure delivery, says the challenge with taking over a customer's IT lies in balancing performance expectations with the need to manage space, cooling, and power in its own datacenter.
"Customers always expect much more from a managed service provider than they expect from themselves," he says. Deploying the IBM FlashSystem not only improved SAP job performance and end-user response times, but there were other benefits for Cegeka. Like any service provider, its floor and rack space usage, as well as power and cooling consumption in its datacenters, has a significant impact on its operational costs and what services it can provide customers, says Greefs.
Moving to an all-flash array reduced power consumption, he notes. Unlike spinning disk, re-writable flash is more energy efficient since it has no moving parts. The all-flash appliance also takes up less space, storing up to 24 terabytes of data in a pizza-box form factor.
Cegeka initially took a hybrid approach to incorporating flash by enhancing spinning disk with SSD. Its storage infrastructure was built on IBM XIV high-end disk systems and IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC) virtualization software, which made it easier to incorporate flash.
Erik Eyberg, head of strategy and business development for IBM's FlashSystems group, says the company is seeing MSPs deploy flash to support high-performance applications as well as deliver a premium tier of services to their IaaS and SaaS customers.
IBM offers a spectrum of flash-optimized products, he says, including all flash, hybrid, and server-based flash. Earlier this year, IBM announced a $1 billion investment in flash research, including optimizing flash at the system level and the establishment of 12 storage centers around the world to help customers run proof-of-concept scenarios.
Eyberg says Cegeka is an example of a customer that is knitting together different IBM FlashSystem offerings with other storage using its SVC to tier storage, create preferred pools, and mix-and-match the underlying storage for a given application's requirements. He notes the FlashSystem 820 eschews SSDs in favor of enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) flash that does not use disk interfaces, which allows it to be optimized at the system level for performance, reliability, and efficiency.
"We've freed ourselves from the constraints of that two-and-a-half-inch form factor," Eyberg told us, "and we integrate more intelligence onto our flash modules." This design was pioneered by Texas Memory Systems, which IBM acquired last year.
Mark Peters, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, says IBM has a comprehensive portfolio of storage that incorporates flash, in part due to the Texas Memory acquisition. He says, regardless of whether it's in an on-premises or cloud provider datacenter, while faster is always better, the throughput capabilities of flash are just as important as the speeds it can deliver.
Network bandwidth is critical for cloud providers, notes Peters, but in order to deliver throughput, they've historically had to overprovision spinning disk to get the required IOPs. Flash allows more users to do more things at the same time, which is just as important as speed.
Since it takes a great number of spinning disks -- hence power and space -- to deliver high speeds and low latency, Cegeka's Greef sees a great deal of potential for all-flash arrays to meet the performance requirements for specific applications, while still using spinning disk for storing data and apps that are less performance sensitive.