Advances in flash storage are helping colleges and universities leverage other technology investments to drive a variety of computing initiatives.

“Ubiquitous Wi-Fi, greater use of video and an influx of data — among other technological advances — put intense pressure on underlying infrastructure,” notes a white paper from PureStorage. “But as institutions work to modernize their infrastructures, one vital aspect is often overlooked: storage.”

Flash storage has its roots in electronically erasable, programmable read-only memory. Unlike other forms of EEPROM, however, flash storage erases entire blocks of data at once instead of bit by bit. Overall, flash storage boasts significantly higher read speeds, offering access to data in microseconds that a hard-disk drive would access in milliseconds. 

Traditionally, flash storage was used primarily in small electronic devices. But newer all-flash arrays, which combine multiple flash drives, can handle heavier loads. That, combined with a falling price point, is leading institutions to take another look at flash storage. 

“All-flash arrays are dominating primary storage spend in the enterprise, driving over 80 percent of that revenue in 2017,” said Eric Burgener, IDC research vice president for infrastructure systems, platforms and technologies. “Today’s leading all-flash arrays offer all the performance, capacity scalability, enterprise-class functionality and data center integration capabilities needed to support dense mixed enterprise workload consolidation. More and more IT shops are recognizing this and committing to all-flash for primary storage strategies.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: Key considerations for your next cloud storage solution.

4 Ways Higher Education Can Use Flash Storage

Universities switching to flash are finding that it brings a number of benefits, including easy integration into cloud platforms such as Cisco UCS Director and VMware vRealize. Potential applications vary widely, as shown in the white paper.

  1. Virtual desktop infrastructure: VDI shines in higher education, letting institutions scale up services, improve the user experience and deliver specialized applications to any device. At the University of Portland in Oregon, IT managers found that transitioning to flash storage improved the speed and scaling of their virtual environment, while cutting the university’s computer refresh budget by 20 percent. 

  2. Research labs: As researchers rely on Big Data and high-performance computing, they need an infrastructure that can keep up. At the University of California, Berkeley, researchers studying the human genome required an immense amount of data to track genetic markers (analyzing a single strand of DNA can take up to 300 gigabytes of data). To handle the load, they are developing an open-source library that uses flash storage to guarantee high availability.

  3. Data analytics: Analytics that support administrative initiatives also benefit from the efficiencies of flash storage. At Davenport University, administrators combine all-flash storage arrays with data-streaming services from Oracle and Microsoft SQL to speed up their analytics capabilities. 

  4. Online learning: At Mississippi Virtual Community College, IT teams integrated all-flash arrays and VMware virtualization software to expand online capabilities for a growing student population.

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