The most pressing demands of data centers in 2017 can be summed up in two words: simplicity and performance. Data center managers are seeking to reduce complexity while shrinking the barriers between data and the customer. A key part of this initiative is replacing the mechanical disk with solid-state drives (SSDs).

In fact, data center operators aren’t merely hoping for more speed and greater simplicity, they’re expecting it. For that, you can credit the smartphone.

User Expectations Have Changed

The iPhone changed expectations of IT. It has simplified everything – from taking a Sunday drive, to ordering laundry detergent, or finding out when the lead singer of your favorite heavy metal band was born. It’s put everything at your fingertips. And it has changed the way we look at the data center as well.

In short, high-speed devices in the pocket of every user have created a huge shift in expectations. Waiting a few seconds to process an online transaction is no longer good enough. We want our data, and we want it now.

Flash has traditionally been the storage medium of choice for high-transaction workloads when latency and performance are chief concerns. Think financial trading and e-commerce. Mechanical discs simply cannot provide the same level of responsiveness.

Now, as the cost of flash drives continues to drop and their capacity increases, more data centers will adopt SSDs for everyday storage needs. Technologies such as deduplication and compression allow vendors to increase the capacity of SSDs, making them more competitive with mechanical drives without increasing the cost of manufacturing them. Today, flash drives with capacity up to 12 terabytes are readily available, and even larger drives are coming soon.

Within the next three years, SSDs will definitely be as cheap as — if not cheaper than — mechanical disk. With the right management software, you can use solid-state drives to yield more storage capacity than they physically have.

The Slow Fade of Hard Drives

This doesn’t mean flash drives will completely replace hard drives in the data center — at least, not right away. Data center operators will still need very cheap and deep, long-term archive storage. Mechanical disc arrays remain a more economical option for these particular storage needs. Hybrid arrays that combine mechanical drives with faster flash technology will gradually disappear.

As with virtualization before it, migrating your organization’s data storage to all-flash arrays is rapidly becoming a no-brainer. IT managers used to ask, “Should we virtualize this workload?” Now they say, “We’re virtualizing everything, and you need to make an argument not to.”

Going forward, data centers will use flash storage for an increasing number of workloads, unless IT leaders can make a sound argument to use mechanical discs instead. It will really be a conversation over cost. Over time, that conversation will happen less and less.

Flash and Hyperconverged Infrastructures

Flash is also making strong inroads into hyperconverged solutions — appliances that combine hardware, software, networking and power and can be easily plugged into a rack, greatly simplifying data center management.

If I can walk a customer through a data center and say, “I’m going to remove this piece of hardware and that network switch, and, by the way, we’re going to increase performance 300 percent,” the customer thinks I’m a hero.

With the iPhone, users have a device in their hand that does everything they need. Why can’t data center operators enjoy the same simplicity and performance?

To learn more about flash storage and other solutions that can optimize the performance of your data center, visit CDW.com/datacenter

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