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Flash Back and Flash Forward: The All-Flash Data Center Is Already Here

By Scott Shimomura posted 05-08-2017 10:00 AM


Can you believe it all started over 20 years ago? Since 1995, Fibre Channel has been a key enabler of every new wave of storage innovation in the data center. It began by enabling shared storage and later led to mainstream adoption of server virtualization. Today, Fibre Channel is all about flash-based storage.

At Brocade, we shifted our focus to flash clear back in 2011 when we launched our Gen 5 Fibre Channel technology. Six years ago (an eternity in high tech), the concept of an all-flash data center was laughable. High costs and low capacity were the bane of widespread flash adoption despite the obvious application performance benefits. But time and innovation marched on…




Jack’s famous words from 2013…prophetic at the time and proven out in 2017. According to Gartner, all-flash array revenue is expected to grow at a CAGR of 32% through 2020[1]. That’s phenomenal growth, especially compared to the projected -13.6% CAGR for hybrid and traditional disk arrays[2]. That disparity in growth is a clear sign that all-flash arrays (AFAs) are taking over the enterprise storage category. The business benefits of an all-flash data center are obvious: incredible application performance, consolidation through deduplication and compression, massive footprint reduction, lower power consumption, and many more.

It’s obvious that the market has moved to flash as evidenced by vendor revenue, but even more importantly, by customer spending intentions. In fact, TechTarget Research reported that 74% of the customers they surveyed plan to increase spending on all-flash arrays[3].  That’s great news for the storage industry and even better news for the Fibre Channel industry. When customers buy AFAs, they connect to Fibre Channel SANs 69% of the time[4]. This leads to what I call “the flash effect on Fibre Channel.”

When the companies surveyed connect an all-flash array to a SAN, they end up growing their port count 49% of the time[5]. It seems that flash adoption is now THE compelling event or catalyst for refreshing a legacy SAN or adding new network capacity.


The Dell EMC Flash Juggernaut

The speed of change and innovation around flash also reinforces Jack’s prediction from 2013. In the span of just four years we have seen flash companies created, acquired, thrive, and flame out. None has stood out more than Dell EMC as they made the transition to become the flash juggernaut in the industry.

Flash will be a major highlight this week as Dell EMC World 2017 makes its debut as the premier storage event of the year. The Dell EMC announcement of upgrades and enhancements to their market-leading portfolio underscores the depth and breadth of their flash solutions—meeting the enterprise-class storage needs of almost every type of customer.


And as you consider the new capabilities of that storage, consider whether your current SAN will be able to unleash its full potential and benefits. The Dell EMC VMAX All Flash, XtremIO, and Unity families of enterprise storage combined with Brocade Gen 5 and Gen 6 Fibre Channel solutions will deliver best-in-class performance, value, and economics to help you modernize your storage infrastructure for the all-flash data center. Together, Brocade and Dell EMC will help you redefine business value by enabling more agile IT operations and a seamless transition to all-flash data center.


Where Do We Go from Here?

Now that I’ve alluded to the past and the present, what about the future?



This was Jack’s quote from EMC World last year. Although we’re still in the early days of NVMe storage and networked NVMe over Fibre Channel, these technologies are already infusing the industry with new energy and innovation. NVMe (the protocol) is purpose-built for flash memory and will have a dramatic impact on reducing storage latency due to internal parallelism. To put it more bluntly, it’s finally time to say goodbye to SCSI for flash. SCSI was originally developed in the 1980s, and it’s way too long in tooth to support modern storage architectures.

NVMe over Fibre Channel (click on the link to get a free digital copy of the book NVMe over Fibre Channel for Dummies) is the future of high-performance networked storage. In a nutshell, it will provide all of the benefits you know and love today, such as always-on availability, flash-ready performance, and massive scalability. In addition, you’ll be able to run NVMe and your legacy SCSI-based storage on existing Brocade Gen 5 and Gen 6 SANs. It’s the lowest-risk and best infrastructure for deploying networked NVMe storage. Best of all, Brocade Fibre Channel solutions are NVMe-ready today!


Since we’re in Las Vegas for Dell EMC World 2017 and I’m a betting man, I’m placing my chips behind Jack’s prediction of enormous technology disruption from NVMe. And, just to keep myself honest, I plan to revisit these predictions over many blogs in the future.


[1] Gartner, Inc.: Forecast Analysis: External Controller-Based Storage, Worldwide, 4Q16 Update published April 25th 2017

[2] Ibid

[3] TechTarget Research: Storage Market Landscape Study 2H, 2016

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

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