Flash Storage Servers vs High Availability Servers: Which is Right for You?

In today’s competitive business environment, high performance and reliable servers are a must for organizations looking to gain or maintain a competitive advantage in their industry.  Selecting the appropriate server hardware to address current business needs while maintaining optimal performance and accommodating for future growth is a challenge for IT decision makers.  There are countless options available in today’s market so it is important to thoroughly analyze your system architecture to determine its inefficiencies and progression capabilities before deciding what solution is best for your business. Two enterprise-grade options are flash storage servers and high availability servers.  In this piece, we’ll offer insight into the benefits both of those server topologies provide and equip you with the information required to identify the most advantageous hardware solution for your needs.  

What is A Flash Storage Server?

We must first start by providing some definition and insight to flash memory. Fujio Masuoka of Toshiba is credited for the invention of flash memory in the 1980s, aptly named for its ability to erase content from a semiconductor “in a flash” as coined by his colleague Shoji Arizumi. As an advancement from electrically erasable read-only memory (EEPROM), flash memory is composed of solid-state chips with connected transistors that is able to delete data in large blocks and rewrite data via byte level or page level, which are groups of memory cells part of a sole operation.  Flash is also a form of non-volatile memory (NVM), which does not require a constant power supply to retain data thus making it ideal for storage of information.  There are two types of flash memory available, NOR and NAND, with the former mostly used in mobile phones due to its development cost, faster processing, but slower erase/write speeds. NAND operates at a slower rate, but provides a significantly higher storage capacity and maximizes chip space which is better suited for large file replacement and upload. A flash storage server is a server that employs flash memory technology in order to operate as a dedicated storage device within a network infrastructure.  Flash storage applies solid state drive (SSD) technology as opposed to the former standardized hard drive disk (HDD) drives.  While HDD solutions are still widely prevalent based on their price point and storage capacity, SSD has increasingly become a desired alternative providing a multitude of enhancements in lieu of its predecessor. Flash storage servers offer increased user or client capacity without decline in performance and latency (amount of time a processor sends commands and when memory provides a response), minimized maintenance and cooling costs for energy efficiency since no moving parts are used in SSD drives, and lighting fast I/O (input/output) response times allowing for increased time to market and data sharing along with accessibility.  These also provide scalability to address for increased workloads for unforeseen processing surges along with future business growth accommodations. Some server solutions make use of a hybrid HDD and SSD arrangement, but all flash storage servers are progressively becoming a mainstay in the industry. Because Premio is an Intel-Direct Platinum partner, our recent launch of next-generation server storage is powered by Intel’s® latest Xeon® Scalable Processors, codenamed Skylake, in our all-flash Flachestream flash storage server selection.  Companies that desire or require the speed at which flash performs, its ability to provide or enhance virtualization systems, lower maintenance expenses, or enact hybrid SSD and HDD storage solutions will find flash as a beneficial investment for present needs and growth opportunities.    

What is A High Availability Server?

Availability refers to the percentage of time when a server is available to handle said requests and is normally expressed as a percentage of uptime spanning over a specific time frame such as a day, month, or year.  A widely sought after industry metric is 99.999% of availability known as the ‘”five nines”.  With businesses becoming more and more dependent on digitally stored data and compute resources, organizations of all sizes are looking to a computing infrastructure comprised of high availability (HA) servers in order to sustain day-to-day operations and maximize uptime.  There are various characteristics that must exist for a server solution to be deemed as providing high availability, but three stand out as the most important: redundancy, failover, and monitoring. Redundancy in relation to computing is defined as exercising multiple components, in this instance servers, that are able to perform the same processes and tasks.  HA clusters are collections of hosts or servers operating as a singular system in order to maximize uptime.  As previously mentioned, with the amount of data being processed internally and by business clientele, server downtime is an enormous fear for all system administrators possibly resulting in catastrophic financial losses. Positioning multiple HA servers in a cluster for redundancy within a network infrastructure ensures continued service in the event system components fail to perform at a high proficiency or encounter complete failure.  Utilizing HA servers with hot-swappable (ability to replace device components while in operation) drive bays, such as Premio’s Durastream Mission Critical Servers, which also promote the use of industry trusted Intel® PCSD boards adding increased reliability, enables personnel with the ability to remove failed drives and install preconfigured replacements for a seamless operational transition. Failover with regard to servers is the switching over to a redundant or standby operational system when an unexpected interruption of service occurs.  As virtualization technology continues to become a core resource for all business types and their corresponding network infrastructures, HA servers aid in faultless transition for mitigating downtime by allowing primary nodes to remain in constant communication with inactive secondary nodes that activate when communication is lost with the primary. In Hyper-V virtualization platforms, a host uses multiple virtual machines (VM) with each operating as a node within a failover HA cluster. Finally, the monitoring of HA clusters is a vital component to support sustained operations and maximize uptime.  Software that provides monitoring and load balancing must be implemented in order to ensure the differing layers of high availability server infrastructures continuously monitor workloads and activity.  This adds another level to failure detection that allows for HA solutions to work in conjunction with redundant systems and engage failover practices as needed.  

Which Solution is Right for You?

While every use case will vary, there are a few rules of thumb that may help get you started in your research. Generally speaking, if your application requires fast, high throughput access to a large amount of data, a flash storage server will make a lot of sense. When you are talking about use cases for SQL database servers, Hadoop clusters, or other use cases where large amounts of data will be stored and accessed regularly, you should also be talking about flash storage. Alternatively, if uptime is a must or an SLA (service level agreement) exists, for example in a Tier 1-4 data center or for a public facing website, a high availability server is a good place to start the conversation. Because the majority of IT environments encapsulate multitudes of variables differentiating one from the next, and many use cases will call for a variety of servers to meet all the requirements, the needs of your unique application should be the driver in determining the best-suited server solution.  Premio’s elite product and service options are known worldwide for our design, production, and distribution of digital solutions with industry-leading inventive computing strategies for multiple global industries. Our company delivers expert and knowledgeable consultation and platform options emphasizing cutting-edge storage options, purpose-built servers, display & digital signage solutions, along with embedded system schemes for even the most complex architecture challenges.  Contact us today and let our Premio Customer Care Team begin developing a solution that meets the dynamic business demands of your specialized application.