IBM Gooses FlashSystem With Skinnier Flash, Faster Ports
June 2, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As part of the series of hardware announcements that Big Blue rolled out in May, the FlashSystem line of all-flash arrays that IBM got through its acquisition of Texas Memory Systems was updated. Among other new features, the new arrays have faster ports linking back to servers and can now be equipped with skinnier flash modules. The arrays also start at a lower initial capacity, which gives them a lower initial price and therefore makes the more amenable to the budgets of midrange and enterprise shops who want to have shared flash but who don’t want to have to lay down a lot of cash all at once.
IBM, you will recall, just delivered the FlashSystem 840, its first IBM-branded and designed product to come out of Texas Memory Systems, back in February. IBM is just starting to integrate the FlashSystem 840 with the IBM i operating system and to date, about half of FlashSystem shipments have been for attachment to X86 servers running Windows or Linux and half to Power Systems running AIX or Linux.
The FlashSystem 840 can now, as you will see in announcement letter 114-080, use a new 1 TB enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) flash module that comes in a 1 TB capacity rather than the 2 TB capacity from earlier this spring. The FlashSystem 840 array has to have at least two flash modules to function, and this cuts the entry capacity of the array in half. This would seem to be a backward trend, considering that IBM just announced support for 2 TB eMLC modules that double the capacity and performance of the array, but not everyone needs from 4 TB to 48 TB of capacity in their flashes. Most databases in production machines are on the order of tens of terabytes or less, and most data warehouses that consolidate summary information from several production databases and other sources are well under a few hundred terabytes. If you want to replace tier one storage with FlashSystem units, and some customers are starting to do this because of the resiliency of flash, then not everyone needed the FlashSystem 840 as configured when it was previewed in January and launched in February. Some people want the doubling of performance (in terms of latency and throughput) with the new FlashSystem 840 versus the FlashSystem 820, but they donâ€™t need the doubling of capacity.
The FlashSystem 840 has two battery backup units in its front and a dozen flash module bays. The back of the box has two canisters that can be yanked out of the back, each of which with a controller for the flash (providing RAID 0 mirroring and RAID 5 data striping and parity). IBM already peddles 2 TB and 4 TB units, which is how it gets up to 48 TB in a single appliance. The 1 TB eMLC flash modules cost $14,450 a pop, and that is not a cheap component by any stretch of the imagination. eMLC is the Cadillac of the flash world, and it includes on year of maintenance in the price. If you want to pay three years of maintenance from the front end, then you pay $18,250 for each module.
IBM is also introducing a new low-end iSCSI connector aimed at customers on a tighter budget who don’t want to go with Fibre Channel links and who also don’t want to run Fibre Channel over Ethernet. The new iSCSI host interface card (which runs the iSCSI protocol over 10 Gb/sec Ethernet) costs $6,500, which again is a pretty pricey item, too. The 8-port host optics for the iSCSI card runs another $3,500. The array can have up to sixteen ports running iSCSI over 10 Gb/sec Ethernet. The FlashSystem 840 already supported eight ports of 16 Gb/sec or sixteen ports of 8 Gb/sec Fibre Channel connectivity out to SAN networks as well as up to 16 ports running at 10 Gb/sec using the FCoE protocol. Customers can also have eight ports of 40 Gb/sec InfiniBand linking the all-flash arrays to systems, and this is the lowest latency, highest bandwidth option.
The FlashSystem 840 can deliver 1.1 million read I/O operations per second and 600,000 write IOPs; rad latencies are as low as 135 microseconds and write latencies are as low as 90 microseconds. With 12 TB of capacity, RAID 5 data protection, and Fibre Channel links, a FlashSystem 840 will run you in the neighborhood of $100,000. That is with the 2 TB flash modules.
The new flash modules and iSCSI links for the FlashSystem 840 will be available on July 15.