This content is part of the Essential Guide: 3D NAND technology: What it is and where it's headed

3D TLC NAND gives capacity boost to IBM FlashSystem 900

FlashSystem 900 building blocks are the foundation of IBM FlashSystem A9000 and V9000 arrays. New NAND modules use 3D TLC in place of planar 2D enterprise MLC.

IBM has incorporated 3D triple-level cell NAND in its FlashSystem 900 subsystem, which it uses as the foundational building block for its IBM FlashSystem A9000 and V9000 all-flash arrays.

The 3D TLC NAND FlashSystem custom flash modules are available in 3.6 TB, 8.5 TB and 18 TB capacities. IBM previously designed FlashSystem 900 devices with enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) NAND. IBM FlashSystem 900 also added hardware-accelerated data compression that guarantees no performance impact on applications.

Other enhancements to FlashSystem include centralized encryption key management and the option to upgrade to nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) flash cards as manufacturers make them available.

Using the 18 TB modules, a customer can get 220 TB of capacity in a single 2U FlashSystem v9000 array, up from a maximum of 57 TB in its previous version.

IBM guarantees flash endurance for seven years.

David Hill, a principal at Mesabi Group in Westwood, Mass., said IBM's move to 3D TLC NAND from 2D planar eMLC boosts density and performance. He said it also offers higher flash endurance.

"They're using three dimensions now instead of two," Hill said. "That gives you three times the capacity without compression. With IBM's inline hardware compression, you can increase the capacity by four times. IBM is using different [flash] modules than most vendors do. They're not using a chipset but their own modules. The biggest advantage is the ability to get linear performance and linear scale."

Potential disadvantages to 3D TLC NAND include the possibility of slower write and read times and decreased endurance. IBM and other enterprise vendors try to mitigate these downsides by adding features such as error correction algorithms and wear leveling into their software.

Denser NAND modules boost capacity, scale

To design 3D TLC NAND, manufacturers stack multiple layers of flash memory cells vertically. TLC stores three bits of data per cell and offers greater flash density than single-level cell (SLC) and MLC.

"The big thing is the savings on Capex and Opex," said Eric Herzog, an IBM chief marketing officer and the vice president of worldwide storage channels.

"With our inline compression and 3D TLC, you get four times the capacity in the same physical form factor. That has pricing implications for our end users. If you needed 220 TB before, you had to buy four racks of FlashSystem. Now, you only have to buy one."

Customers can buy FlashSystem in standard array configurations or as part of a new IBM Storage Utility flexible consumption model, Herzog said. The IBM Storage Utility managed service is now available globally, following an exclusive launch in May for North American customers.

The 3D TLC NAND FlashSystem v9000-designated arrays are also available as part of IBM VersaStack converged infrastructure reference architectures.

IBM jointly markets VersaStack with Cisco UCS servers and switching. All-flash VersaStack is more often associated with IBM Storwize hybrid SAN arrays outfitted with disk and solid-state drives.

FlashSystem complement includes enhanced IBM Spectrum stack

IBM FlashSystem A9000 and A9000R cloud arrays are packaged with IBM Spectrum Accelerate software. Herzog said Spectrum Accelerate was upgraded to enable its Hyper-Scale Manager tool to manage multiple A9000 systems. The software supports synchronous replication between new and existing A9000 arrays, as well as IBM XIV disk or hybrid storage.

FlashSystem V9000 arrays ship preloaded with IBM Spectrum Virtualize software. The latest Spectrum Virtualize supports at-rest encryption, automated tiering and migration, snapshots and replication between IBM storage and block-based arrays from more than 400 competing vendors.

IBM also rolled out a Spectrum Virtualize version for IBM Cloud storage. The cloud-oriented version uses IBM Cloud as a target for disaster recovery as a service for any on-premises storage.

IBM Spectrum Access, a new product in the Spectrum suite, allows customers to create an internal cloud managed by IBM. The Spectrum Access software stack resides on local storage and implements IBM Cloud Private, which preserves application service-level agreements and moves data between multiple clouds for protection.

IBM formally rolled out block storage support for persistent Docker container environments in beta in May. It uses IBM Cloud Private, Google Kubernetes framework or Docker Swarm to orchestrate the launch of stateful containers running on storage systems built with Spectrum Accelerate, Spectrum Virtualize and VersaStack.

Herzog said IBM is launching a beta program this year for its Storage Insights Foundation predictive analytics. Storage Insights Foundation will use artificial intelligence and IBM cognitive computing to anonymously gather diagnostic data from customers' arrays. It will mine data to provide predictive insights on storage capacity, performance and system health.

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