Inside IBM’s New FlashSystem 9100

By Steve McDowell - July 10, 2018

It’s been a crowded season of storage industry announcements. It seemed like things were finally quieting down, but today IBM shook things up again with its announcement of a new end-to-end NVMe powerhouse storage solution, the IBM FlashSystem 9100. I’ve written previously about IBM’s current cadence of innovation. In addition to the new IBM FlashSystem 9100, IBM made several other announcements this week—all of which deliver on its data-centric strategy to flexibly put data where it is best served.

This data could be on-site feeding traditional data processing, virtual machines, or containers. To that end, IBM announced it is stepping up its support of Dockers and Kubernetes. This data could also live across a multi-cloud environment. On this front, IBM provides key cloud technologies and is now delivering blueprints for tighter integration. IBM has also updated its Storage Insights tool to support the new platforms. Storage Insights provides predictive analytics, storage resource management, and support integration. The new IBM FlashSystem 9100 IBM has been a long-time proponent of NVMe in the storage world. Just over a year ago, in May 2017, IBM announced its intention to bring NVMe to the FlashSystem line. It has been executing on that plan, demonstrating NVMe in December 2017, and launching it in February 2018. Now, just over a year after its original announcement comes the FlashSystem 9100. Built around IBM’s own storage technology, the IBM FlashCore NVMe Module, the new FlashSystem is one of the fastest storage arrays in production. The FlashSystem 9100 promises to deliver some of the lowest latencies in the industry—as low as 100 microseconds. That's two times lower than its nearest competitor. The throughput offered by the new products is equally impressive, with a maximum 34GB/second on a single system, and an incredible 136GB/second and 10M IOPS in a four-way cluster. IBM claims that it is nearly two times faster than the Pure Storage X90 single system, and nearly 7.5 times faster than the X90 four-way cluster. If these numbers prove out, it’s going to be a hard system to beat. IBM is also upping its compression and data deduplication game. The new offering is promising 5X data reduction, allowing for a 2PB usable capacity in a 2U form-factor while scaling to 32PB in a single rack. This compression is on the high end of what's available in the industry today. I'm anxious to see if the promises hold up in real-world usage. At launch, the product will be available in two flavors. Both sporting dual-active controllers and shared NVMe FlashCore modules, the FS9110 offers a dual 8-core processors solution with up to 1.5TB cache per enclosure. The higher-end FS9150 allows greater performance with dual 14-core Intel processors. In short, these are powerful machines. IBM Storage Insights Storage in the modern software-defined datacenter requires intelligence. Computational workloads are fluid. Containers and virtualization enable the dynamic reconfiguration of workloads across the infrastructure. Data, at the same time, has gravity. This gravity makes it difficult to efficiently scale and migrate without intelligent tools in place to assist IT administrators. Analytics-driven capabilities, like those found in IBM’s Storage Insights, bring intelligent management and flexibility to storage. Its predictive analytics allow preemptive problem solving and proactive scalability.  IBM has enhanced Storage Insights to support the functionality delivered by the new FlashSystem 9100. IBM isn’t alone in offering AI-driven predictive analytics.  Hewlett Packard Enterprise provides its InfoSight capability on its Nimble and 3PAR arrays, while Dell EMC is incorporating AI-driven decision making directly into its new PowerMax platform. Pure Storage has its Pure1. IBM Storage Insights is hugely competitive against these offerings. Clouds and containers Cloud isn’t replacing the enterprise data center, but it is becoming another facet of how IT delivers services. Building an infrastructure that is cloud-aware and enabled for the flexible integration of cloud-provided services and on-site capabilities is critical. IBM continues to excel in this category, offering its impressive array of data management functions available thru the IBM Spectrum Software Suite.  Additionally, IBM is providing many blueprints that customers can follow to implement multi-cloud solutions for data reuse, protection, business continuity, and the like. Additionally, containers are becoming an increasingly common part of enterprise data center workflows. Supporting that trend, IBM is offering configuration blueprints and functionality within the Spectrum software suite to seamlessly integrate with Dockers and Kubernetes environments. The approach of offering customers validated configurations and blueprints for cloud integration is one that is becoming more common in the storage industry. IBM is doing a good job here. Concluding thoughts IBM’s announcement of the FlashSystem 9100 comes on the heels of many other similar announcements from other vendors. At Dell Technologies World, Dell EMC released its PowerMax (which we’ve previously written about). At Pure Accelerate, Pure Storage released its new line-up of the Pure FlashArray //X (which we have also written about). This week’s announcements from IBM keep IBM Storage in the top tier of storage providers.  IBM’s Storage Insights capabilities continue the industry trend of building intelligence into infrastructure, something that will be required in the modern datacenter. IBM has continually demonstrated that it is a serious player in enterprise storage. This week’s announcements only serve to solidify that position.
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