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IBM DS8880 arrays adopt PCIe 3 in all-flash versions

The expansion of the IBM DS8880 hardware line introduces all-flash models designed around the vendor's High-Performance Flash Enclosure Gen2 to support PCIe 3.0, but not yet NVMe.

The IBM DS8880 family has three new all-flash siblings: DS8884F, DS8886F and DS8888F. IBM designed the flash-only enterprise arrays to handle cognitive real-time analytics.

The new DS8880 flash arrays revealed this week support the latest PCI Express (PCIe) version, but nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) remains a roadmap item.

The DS8880F systems build on existing IBM DS8880 disk-based 42U rack arrays that support IBM z Systems mainframes and Power Systems workloads. IBM added the F designation to the new DS8880 arrays to distinguish them as all-flash versions. IBM still sells DS8884 and DS8886 arrays as hybrid storage.

IBM DS8880F hardware is based on IBM's High-Performance Flash Enclosure Gen2 for PCIe 3.0.

The all-flash IBM DS880F arrays underscore IBM's attempt to shore up declining storage revenue related to disk-based storage. Like other storage vendors, IBM is making a push into flash. Unlike others, it is also integrating its Watson cognitive computing technology for high-performance data analytics into its storage.

"We are now tying our product set to our corporate initiatives. IBM is all about cloud-cognitive analytics now," said Levi Norman, director of product marketing for IBM systems and enterprise storage.

Although the latest IBM DS8880 flash arrays support PCIe 3.0, support for the emerging NVMe protocol is lacking. The NVMe command set allows a standard solid-state drive to access a computer's PCIe bus to reduce latency and juice up application performance. NVMe requires PCIe 3.0.

The all-flash IBM DS880F arrays underscore IBM's attempt to shore up declining storage revenue related to disk-based storage.

Norman said NVMe support is on the IBM roadmap within the next year, starting with its Storwize arrays. These are early days for NVMe, but Dell EMC's DSSD and systems from startups Mangstor, E8 Storage and Apeiron Data Systems ship with NVMe drives.

Flash is a top priority of storage vendors, as prices fall and performance increases, said Natalya Yezhkova, a research director for storage at analyst firm IDC. She said the flash-based IBM DS8880 arrays are likely to compete with Dell EMC VMAX and Hitachi VSP F series.

"IBM has been pursuing an all-flash storage strategy for a while now," Yezhkova said. "The biggest difference with the DS8880F is the Gen2 enclosure for high-performance compute and flash storage. It's a must-have if you need to handle demanding real-time analytics."

IBM Gen2 flash enclosure adapts PCIe 3.0

All three of the IBM DS8880 flash models run the identical code base. DS8880F arrays are built with IBM's High-Performance Flash Enclosure Gen2 for the PCI Express 3.0 specification. The Gen2 enclosure boosts bandwidth and I/O performance by doubling PCIe lanes from four to eight. IBM redesigned its Power8 controller to optimize PCIe flash.

The DS8880F series is the third IBM flash-only storage system. The vendor also sells IBM Storwize F and FlashSystem V9000, based on IBM Spectrum Virtualize, and Spectrum Accelerate-based FlashSystem A9000 and A9000R, introduced in 2016.

IBM DS8880 flash arrays extend from business-class storage to analytics

The high-capacity IBM DS8888F, the newcomer to the product line, uses new hardware and scales to more than 1 PB of usable flash. IBM said it is designed for fast ingest of data for cognitive real-time analytics associated with machine learning, predictive intelligence and related uses. DS8888F is built with two Power Systems E850 four-socket servers, each containing a 48-core Power8 processor. The DS8880F has 2 GB of DRAM cache and 128 Fibre Channel/FICON ports. IBM rates I/O throughput at 2.7 million with submillisecond response time.

The IBM DS8886F is billed as high-performance storage for large enterprises. Storage scales to 614.4 TB of effective flash. Projected use cases include mining, processing and warehousing of data related to financial-transaction systems. Two Power Systems S824 servers are each equipped with a 24-core IBM Power8 processor. DRAM cache and Fibre Channel ports are the same as the DS8888F.

The DS8884F tops out at 154 TB of useable storage and targets midrange enterprises. Typical workloads include applications for customer relationship management, database transactions, human resources information system and order processing. Two Power Systems S822 servers are supported by six-core Power8s. The DS8884F features a 256 DRAM cache and 32 FC ports.

List pricing starts around $95,000 for the DS8884F, Norman said. IBM expects to start shipping the new storage systems Jan. 20.

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