IBM’s latest all-flash storage array is all about software and hybrid cloud, according to the vendor.
“This is not just a traditional storage box,” said Eric Herzog, vice president of product marketing and management for IBM Storage Systems. “Most of our competitors will sell you an array with an array manager [software] and that’s it. We’re selling an array that gives incredible power and adding some real software value.”
The new IBM FlashSystem 9100 supports NVMe now and will support NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) and storage class memory (SCM) in the future when standards solidify and SCM drives become more readily available. This will likely happen later this year or next.
It can store up to 2 petabytes (PB) of data in a 2-unit array. Companies can also use IBM’s Spectrum Virtualize software to create four-unit clusters.
Unlike the company’s earlier all-flash arrays that only supported IBM’s FlashCore modules (these are the company’s proprietary flash drives), the new system uses two kinds of flash drives: FlashCore modules with NVMe interfaces and industry-standard NVMe flash drives.
The 2-unit array boasts 100 microsecond latency, compared to a traditional storage array with 4 to 5 millisecond latency. This same device has 2.5M input/output (IOPS) and 34GB/sec bandwidth. Additionally, IBM built encryption into the hardware so that encrypting data doesn’t slow performance.
All-flash storage reduces costs because it is faster and also allows companies to shrink their storage footprint, Herzog said. “Traditional storage is dramatically slower,” he explained. “What do you do to overcome latency? You have to buy more servers. The value of flash arrays is not only much better application performance in the real world, but it also shrinks your server farms, so you save on CapEx and OpEx.”
IBM puts CapEx savings at $832,000, compared to its earlier generation flash array, and OpEx at $5.6 million, based on industry analysts’ figures.
And while storage is traditionally a hardware play, the FlashSystem 9100 “is all about the software,” Herzog said. The array comes with Storage Insights and Spectrum Storage software built in. The former includes cloud-delivered artificial intelligence-based predictive analytics, storage resource management, and a support platform.
Spectrum Storage is part of IBM’s software-defined storage portfolio. The new all-flash array comes integrated with several Spectrum Storage products including software array management, data reuse, modern data protection, disaster recovery, and container support. These software-enabled data services can be extended to more than 440 IBM and non-IBM storage systems.
The software inside the device allows companies to migrate data from one physical array to another regardless of whether it’s an IBM device or storage from another vendor. “So you can migrate from ours to ours, or ours to a competitor’s,” Herzog said. “And while you’re going to migration you still need to access data, so while you are migrating we use AI to automatically slow down the data migration to favor the data going to the applications and workloads.”
The software can also automatically tier data, he added.
3 Reference Architectures
The new all-flash systems also come with three, pre-validated blueprints targeting different cloud use cases, and customers can buy additional software to enable these. The three blueprints are:
- Data Reuse, Protection, and Efficiency, which uses Spectrum Protect Plus and Spectrum Copy Data Management (CDM) to provide data protection for virtual applications with data copy management and reuse functionality both on premises and in the cloud.
- Business Continuity and Data Reuse, which uses Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud to extend data protection and disaster recovery capabilities into the IBM Cloud, as well as all the copy management and data reuse features of IBM Spectrum CDM.
- Private Cloud Flexibility and Data Protection to deploy container-based private clouds, which includes all of the capabilities of Spectrum CDM to manage copy sprawl and provide data protection for containerized applications.
Versus Competitors’ Products
IBM’s new array follows on the heels of Dell EMC’s new PowerMax storage array, announced at Dell Technologies World in May, which also supports NVMe and is SCM ready. Dell EMC will start shipping these arrays next year, while IBM’s will ship in late August.
Not surprisingly, Herzog says IBM’s system is better, faster, and has lower latency. “And they [Dell EMC] don’t include all the software, the stuff you can do with multi-cloud,” he added.
IDC analyst Eric Burgener says the two systems are comparable, and it will likely come down to brand preference for customers. “Both are moving in the same direction of bundling more software rather than less, but it’s hard to make the argument that one is better,” he said.
When it comes to hybrid-cloud capabilities, NetApp’s storage is still out ahead of IBM and Dell EMC, Burgener added.
“And what people are most interested in for hybrid cloud is, No. 1, which public clouds do you have pre-integrated support for?” he said.“Out of the box can I do Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google? Once they get past that, it’s about data mobility. What tools do you have to create, manage, and move workloads between on-prem and cloud? NetApp has been in the lead with their data fabric, but if you look at IBM’s offering they are moving much closer to the capabilities that NetApp has.”