HP says its all-flash array now matches fast disks on price

The 3Par StoreServ 7450 is getting new SSDs and software

Hewlett-Packard is joining some aggressive startups in claiming flash can match the cost of high-end disk drives.

On Monday at its Discover conference in Las Vegas, HP announced updates to the all-flash HP 3Par StoreServ 7450 Storage array that can push its cost below $2 per usable gigabyte, according to the company. That's roughly the tipping point where flash goes from pricier to cheaper compared with 15,000-rpm HDDs (hard disk drives), the fast disks that enterprises have long used for performance-hungry applications. Skyera, Kaminario and other startups have made similar claims to beating that price.

The falling cost of flash, combined with speed that beats any HDD, may lead to all-solid-state data centers in the next five years, according to Taneja Group analyst Arun Taneja, a longtime storage watcher. Just two years ago, that seemed unlikely, he said.

With the StoreServ 7450, HP is taking on large hybrid arrays, such as EMC's VNX and larger VMax lines, that have HDDs and flash arranged in tiers for data with different speed needs. Comparing the updated StoreServ 7450 to a typical tiered array, the tiered system comes in at nearly four times the cost, HP claims.

But the 7450 also has performance high enough to compete with some all-flash arrays from startups, which until recently have had the all-flash market to themselves, Taneja said. "For the first time, they're all going to have to fight a battle," he said.

So far, all-flash arrays are only matching the cost of spinning media at the high end, and disk or hybrid systems still tend to hold an edge where sheer volume is the goal, Taneja said. Archives won't use flash for a long time, either. But falling prices and the growing range of options are changing the market for flash, he said.

"This opens the floodgates for a large majority of applications," Taneja said.

The 7450 was introduced about a year ago. The cost breakthrough HP is crowing about in Las Vegas will come later this month with a new type of SSD (solid-state drive) and updated software that helps the system make better use of its capacity.

HP worked with its SSD supplier to get 1.9TB of usable space out of SSDs that had been configured to provide just 1.6TB, said Craig Nunes, vice president of marketing for HP Storage. This involved changing the way the drive and HP's software allocate spare capacity for use in case of a drive failure. By coordinating those settings, the companies found a sparing method that freed up 20 percent more capacity for everyday use, he said.

The way HP compacts the data on both old and new 7450 arrays helps drive down the cost per gigabyte even more, Nunes said. With new software, the systems can perform inline block deduplication, eliminating duplicate blocks of data at a steady rate as data is written to the array, according to Nunes. This works with hardware acceleration from chips that are already built in to every 7450. HP's Express Indexing technique for deduplication also boosts efficiency, he said.

The 7450's deduplication also helps the system scale to higher capacity than arrays from startups can achieve, because most startups handle all their deduplication in memory, according to HP. The 7450 can take in 460TB and deduplicate it without incurring a speed penalty, Nunes said. After deduplication, the array ends up with 1.3PB of effective capacity.

HP's array also takes up much less space than some competing systems, the company says. An EMC VMax with 250TB of usable capacity would consume three standard data-center racks, while the HP 7450 would take up just 4U (7 inches or 18cm) of space in one rack, Nunes said. The EMC platform would also consume up to eight times as much power, he said.

The new SSDs that give the 7450 higher density use mass-market cMLC (commercial multilevel cell) flash, a grade that's less expensive than enterprise flash. Despite that, HP is offering the HP 3Par Get 6-Nines Guarantee, assuring users of 99.9999 percent uptime, as well as a five-year SSD warranty. That level of availability implies just over 30 seconds of downtime per year.

The SSDs are set to ship later this month for a U.S. list price of $14,315. The updated software for more efficient deduplication and other features will be available free to all 7450 customers in September, HP said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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