IBM FlashSystem Remakes Data Center Economics

Yesterday IBM announced the IBM FlashSystem, to drive Flash technology further into the enterprise. The IBM FlashSystem is a line of all-Flash storage appliances based on technology IBM acquired from Texas Memory Systems.

Flash can shorten the response of servers and storage systems to data requests from milliseconds to microseconds – an order of magnitude improvement. And because it is all electronic—nothing mechanical involved—and being delivered cost-efficiently at even petabyte scale, it can remake data center economics, especially for transaction-intensive and IOPS-intensive situations.

For example, the IBM FlashSystem 820 is the size of a pizza box but 20x faster than spinning hard drives and can store up to 24 TB of data.  At the high end, you can assemble a 1 PB FlashSystem that fits in one rack and delivers 22 million IOs per second (IOPS). IBM calculates you would need 630 racks of high capacity hard disk drives or 315 racks of performance optimized disk to generate an equal amount of IOPS.

Mainframe shops already are familiar with Flash mainly in the form of cache and SSD. The zEnterprise makes extensive use of cache to boost performance and to ensure reliability and availability. The DS8000 storage line has been SSD capable for several years.  The IBM System Storage DS8870, for example, comes equipped with IBM POWER7- based controllers. In a tiered storage environment it can automatically optimize the use of each storage tier, particularly SSD and now Flash, through the free IBM Easy Tier capability.

The IBM FlashSystem changes data center economics. One cloud provider reported deploying 5TB in 3.5 inches of rack space compared to deploying 1300 hard disks to achieve 400k IOPS and it did so at one-tenth the cost.  Overall, Wikibon reports an all Flash approach will lower total system costs by 30%; that’s $4.9 million for all flash compared to $7.1 million for hard disk.  Specifically, it reduced software license costs 38%, required 17% few servers, and lowered environmental costs by 74% and operational support costs by 35%.  At the same time it boosted storage utilization by 50% while reducing maintenance and simplifying management with corresponding labor savings.

For data center managers, this runs counter to everything they learned about the cost of storage. Traditional storage economics starts with the cost of hard disk storage being substantially less than the cost of SSD or Flash on a $/GB basis. Organizations could justify SSD, however, by using it in small amounts to tap its sizeable cost/IOPS advantage for IOPS-intensive workloads.

IBM reversed traditional storage economics with the new FlashSystem storage by adopting a different approach to understanding the storage investment. Forget about cost/GB; even forget about cost/IOPS. Instead, focus on a systems perspective by considering all the costs involved in the total solution, from energy consumption to hard disk failure to labor to the cost of server software licensing. Then factor in the economic benefits of handling more transactions faster, more responsive systems, faster analytics, and more.

As reported in PC World, Steve Mills, IBM Senior Vice President put it this way at the introduction:  Right now, generic hard drives cost about $2 per gigabyte. An enterprise hard drive will cost about $4 per gigabyte, and a high-performance hard drive will run about $6 per gigabyte. If an organization stripes its data across more disks for better performance, the cost goes up to about $10 per gigabyte. In some cases, where performance is critical, hard-drive costs can skyrocket to $30 or $50 per gigabyte. A solid state disk from IBM runs about $10 per gigabyte and can be filled to capacity, so they actually are less expensive in many cases.

And Mills was only talking from the cost/GB perspective; when you take a full systems perspective Flash looks even better. Said Ambuj Goyal, General Manager, Systems Storage, IBM Systems & Technology Group in the announcement: “The economics and performance of Flash are at a point where the technology can have a revolutionary impact on enterprises, especially for transaction-intensive applications.” But this actually goes beyond just transactions. Also look at big data analytics workloads, technical computing, and any other IOPS-intensive work.

As far as z data centers go, the IBM FlashSystem appliances, aimed primarily at open systems, are off in the future. However, mainframe data centers can continue to leverage SSD and Flash as they have and even expand it since it is increasingly easier to justify the investment, especially with an IBM enterprise-class SSD running about $10 per gigabyte.  IBM further extends the value of SSD/Flash through the use of Real-time Compression and thin provisioning, which stretches your bang for the buck.  So, using your workloads as the guide start thinking about cost-effectively working more SSD/Flash into your data center to lower costs.

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3 Responses to “IBM FlashSystem Remakes Data Center Economics”

  1. dominio web Says:

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  2. IBM Edge 2013 Offers Three Executive Tracks | DancingDinosaur Says:

    […] several decades of traditional storage thinking. Again, DancingDinosuar covered it a few weeks back here and also on the Storage Community […]

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