IBM drops more flash into all-flash arrays

The new FlashSystem 900 and V9000 swap eMLC for denser consumer-grade memory

23 February 2015 by Max Smolaks

IBM drops more flash into all-flash arrays
IBM FlashSystem 900

IBM will be updating its storage line-up with two new all-flash arrays - FlashSystem 900 and FlashSystem V9000. The first is a simple, affordable infrastructure building block, while the second ships with additional storage virtualization features that make it perfect for scale-out deployments.

Both rely on cheaper Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND chips, as opposed to more resilient eMLC used in previous generation FlashSystem arrays. This enables IBM to offer about 30 percent more capacity, while maintaining similar levels of performance.

The company says it can now deliver up to four times more flash per rack than EMC’s XtremIO - which still uses eMLC.

More density with MLC
Just a few years ago, using MLC chips was an option reserved for cheaper, down-market storage arrays due to the limited amount of write cycles they could support and the higher bit error rate. However, a combination of hardware and software tricks now makes these chips last almost as long as their Single Level Cell (SLC) counterparts, at a considerably lower price.

FlashSystem V9000 is the new IBM flagship that offers real-time compression, dynamic tiering and disaster-recovery tools including snapshots, clones and replication, all straight out of the box. With FlashSystem 900, any additional storage virtualization features will have to be provided by third-party software.

Both are based on IBM FlashCore technology, feature hardware RAID controllers and use high-density MLC NAND chips made by American semiconductor specialist Micron.

Instead of traditional SSDs, the new arrays sport purpose-engineered ‘MicroLatency modules’ in capacities ranging from 1.2TB to 5.7TB. The FlashSystem 900 can fit up to 12 of these – that’s almost 58TB of flash in a 2U enclosure – while the FlashSystem V9000 manages to squeeze up to 456TB into a 6U box.

“For FlashSystem, IBM draws on Micron’s flash expertise and deep flash media knowledge to deliver a truly differentiated storage solution. This unique collaboration signifies the future of enterprise storage,” commented Darren Thomas, vice president of Storage at Micron.

The new appliances follow the launch of FlashSystem V8400 and FlashSystem 840 in January 2014. These were the first ever all-flash storage arrays developed by IBM on its own, after it acquired Texas Memory Systems and invested more than $1 billion into NAND technologies.

Last week, the company said it has earmarked another billion dollars for research into software-defined storage over the next five years. The speed at which IBM has been tweaking its flash offering suggests that while the Big Blue might be late to the party, its party favors are well worth waiting for.

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