IBM Refreshes Broad Swath of Flash Offerings

IBM Storwize All FlashYesterday IBM unveiled a sweeping update of its existing flash storage products.  These updates cover a range of products, including IBM Storwize All Flash arrays: V7000F, V7000 Gen2+, and V5030F, the FlashSystem V9000, the IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC), and IBM’s Spectrum Virtualize Software.

The company referred to this effort as a part of a: “Drumbeat of flash storage announcements.”  IBM has a stated goal of providing its clients with: “The right flash for the right performance at the right price.”

IBM’s representatives explained that the updates were made possible by the fact that the prices of flash components have been dropping at a rapid pace while reliability is on the rise.  The SSD Guy couldn’t agree more.

Here’s what IBM announced:

Starting from the low end and moving up, the V5030F entry-level/midrange array is an all-flash rendition of the V5010 and V5020 arrays IBM announced in February.  This product sports a multilayer write cache to better take advantage of its SSD-based back-end.  Today’s system capacity offerings are 2TB & 4 TB, but future models will offer capacities of 7TB & 15TB, all delivering 99.999% availability.

The V7000F offers the same capacity points and reliability levels as the V5030 but with 45% higher performance than earlier models.  Like the V5030, the V7000F is based on standard SSDs, and although it is priced for midrange applications it offers all of the capabilities of an enterprise-class array.  The V7000F also uses hardware-assisted encryption and compression to improve performance and can support distributed RAID.

Users of earlier generations of the V7000 system can upgrade to this new system without disruption.  Since the V7000 uses dual controllers for fail-over, existing systems can be upgraded, one controller at a time, from older 524 controllers to the updated 624 version.

The top end of the IBM Storwize All Flash product line is the V9000, which is built around the proprietary IBM FlashCore technology from the company’s acquisition of TMS in 2012.  Unlike the SSDs ued in the V5030 and V7000F, the FlashCore doesn’t hide flash memory’s speed behind slow HDD interfaces, but uses a custom interface that has been optimized to support all the speed that flash has to offer.  This enterprise-class system can support as many as 20 enclosures, each containing up to 4 terabytes of storage.  A processor upgrade has given the system a 30% performance boost by migrating from an 8-core to a 10-core CPU.

To complement these products IBM has upgraded its SAN Volume Controller solution by doubling the number of Ethernet ports, quadrupling its cache size, and increasing its performance by 30% though a processor upgrade similar to that of the V9000.  IBM has also broadened its network support from FCoE to iSCSI.

Finally, IBM is making its Spectrum Virtualize software, which is at the core of all of these systems, available for x86 servers, rather than being limited to IBM’s controller hardware.  This support will start with Lenovo systems, but will migrate to similar offerings from Cisco, Supermicro and HPE, and will even run on commodity servers in the cloud.

IBM’s Spectrum Virtualize software provides greater efficiency by pooling storage, increasing utilization, and compresing data for greater economy and speed.  Cloud support allows systems to manage both cloud and local data through a single user interface.  Because this software is already in use in over 150,000 installations it is known to be robust.

The encryption and compression hardware engines that are built into IBM’s XIV hardware don’t already exist in x86 servers, so in order to get the advantages of hardware-accelerated encryption and compression, you need to buy your hardware from IBM.

I have to point out that IBM is really living up to its goals in this business.  In 2013, the company committed to spend $1 billion over the next 3 years to advance flash technologies in its storage systems, and the current chain of announcements is a great testimonial to the continuing value of that commitment.

IBM deeply understands the benefits of providing flash benefits to enterprise users, and has worked hard to produce a line-up of compelling products that take advantage of all that flash has to offer.

Rather than letting its offerings rest or even fall behind the market, the company is taking advantage of recent price declines and improved algorithms to make their Storwize All Flash offerings even more compelling, and that will give IBM a decided advantage over competitors, especially those who expected to see slower progress from a large firm.

It is clear that IBM is fully committed to making flash an important part of its overall storage portfolio.  Its deep understanding of computing systems architecture should give IBM a significant competitive advantage in today’s over-populated flash systems market.

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Jim Handy
Objective Analysis
SSD Market Research
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Jim.Handy (at) Objective-Analysis.com

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