Latest IBM FlashSystem Software Doubles Performance
February 17, 2014 Dan Burger
Although the FlashSystem 840 from IBM is primarily a storage array for X86 and AIX systems, its application for IBM i shops is significant regardless of its somewhat subordinate conspicuousness. The first thing to think about is that the 840 is software that provides data management services in integrated environments. It optimizes database workloads and it becomes the tier one storage layer.
The second thing to think about is that this latest version (introduced in January and touted at PartnerWorld last week) has doubled the performance while reducing the price–about 10 percent–from the previous model, the 820. Flash technology for Power Systems was introduced several years ago, of course, in various form factors, include PCI-Express cards and solid state disks. These flash options were expensive and was sold in pieces and parts rather than as a system. The FlashSystem machines, which come by virtue of IBM’s acquisition of Texas Memory Systems last year, are integrated flash arrays, designed to be hooked to and shared by servers.
We sometimes complain when IBM i is left out of early product releases that include AIX and Linux running on Power or X86 platforms, but sometimes it is a blessing in disguise. The FlashSystem family of products is much improved since their introduction. It’s when products have not improved in terms of performance, ease of purchase, ease of use, and ease of deployment that you begin to worry. It seems IBM has been working hard on this one. With all the jawing about flash storage, it comes as no surprise that IBM was getting its ducks in line.
Michael Kuhn, vice president for IBM FlashSystems within the Systems and Technology Group, estimates half of the existing FlashSystem deployments are in X86 environments, while the other half are with Power Systems running AIX and Linux environments. IBM i integration is just getting started.
Most of early IBM i implementations are integrated heterogeneous systems featuring a mix of i, AIX, and X86 with external storage in storage area network (SAN) environments. A less frequent occurrence is server SANs built entirely of IBM i on Power Systems iron with direct attached storage.
“The DB2 database workloads are managed the same as the other workloads,” Kuhn explains. “All workloads are being managed and maintained and are growing. Companies are leveraging the operational data by doing more analytics. This is where the marketplace is going. Companies are taking existing database policies and instead of rewriting the software for better performance they are using flash to get them the performance needed for real time analytics on operational data.”
Let’s take a look at how the FlashSystem has improved.
The FlashSystem 840 was built to handle a maximum of 48 terabytes (TB) in a 2U rack-mounted form factor. That’s twice the performance of the previous generation FlashSystem 820. And while we’re on the topic of performance, take into account write speeds of 600,000 IOPS (I/O operations per second) and mixed read/write speeds of 775,000 IOPS. It is also capable of sequential read rates of 8 GB per second and sequential write throughput of 4 GB per second. At more than 1.1 million IOPS, the 840 doubles up on the previous unit, the 820.
The typical connectivity option is Fibre Channel with 8 Gb/sec capability. An upgrade to 10 Gb/sec Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) is available with 16 ports for either of those options. Other options include up to eight 16 Gbps FCoE ports or up to eight 40 Gb/sec (QDR) Infiniband ports.
Storage capacities range from 4 TB to 48 TB. RAID 0 or RAID 5 and AES-XTS 256-bit encryption are part of the package.
“The numbers are not maximized by using highly tuned and optimized benchmarks,” Kuhn says in response to my question that they might be. “They are realistic of real workloads. We see clients who need real time access to databases implementing Flash in a preferred read, mirrored configuration and they achieve these high levels of IOPs. Other clients who have, for instance, a 70-30 workload on read-writes are getting 700,000-plus IOPS. These are order of magnitude better than direct attached storage on spinning disk and are a dramatic increase in performance on real life workloads.”
Performance numbers are not dependent on the underlying platform or database. Most of the companies that Kuhn works with are using a mix of DB2, Oracle, and SQL Server. Performance can be affected by the size of an application or database.
Kuhn sees companies taking existing database policies and instead of rewriting the software for better performance they are using flash to get them the performance needed for real time analytics on operational data.
Asked to come up with a ballpark estimate on what the “average” 12 TB system with RAID 5 and Fibre Channel connectivity, Kuhn determined $100,000 to be a pretty fair projection, while noting that as companies scale out toward the 48 TB system capacity the price performance improves with each step because the software and chassis price does not increase.
In Q4, he says, 85 percent of FlashSystems were sold through the business channel.