Home Business IT Storage & Cloud Storage HPE's winning hand for flash and hybrid storage

HPE's decision to adopt a single storage architecture based on its 3Par acquisition has paid dividends.

You might not think of Hewlett Packard Enterprise as being one of the main storage vendors, but not only is that the case, it is the only one among its peers to grow its market share for nine consecutive quarters, said its APJ storage head Phil Davis (pictured), with every other major vendor - EMC, IBM, Dell and NetApp - losing share in the fourth quarter of 2015.

A key part of the company's strategy was its 2010 acquisition of 3Par. Since then, HP (now HPE) has invested in "organic R&D to scale that [platform] up, down and sideways," Davis told iTWire.

Where other vendors have acquired multiple storage suppliers to fill out their product portfolios with NAS, flash and so on, HPE has a common architecture, a single operating system and just one management tool across its entire range.

This provides easy management and the ability to treat multiple arrays as one big pool of storage, thus avoiding individual silos of storage.

At present, "flash is really the hot spot," Davis said. According to IDC's figures, the APJ (excluding China) region saw 82.2 percent year-on-year growth in the fourth quarter of 2015, with HPE achieving 252.5 percent growth and a 19.5 percent share.

But "most customers don't want to purchase a flash silo" and many are reluctant to buy from startups especially when HPE can offer a consistent, "no compromises" storage platform covering multiple storage technologies.

The flash system HP Labs built on top of the 3Par technology allows the company to deliver flash storage for less than $US1.50 per usable gigabyte (about the same as 10K disk drives and significantly cheaper than 15K drives which have therefore already been superceded) while including all the rich data services expected from arrays.

"Every other vendor traded off data services for performance," he told iTWire. But at the low end HPE offers the lowest cost per IOPS, and the most IOPS at the high end - all on the same architecture. So "the HPE system is cheaper, better, faster," he said.

This was achieved with "a much smarter box" - specifically one that provides best-of-breed deduplication, thin deduplication, more efficient thin provisioning, and adaptive sparing.

Deduplication performance is improved by using 16KB chunks, not requiring the deduplication tables to fit into cache memory (they can spill into flash storage without losing the benefits of deduplication), and using an ASIC to calculate the hashes more quickly, explained HPC storage division CTO Paul Haverfield.

The 16KB chunk size - one of the biggest in the industry - reflects the capability of the ASIC and aligns with HPE's thin provisioning.

Thin deduplication refers to the way HPE's all-flash systems allow deduplication to be turned on or off for individual data sets or workloads. Databases, for example, do not deduplicate very well, if at all, he said. So thin deduplication avoids devoting CPU and memory resources to tasks that have little or no real return.

Sparing has been improved by working closely with flash suppliers including SanDisk to avoid doubling up on sparing capacity. All flash storage involves overprovisioning to allow for wear levelling, and storage arrays require working space (eg, to reconstruct files). Adaptive sparing combines both of these requirements into a single pool, so a 1.6TB drive presents 1.92TB of "raw usable" capacity (ie, a 20% bonus) in a 3Par array.

This approach also allows better wear levelling, so HPE's all-flash storage is offered at NAND flash price points but provide better endurance. Haverfield told iTWire this "unique 3Par flash optimisation" means HPE can offer a five-year media replacement warranty.

Also guaranteed is a 75% reduction when migrating data from disk to flash, backed by an offer of up to 30TB of free storage to make up any shortfall, Davis said.

Some customers want hybrid storage, he observed. While the architecture allows disk and flash arrays to be federated, HPE recently announced the 20840 - a high-end array that provides flash storage for performance-oriented workloads and nearline SATA drives for low-cost storage.

And while flash is faster, denser and requires less power than disk drives, it's not ideal for storing snapshots and other backups. So HPE's StoreOnce backup systems can be used with the company's 3Par-based arrays to provide policy-based snapshots without the need for additional software, saving upfront and management costs.

Software defined storage is "still early in the lifecycle," Davis said, but having shipped more than two million copies of the StoreVirtual product means "we are the market leader." StoreVirtual is available in three forms: licence only (which can be used on any server), as appliance, or on hyperconverged systems such as HPE's HC 350.

"The era of the standalone storage company is dead" thanks to the trend to converged and hyperconverged systems, he said. "If all you do is storage, that's a problem for you [as a vendor]."

This presents an issue for storage startups, he suggests. While they can bring new technologies to market faster than established players can, they may struggle to build scale. "You get big, you get bought, or you kinda go away," said Davis.

Further acquisitions of all-flash startups are unlikely, as the big players have already made their choices.

"I wouldn't want to buy from a vendor that's losing money, or buy an array that doesn't work with any of my other kit," Davis said.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.


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