Texas Memory Systems was a personal favorite of mine so I had concerns when IBM acquired them in August of 2012. With cautious optimism, I’ve been watching IBM to see what they did with their savvy investment. The first step was the integration of the RamSan product line into the IBM fold with a re-branding to FlashSystem occurring last year. Now with the introduction of the IBM FlashSystem 840, I think we are seeing the first real IBM influences and so far they are excellent.
Data Center Optimized Performance
The IBM FlashSystem falls into the category of All-Flash Arrays that are designed more for extreme performance than they are for general-purpose use. Traditionally these systems are used in what I call the performance fringe use cases like extremely high transaction databases, high frequency trading and real-time data environments.
With the release of the 840 IBM has optimized the FlashSystem for data centers, which I normally describe as the mainstream All-Flash category. The 840 sort of straddles the fence between these two categories providing the enterprise reliability and serviceability that data centers demand but the extreme high performance required by the most data I/O intensive applications. IBM can of course add the Storwize V7000 into this mix and offer all the features to be placed squarely in the mainstream category.
IBM FlashSystem 840
There is a lot of focus on software in the storage industry, and while valuable, I think some of this is misplaced when it comes to flash storage. In my opinion hardware matters in storage and when it comes to All-Flash Storage it matters a lot!
The FlashSystem 840 is a 2U custom designed flash appliance designed specifically for delivering performance and minimizing latency. Thanks to its customization, it only requires 625 Watts per chassis. Additionally, the unit can deliver 1.1 million IOPS per chassis and provides 8GB/s bandwidth over either 16Gb/8Gb Fibre Channel, 40Gb QDR InfiniBand or 10Gb FCoE.
Latency, as we describe in our article, “What is Latency?”, is potentially more critical than IOPS when trying to improve application response time. The FlashSystem latency is 135/90 μs R/W thanks to its highly parallelized design. This allows it to rival the performance of many server-side caching solutions while offering all the benefits of a shared device.
Reliability and Serviceability
The big feature in the FlashSystem 840 is the ease at which it can be serviced or upgraded in the field. It features a fully redundant hot swappable architecture which includes all-flash componentry, power supplies, batteries, interfaces and fans.
The PCIe-like flash cards that are typically inside a FlashSystem, while hot swappable, used to require access from the top; which meant that the cover had to be removed. It also meant you had to get to the top of the unit, which could be difficult in a tightly mounted rack configuration. Now the flash cards have been placed in modules that can be ejected from the front making it far more easily serviceable when the unit is in a rack.
Storage Swiss Take
IBM is doing an excellent job with their Texas Memory investment. IBM has an impressive offering in the flash market and they are one of the few vendors that can provide solutions for both the performance fringe and the mainstream data center. In addition to performance improvements, the FlashSystem 840 brings improved serviceability to an already impressive platform.