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IBM offers storage hardware subscription program

IBM Storage Assurance offers a new subscription model centered around on-premises hardware, while FlashSystem 5300 introduces an entry-level all-flash array to the portfolio.

IBM released a new lifecycle management subscription option Thursday aimed at maximizing storage performance for its FlashSystems, a line of all-flash block storage arrays that has also been expanded.

IBM Storage Assurance complements the vendor's existing storage as a service with regular hardware and software upgrades to keep the technology up to date and includes whole system refreshes. Storage Assurance comes with the highest tier of its IBM Expert Care, services and support for IBM infrastructure. The vendor also added to its FlashSystem line, releasing the FlashSystem 5300, a 1U entry-level array that can store up to 1.81 petabytes of effective capacity and comes with more performance than the previous 5200 version. IBM Storage Assurance supports the new 5300, as well as FlashSystem 7300 and FlashSystem 9500.

IBM is competing with other flash vendors that offer lifecycle management subscription services such as Pure Storage Evergreen, according to Mitch Lewis, an analyst at The Futurum Group. Vendors offer upgrades when new controllers are released, but IBM's advantage is in its FlashCore Modules. Unlike SSDs, FlashCore Modules contain multi-core arm processors that allow for other features such as compression, ransomware detection and offload the burden on the controller onto the drives.

"Upgrading your controllers every couple of years is great," Lewis said. "But without new FlashCore Modules, you can't utilize all the new features."

IBM Storage Assurance allows for updating both, Lewis said.

Assuring storage as a service

The IBM Storage Assurance is intended to help customers manage costs while having access to the latest technology, IBM said. Contract options of four or eight years provide predictable pricing, and IBM will replace the system if service-level agreements are not met, it said.

Storage Assurance is an indication that IBM is more firmly moving into an on-premises, storage-as-a-service model, according to Simon Robinson, an analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group. The move is years behind other players, including Pure Storage, which launched its Evergreen subscription service in 2015. But IBM's late entry to the market might be to its advantage, he said.

Rather than being at the bleeding edge, IBM gets to deliver the types of things customers consistently say they need.
Simon RobinsonAnalyst, TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group

"Rather than being at the bleeding edge, IBM gets to deliver the types of things customers consistently say they need," Robinson said.

IBM also introduced Flash Grid Thursday, where workloads can move between FlashSystem devices and those devices can be managed from a single control pane. Flash Grid also allows IBM to replace systems non-disruptively, according to Sam Werner, vice president of product management for storage at IBM.

While hardware will need to be upgraded, Flash Grid might also introduce a disadvantage, according to Lewis.

"Other upgrade programs disaggregate the controller refresh from the device," he said.

Customers may be more inclined to refresh controllers more often than storage, Lewis said. The controller can be refreshed every two to three years, while flash storage can last longer. With IBM's Flash Grid, parts can't be disaggregated in this way.

FlashSystem 5300

The 5300 is the latest entry in the FlashSystem portfolio. The 5300 is billed as an entry-level array. Werner, however, noted the 5300 can scale up to serve larger workloads and comes with the enterprise-class capabilities of FlashSystem, including its new ransomware detection released in February.

The 5300 starts in the $30,000 to $35,000 range and uses quad-level cell technology in IBM's new FlashCore Module 4 design. These new modules use machine learning and AI-powered predictive analytics for data placement, ransomware detection and automation.

Lewis called the 5300 a hardware refresh for IBM, given the new processors and a new FlashCore Module along with its capacity and performance. But, he said, the array might be more attractive to the midrange than entry-level.

"It's certainly going to be a very premium release comparted to other entry-level models but plays nice in the midrange," he said.

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware, and private clouds. He previously worked at

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