IBM 2013Apr11 Announces Flash Ahead Initiative

In Data storage, DS8000, DS8800, DS8870, FlashSystem, FlashSystem 720, FlashSystem 820, IBM, SAN Volume Controller (SVC), SSD storage, Storwize V7000, Texas Memory Systems, TMS by AdministratorLeave a Comment

IBM® has recently announced their new Flash Ahead Initiative.

IBM Flash Ahead

IBM announced new investments in helping their customers benefit from flash technologies. Specifically IBM:

  • Will invest more than $1B in R&D funds for flash systems and software,
  • Will open/staff 12 IBM Flash Centers of Competency around the world to aid clients in adopting flash, and
  • Will introduce IBM FlashSystem all-flash storage systems.

IBM believes that flash is at a tipping point in its adoption curve.  Although today all-flash systems are not a large part of corporate IT spend, over the long term IBM believes that such storage will account for a significant part of data center budgets.  Thus, investing now to become a leader during this transformational period can provide IBM customers the best options for their future storage needs.

All-flash systems are all about improving performance, reducing costs and enabling new opportunities.   There is no doubt that all-flash storage can improve application performance and as such can enable new opportunities held back previously by the lack of such performance. But, how they can reduce costs is another matter entirely.

IBM presented a TCO comparison of an all-disk storage system and software vs. an all-flash storage system and software.  Assuming some required IOPS level (e.g. 500K IOPS) the main cost drivers of this TCO analysis were the software costs associated with DB licenses, infrastructure software licenses and software maintenance.  As shown by IBM, using all-flash storage the system requires less CPU cores to perform the same work, resulting in lower software licensing costs, operational costs (server/storage administration) and environmental costs (footprint, power & cooling).  It did increase the cost of the storage but in the end the total costs were ~30% less when using the all-flash storage.

IBM indicated that the Flash Ahead Initiative is focusing on five verticals: Financial services, Government, E-commerce, HPC and Telecom environments. Within these verticals they are looking to replace disk storage in OLTP database, cloud-scale infrastructures, virtual infrastructures, data analytics and high performance computational applications.

Besides the new IBM FlashSystem storage, all-flash arrays or flash optimizations are currently available with IBM System Storage® DS8870, Storwize® V7000/SAN Volume Controller and XIV® systems.

New IBM FlashSystem 820 and 720

In addition to the rebranding of the TMS RamSan storage systems, IBM has invested time and energy into making the all-flash storage products more enterprise ready.  IBM introduced changes to add call home support and more serviceability as well as applying more extensive testing for enterprise environments.

The new IBM FlashSystem 820 is a 1U device with up to 20TB of useable flash storage with FC attachments. It features Variable Stripe RAID and 2D Flash RAID storage protection for more reliability.  IBM stated that the 820 supports as low as 100 μseconds latency.  Also, the IBM FlashSystem can be used behind SVC and in this configuration latency is as low as 200 μseconds.

In 1 floor tile (and a 42U rack) using IBM FlashSystem 820, one can have 1PB of flash storage supplying 22 million IOPS and/or 210 GB/second of throughput using 12.6KW of power (less than the average 200TB disk storage array).

Announcement Significance

Over the last few months we have seen NetApp, EMC and now IBM roll out their all-flash storage portfolios.  They must be all seeing the same trend lines, i.e., higher adoption of flash in hybrid storage arrays, boosting performance, minimizing over provisioning and reducing costs.

However, all-flash storage takes this logic to a whole new level.  Although, raw NAND pricing is coming down and capacities are going up, with the new NAND chips come increasing challenges to provide high write endurance and relatively long lifetimes. Software and system solutions exist but they can be even more effective in all-flash configurations.

The industry is also actively seeking alternatives to NAND technology which if they prove out can eliminate these problems altogether.  In the mean time, NAND storage and all-flash arrays can provide a wedge that will open the storage market to solid state technologies, build an ecosystem to support it and offer an easy migration path to any new SSD technology that comes along to replace flash.

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[This storage announcement dispatch was originally sent out to our newsletter subscribers in April of 2013.  If you would like to receive this information via email please consider signing up for our free monthly newsletter (see subscription request, above right) and we will send our current issue along with download instructions for this and other reports.]

Silverton Consulting, Inc. is a Storage, Strategy & Systems consulting services company, based in the USA offering products and services to the data storage community.

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