IBM to Invest $1B in Flash Promotion

The following is excerpted from an Objective Analysis Brief e-mailed to our clients on 15 April, 2013:

Comparison of 3-Year Operating Costs: Flash vs HDD (Wikibon)On April 11 IBM kicked off “The IBM Flash Ahead Initiative”, committing to spend more than $1 billion for flash systems and software R&D and to open twelve IBM Flash Centers of Competency around the world staffed with flash experts armed with flash systems to help clients test drive flash in their own situations.

This follows from IBM’s August 2012 agreement to acquire privately-held Texas Memory Systems (TMS), a very low profile manufacturer of high-performance flash-based memory arrays and PCIe SSDs. TMS is the world’s oldest SSD maker, founded in 1976, to manufacture RAM-based replicas of HDDs. About four years ago TMS used its established technology to aggressively enter the NAND flash storage market.

Through the TMS acquisition IBM attained key flash expertise, giving it a “First Mover” advantage over its flash storage competition that could not have been developed as rapidly through internal efforts.

Flash fits perfectly into IBM’s messaging on “Smarter Planet, Smarter Storage, and Smarter Computing” since the addition of solid state storage reduces the system’s footprint, its power & cooling requirements, and other key factors that today are often seen as side benefits after the most important feature that solid state storage offers: its sheer speed.

IBM shared a graphic from Wikibon (this post’s graphic) to compare the 3-year capital and operating costs of an HDD-based system (left) and an all-flash system (right). Interestingly, the greatest savings in this analysis ($1.8 million in the red segments) come from software licensing fees. The fact that storage costs (blue) increased by 52% or $0.2 million from $420,000 to $630,000 pales in comparison, completely killing the argument that flash’s high price compared to HDDs makes it too expensive to use for high-performance workloads. The lifetime costs for this system were reduced by more than 30% via:

  • A 38% reduction in software license costs
  • 17% fewer servers required (green)
  • A 74% reduction in power & cooling costs (orange), and
  • 35% lower administrative costs (peach)

These numbers are consistent with the message that Objective Analysis has been sharing with our clients for the past five years. We even tried to help the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) to incorporate reduced server count and software licensing fees in its SSD “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO) calculator. These savings account for $1.8M of the $2.3 million of total savings in the Wikibon example. Although server count and software licensing fees often account for the bulk of the flash system’s cost advantage, implementation complexities prevented SNIA from incorporating them in its TCO model.

In our field interviews Objective Analysis finds that most enterprise SSD deployments adopt flash technology to solve a pressing I/O squeeze, and only later learn about all the other ways SSDs have significantly lowered their cost, space, and cooling requirements. With this announcement IBM will be dedicating a share of its significant resources to educating prospective users that these other benefits are real and are worth pursuing, even if these customers don’t suffer from an I/O bottleneck.

As a part of this announcement IBM introduced the IBM FlashSystem, an all-flash storage system capable of supporting a full petabyte of flash per rack at speeds of 22 million IOPS with a total power consumption of only 12.6 kilowatts. Consider that as recently as December 2008 IBM first announced breaking the million-IOPS barrier with its Quicksilver experiment. Now, less than five years later, the company is rolling out a system that is 22 times as fast. It is no wonder that IBM has so strongly embraced flash technology!

The IBM Flash Ahead Initiative underscores IBM’s commitment to broaden the client base for the TMS flash product over and above what TMS was able to do before the acquisition.

Objective Analysis sees this as a splendid action by IBM as it moves to take the market by storm by offering better hardware at a lower overall cost.


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