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IBM unveils next-gen XIV

While EMC formally launched its VMAXe enterprise storage system to compete with IBM’s XIV (as well as Hewlett-Packard’s 3PAR) this week, IBM was giving XIV an overhaul.

IBM launched what it calls XIV Gen 3 with InfiniBand connectivity between modules, 2.4 Ghz quad core Nehalem CPUs, 2 TB native SAS disk, and 8 Gbps Fibre Channel support. By next year, IBM also expects to offer up to 500 GB of solid-state drive (SSD) capacity per module for a total of 7.5 TB in a fully configured 15-module configuration. According to senior management consultant for IBM system storage Tony Pearson’s Inside System Storage blog, XIV will use SSDs as DRAM cache similarly to NetApp’s Performance Accelerator Modules (PAM) – a product IBM resells as its N Series.

None of the XIV enhancements are ground-breaking, but IBM claims to get a two- to four-times boost over Gen 2 for workloads such as transaction processing, sequential reads and writes, and file and print services, and applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Hyper-V, Oracle Data Warehouse, and SAS Analytics Reports.

IBM will keep XIV Gen 2 around for at least a year for customers who don’t need the new system’s performance or capacity (Gen 2 uses 1 TB drives).

In case you’re wondering, Gen 2 was the first version of the product that IBM launched in Sept. 2008 after acquiring XIV the previous January. Gen 2 had different disks, controllers, interconnects and software enhancements over the Gen 1 product that it bought from XIV.

While IBM characterized XIV as a Web 2.0 system when if first purchased it -– the same label EMC used to describe it during the VMAXe launch –- Pearson wrote that XIV is a full-blown enterprise system that competes with EMC’s high-end VMAX. “As if I haven’t said this enough times already, the IBM XIV is a Tier-1, high-end, enterprise-class disk storage system, optimized for use with mission critical workloads on Linux, UNIX and Windows operating systems, and is the ideal cost-effective replacement for EMC Symmetrix VMAX, HDS USP-V and VSP, and HP P9000 series disk systems,” Pearson wrote.

He did point out, though, that the DS8000 remains IBM’s platform for mainframe connectivity.
The XIV launch was low-key and took second fiddle to Big Blue’s IBM zEnterprise 114 Mainframe Server rollout this week, as Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters pointed out on his The Business of Storage blog. Peters was generally impressed by the new XIV, though.

“The third generation of XIV is all about adding performance– and plenty of it,” Peters wrote.  “Besides more cache, more/faster ports, and a change to SAS drives, there’s also Infiniband connectivity within the XIV (helping, surprise surprise, with performance) and ‘spare’ CPU and DRAM slots for ‘future software enhancements’ … IBM is keen to point out that the SSD is transparent caching, with no tiers per se to manage. Of course, it would be, since XIV has always proclaimed there’s no need to tier. But, pragmatically, as a user I’d only worry if it economically makes the system better and still does it without me needing to manage things. Assuming so, then I’ll give it a thumbs up and leave the semantic debate to others.”

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