What would you do with an incredibly fast, all-flash, file server? It turns out that a few organizations will use it as a backup target. More specifically they will use it to deliver fast restores of databases. Pure Storage may not have planned that their FlashBlade all-flash object store would be used as a backup repository, but that is precisely how some customers are using FlashBlade. On the main stage at Pure Accelerate we heard from ServiceNow who have been able to increase physical database server density, and in a private briefing, we heard from a travel booking company that has done the same thing. Both customers moved from 2U servers to 1U by eliminating the need for storage capacity for backups.
I find it very interesting and unsurprising that the mantra of “scale-out with commodity servers and software” doesn’t fit every use case. Both these customers run scale-out physical database server environments, and both used to ship database backups from one node to another. Effectively many pairs of servers protected each other’s data. The primary copy of the data is on a couple (or multiple pairs) of mirrored SSDs and the backups on another pair. This double-double was the driver for 2U servers; a 1U chassis maxes out at four SSDs, enough for live data but not enough for backups as well. By shipping the backups to a central location in each rack, the SSDs in each 1U server could be dedicated to live data. Now a single rack can hold 30x 1U database servers rather than 17x 2U servers. The database servers still scale-out with commodity servers, but the backups are on a custom engineered platform that delivers fast restores.
I do not believe that there is a single product or architecture that suits every application and use case. Software on commodity servers is excellent for many workloads, some workloads need custom servers, and others require highly engineered storage solutions such as FlashBlade.
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