IBM Adds Server-Side Caching

IBM's FlashCache Server-Side Caching SoftwareIBM today announced its FlashCache Storage Accelerator, a software product that supports flash caching in a broad range of systems.  FlashCache operates over three families of IBM servers (System x, BladeCenter and Flex System) and a variety of flash types to accelerate any back-end storage, including non-IBM storage arrays.

Although the cache’s data is dynamically updated to match the random workloads of virtualized systems (i.e. to accelerate VMware), it also improves the performance of Windows and Linux environments.

The cache uses a Write Through policy to solve a number of potential problems:

  • Coherency between shared storage and the local flash cache is easily assured
  • HA features like snapshotting are guaranteed to contain the freshest data, since no cache data will be more current than that stored in the array
  • If a server fails, no data is lost

One interesting side benefit of server-side caching solutions is that it cuts SAN traffic, helping improve SAN performance; writes to the SAN perform faster with a cache than without, simply because the cache reduces read traffic on the network.  This can help extend the lifetime of customers’ back-end storage systems even as their performance needs increase.

Early users have found that FlashCache transparently accelerates data-intensive applications up to 2.5 times their original speeds while reducing latency by 50% and that as many as twice the number of virtual machines can be supported with their existing server set.

It is exciting to see IBM grabbing the initiative in the world of flash caching.  An early flash adopter, the company is now harnessing its significant resources drive flash into the computing environment.  FlashCache is one component of IBM’s Flash Ahead initiative, announced last April, in which IBM committed to spend $1 billion over the next 3 years to promote flash in computing environments and to develop products that integrate flash into the computing environment.

IBM may not be the first to introduce caching software to the market, but its support of flash may give the company new importance.  IBM’s caching competitors don’t have the company’s system-wide expertise, and even large SAN suppliers find themselves adding caches to servers from other companies, which is likely to worry some sysadmins.

Flash is changing the course of computing architecture to the long-term benefit of the computing community, although the transition is likely to cause difficulty for some suppliers.  IBM is showing that it wants to help drive this change rather than lose out by clinging to established approaches.

4 Responses to IBM Adds Server-Side Caching

  • Jim, thanks for sharing these insights on FCSA. You mention that:

    “Beta test customers have found that FlashCache transparently accelerates data-intensive applications up to 2.5 times their original speeds while reducing latency by 50% and that as many as twice the number of virtual machines can be supported with their existing server set.”

    Would you have some insights on what were these beta test applications typically that saw 2.5X boost? Also, what kind of workload was run – was it a purely random read or a mix of random read and writes?

    best,
    Shaloo

    • Jim Handy says:

      Shaloo,

      IBM doesn’t often disclose very much about customer findings. They did say that a Microsoft Exchange installation with 20,000 users saw a 20% faster end-user performance, that another company had 90x faster CRM queries and 5x faster rich media web page loads, and that some database user got 40x faster report generation.

      I hope that helps a little.

      Jim

  • Thanks Jim. This is useful. These are primarily read heavy workloads though.

    Well, there aren’t any IBM case studies talking about real performance gains from Flash Accelerator product vs. say pure hard disk based storage – even almost six months down the line (Aug 13 – June 14). Wonder how the transactional database applications fare with Flash Accelerator.

  • Found that IBM has shared some of their lab performance results for VDI use case in VMware environment – 3X VM density increase, 10x lower read latency and more here http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/redpapers/pdfs/redp5080.pdf

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SSD Market Research
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