This content is part of the Essential Guide: Hard disk vs. flash storage: The fight of the century?

Flash backups: What are the best use cases, and why?

Flash storage arrays consume less power than traditional disks, and could be used to significantly decrease an organization's backup window and appliances.

As the price of flash storage declines, flash arrays have become serious contenders for use as backup targets. Even so, some use cases are better suited for flash backups than others.

The two things holding flash back from being suitable for general-purpose backups are capacity and price. Flash drives generally have a lower overall capacity and a higher cost per gigabyte than spinning disks, although the gap between the two is narrowing. Backing up petabytes of data to flash storage is both impractical and cost prohibitive, at least for now.

This does not mean that flash backups are impractical across the board.

Flash is well-suited to providing continuous backups of highly transactional data. And the technology might be a good choice, for instance, for backing up heavily used databases. Although all-flash arrays can provide the level of performance needed to back up such a database, storage connectivity plays an equally important role. The speed at which data can be transmitted from the database server to the backup target limits the overall backup throughput.

Flash backups are not the only choice for backing up rapidly changing data. A standard storage array can achieve an IOPS level equal to that of a flash array if enough disks are used. However, the cumulative capacity of the disks in such an array is often far greater than what an organization might need, resulting in wasted capacity. Rather than paying for unused capacity and incurring potentially higher maintenance costs (because there are a larger number of disks to replace as they wear out), some organizations opt to use flash rather than traditional arrays.

Other organizations choose to use all-flash arrays as a way to decrease disk-related heat and noise. Because flash disks do not contain moving parts, they consume less power and produce far less heat than traditional disks, while also running silently.

Flash backups are sometimes used as a way to enable simultaneous server backups. Even though all-flash backups are most commonly associated with protecting high-demand workloads, a flash storage array also works well for simultaneously backing up multiple lower demand workloads. As such, flash backups could be used to significantly reduce the data backup window or number of backup appliances required to provide continuous protection for an organization's resources.

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