IBM recently released a new FlashSystem 840 storage system and new flash offerings for their System X and PureSystems servers.
New FlashSystem 840
IBM has introduced a new version of their FlashSystem storage they acquired from TMS. The new FlashSystem 840 storage improves performance and reliability with new hardware packaging and new software functionality.
New FlashSystem 840 capabilities
IBM took this opportunity to repackage the FlashSystem storage for added service-ability and availability. The new packaging allows hot swap of Flash Storage Modules, redundant FRU canisters, power supplies, batteries and fan modules. The new FRU canisters contain dual sets of host interfaces, RAID controllers and management controllers. All this is packaged in a 2U high subsystem.
In addition to the repackaging, IBM has utilized new 2xnm eMLC NAND technology in the FlashSystems 840. eMLC is an enterprise class NAND technology that provides more write cycles, better durability and higher overall reliability than regular MLC (or cMLC) NAND.
The new FlashSystem 840 supports configurations of between 4TB and 40TB of RAID-protected storage. The system can be configured with 2-data plus 1-parity (2+1), 6+1, or 10+1 RAID groups.
The new system offers non-disruptive code load that supports field code updates while the system continues to run. Many competitive offerings claim high availability but without non-disruptive code load, such claims are hard to uphold over time.
IBM indicated that the new storage doubles the bandwidth and IOPS performance over the prior generation FlashSystem 820 storage system. The FlashSystem840 now offers up to 1.1M IO/second (100% random read) and 8 GB/sec of read sequential bandwidth.
New FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution
For customers that need more functionality with their high performance flash storage, IBM also offers an SVC-FlashSystem 840 configuration. With this new capability customers can enjoy real time compression, thin provisioning, flash copy services, replication, external storage virtualization and other advanced functionality.
IBM said that in an SVC configuration, the FlashSystem 840 can sustain 1.5M IO/second with only a minimal impact on system latency. This assumes an 8-node SVC configuration in front of a multiple FlashSystem units.
New eXFlash memory for X86 servers
The new X6 servers from IBM have a new eXFlash memory channel which supports Flash storage as a memory accessible device. This allows up to 12.8TB of flash storage to be directly connected to processor chips via memory channels and thus, accessed at near memory speeds. eXFlash is available on System x3850 X6, System x3950 X6, the new x3650 M4 and IBM Flex System X880 compute nodes. Each eXFlash unit occupies 4-SAS drive bays and multiple eXFlash units can be connected to X6 servers.
Customers could use eXFlash to hold temporary database data that could be accessed faster than PCIe SSDs. IBM claimed that eXFlash access times were on the order of 5-10 μseconds for writes whereas PCIe based storage would need 15-19 μseconds.
IBM has taken some time to introduce this latest FlashSystem storage and we should commend them for this. Enterprise customers are much more demanding of high availability and other characteristics than typical startup customers. However, it takes a lot of development and testing to get this right and no one does this better than IBM.
The new eXFlash memory channel flash storage represents an interesting offering. However, how well this technology is adopted and implemented in database and other application software will determine its overall usefulness. The main advantage of PCIe based SSDs over network attached flash storage is reduced latencies but IBM has taken this to another level with eXFlash. We believe many large customers will take advantage of its faster latencies to speed up their high-IO processing activities. Other server vendors will no doubt take note and follow IBM down this path.
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Silverton Consulting, Inc. is a Storage, Strategy & Systems consulting services company, based in the USA offering products and services to the data storage community.