IBM all-flash diversifies with NVMe-based FlashSystem 9100

IBM FlashSystem 9100 scales to 32 PB of all-flash storage in a standard rack. IBM guarantees consistent latency of 350 microseconds and 100 million IOPS per four-way cluster.

IBM today launched new all-flash storage arrays redesigned for NVMe and packaged with the vendor's storage software.

The IBM all-flash FlashSystem 9100 (FS9100) is an end-to-end nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) platform, which uses newly designed 2.5-inch IBM FlashCore devices and the full IBM Spectrum software suite. The FlashSystem scale-out arrays allow four pairs of active-active controllers to be clustered for shared NVMe flash.

The new FlashSystem models are the FS9110 and FS9150. The FS9110 comes with dual eight-core processors per controller, and the FS9150 has dual 14-core processors. Each controller enclosure has up to 1.5 TB of cache and supports three host adapters.

IBM Spectrum software provides array management, copy data management, data protection and cloud virtualization. Spectrum Virtualize uses SAN Volume Controller technology to migrate data from IBM arrays to other vendors' storage. IBM claimed an average of 5-to-1 data reduction using Virtualize. IBM Storage Insights provides AI-based analytics and storage resource management for capacity planning and service-level-agreement-based best practices.

Earlier FlashSystem models, including the current v9000 all-flash, were designed solely for IBM's custom flash modules, rather than standard SSDs. The FS9100 enables customers to fill the 24 slots with FlashCore mesh or PCI Express-connected NVMe SSDs.

IBM has completely reworked its FlashSystem v9000 architecture, said Eric Burgener, a research vice president for storage at IT analyst firm IDC.

"This isn't just replacing SCSI and putting NVMe in there. FlashSystem 9100 is new hardware that uses more of a standardized design, and I think it's a harbinger of what we'll see across the IBM all-flash product line," Burgener said,

IBM has pledged to gradually introduce the all-NVMe system, while ensuring support for existing FS9000 deployments, Burgener said. "I think that's very smart on IBM's part," he said. "It gives customers who want NVMe over Fabrics an all-NVMe system to run it. But if you don't need it, you might still want to get the higher performance of the FS9100 and [avoid] an NVMe host connection."

IBM FlashSystem 9100
The new all-flash IBM FlashSystem 9100

Scaling with no performance issues

The FS9100 can provide 2 PB of usable capacity in a 2U configuration and as much as 32 PB in a full rack. IBM claimed the scaling can be done with no performance hit. The vendor also said it guarantees 350 microseconds of latency in a four-way cluster. An 8U configuration is rated to deliver as much as 100 million IOPS and 124 Gbps of throughput.

The IBM all-flash arrays natively support Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 compliance and hardware-based encryption for data at rest.

Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer for IBM storage, said FS9100 performance provides the same latency whether the box is empty or at full capacity.

"The [earlier] FlashCore version resembled a Fibre Channel host bus adapter. It was a very long card," Herzog said. "We shrunk it to a 2.5-inch form factor to get more flash in a compact box. That gives us much better capacity per rack unit, which is a concern for a lot of data centers."

Compared to a FlashSystem V9000 array, Herzog said, the FS9100 helps companies save about $6.4 million in capital and operating expenditures over its life.

The IBM all-flash history dates to its 2013 acquisition of Texas Memory Systems' RamSan SANs, which IBM rebranded as FlashSystem. IBM designed FlashSystem with custom PCIe-connected flash before the advent of the emerging NVMe protocol.

Forecasts for NVMe flash

With FlashSystem 9100, IBM is the latest legacy vendor to pump out new storage based on NVMe technologies. It follows Dell EMC and NetApp launches in May.

IBM started shipping FlashSystem 9000 as an NVMe-over-InfiniBand implementation in February. Herzog said future iterations will add Fibre Channel and Ethernet support as a nondisruptive software upgrade.

The NVMe flash protocol promises to provide a significant performance boost by eliminating traditional disk-based SCSI commands. Using NVMe, a storage device is able to communicate directly with a computer processor across a PCIe link.

A developing ecosystem for NVMe over Fabrics will allow shared storage via a switched fabric known as remote direct memory access, providing latency on par with that of PCIe SSDs in an x86 server.

IBM analytics software virtualizes other vendors' storage

Enterprises looking for a turnkey appliance can buy reference architectures for FlashSystem 9100. Configurations are available for data backup and reuse, disaster recovery and private cloud arrays.

The backup and reuse reference architecture includes IBM Spectrum Protect Plus backup and IBM Spectrum Copy Data Management. The disaster recovery package includes IBM Spectrum Virtualize to move data to public clouds, along with the Copy Data Management software. The private cloud setup consists of Spectrum Connect for provisioning volumes, Copy Data Management and data protection for containerized applications.

Randy Kerns, a senior strategist at IT analyst firm Evaluator Group, based in Boulder, Colo., said the IBM all-flash strategy is to market FlashSystem arrays as an integrated platform for primary and secondary data.

"IBM wants to try and get customers to look a little bigger and have a more solutions mindset when they acquire the 9100," Kerns said. "You need a big-picture view of data protection, data reuse, reducing copies and then get on board with using storage analytics. Their message is that you can't just buy a storage box in isolation."

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