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IBM all-flash storage expands with enterprise, cloud arrays

IBM adds a new all-flash array platform for enterprises and large-scale clouds, and ships DS8888 all-flash for mainframes and high-end enterprises.

IBM today expanded its all-flash array portfolio with the roll out of three new systems that target enterprises and cloud applications.

The new IBM all-flash storage arrays are the FlashSystem A9000 and A9000R, which use the Spectrum Accelerate codebase and custom flash modules designed by IBM, and the DS8888.

The A9000 and A9000R are designed for cloud providers and hyperscale private clouds. The DS8888 is part of IBM's enterprise DS8000 platform that supports IBM's z Systems mainframe servers and Power Systems.

The IBM all-flash expansion comes as all-flash arrays begin to replace hybrids for many primary storage loads. IBM competitor EMC called 2016 the year for all-flash for primary storage, and IBM agreed with that assessment.

"We do believe that all-flash will be everywhere; it will be ubiquitous," said Eric Herzog, IBM's vice president of product marketing and management for storage. "We're starting to see customers ask for flash in every [product] slot."

The A9000 is an 8U building block system that holds three grid controllers, all working in active mode, and one flash enclosure that scales via the IBM Hyper-Scale Manager. The system is designed for midsize enterprises and cloud service providers, and uses a parallel grid architecture that scales up to 144 nodes. It is VMware-integrated and supports the REST API, OpenStack and SoftLayer cloud environments.

The flash enclosures hold 12 IBM MicroLatency modules, the same as those in other IBM all-flash FlashSystem arrays. The Flash Enclosure-60 uses 1.2 TB modules, the Flash Enclosure-150 has 2.9 TB modules and the Flash Enclosure-300 has 5.7 TB modules. IBM claims the A9000's data reduction can reach a 5.21:1 ratio. The A9000's Scale Mobility feature enables nondisruptive migration between arrays.

We do believe that all-flash will be everywhere; it will be ubiquitous.
Eric Herzogvice president of product marketing and management for storage at IBM

The A9000R is a rack-mount array designed for large enterprises and cloud service providers, using four grid controllers, two flash enclosures and InfiniBand switches for connectivity between the federated nodes. It can scale up to 12 controllers and six flash enclosures for a total of 1.9 PB.

The A9000R includes a Hyper-Scale Manager capability to manage more than 100 units from a single user interface. It also supports the REST API, OpenStack and SoftLayer cloud environments.

IBM claims the A9000 and A9000R can deliver 250-microsecond latency, and are priced at around $1.50 per gigabyte.

"Over time, the A9000R will have much larger configuration, because we can scale out multiple racks," Herzog said. "Today, it's a single rack, but in the next pass, don't be surprised to see multiple racks."

IBM FlashCore technology includes Variable Stripe RAID, which maintains performance during partial- or full-flash chip failures. FlashCore also handles compression and deduplication. The systems will be generally available in the third quarter of this year.

Tim Stammers, senior analyst at 451 Research, said one important capability in the two new high-performance systems is the ability to replicate to other disk-based systems via the IBM Spectrum Accelerate grid-scale, block-based software.

"That means you don't have to have all-flash storage at a secondary data center," Stammers said.

The all-flash IBM DS8888 scales to 192 TB in a 40U rack configuration. It holds 16 high-performance flash enclosures, with 480 flash cards, and it has two redundant Power8 controllers, with 96 cores. IBM claims it can deliver 2,500,000 IOPS with one-millisecond latency. It also supports Fibre Channel and Ficon at 16 Gbps, 8 Gbps and 4 Gbps speeds.

It supports the REST and OpenStack APIs to move workloads between private and public clouds.

The DS8888, which will be generally available in June, competes with EMC VMAX All-Flash, which launched in February. The DS8888 was part of IBM's DS8880 launch in October 2015, but did not ship with the rest of the DS8880 systems, and IBM did not give product details until today.

The DS8888 is the first IBM all-flash version of the high-end enterprise platform.

"The system's flash enclosure is direct PCI-e attached, so it's low latency and high performance, Randy Kerns, senior strategist and analyst at Evaluator Group Inc., in Boulder, Colo., said of the DS8888."It's a system we typically see in mainframe environments. It's not mainframe-only, but that is generally where it is successful."

IBM has shipped all-flash arrays since 2012, with its FlashSystem platform based on technology acquired from Texas Memory Systems. Now, it is adding all-flash versions across its traditional IBM storage platforms. The IBM all-flash offerings include versions of its midrange Storwize V5000 and V7000 arrays.

"They are staking out their future in all-flash systems," Kerns said of IBM. "You can conclude that they think the future of storage is all-flash."

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