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IBM FlashSystem: Whats better Fast or Flash?

werewolfBy now everyone has seen the great marketing adverts from AT&T where a interviewer is sitting in a classroom asking some younger students basic questions like, “Would like you like more or less? and my favorite “Which is better: fast or slow?”. Of course all of the kids scream FAST! Even to the point where one little girl talks about being slow and then being turned into a werewolf and then crying because all it wants is to be human again… Then the tagline, “It’s not complicated”.
No matter if we are talking about mobile phone, sandwich deliver (Jimmy John’s ROCKS!) or flash based areas, the “how fast can you …” is real. We can time a person delivering food, we can meter the signal on a mobile phone and we can measure the response time of a flash array. But what is more important than being fast? Simplicity.
There are many new start ups entering the flash storage market and some of the larger vendors are snapping up these little guys like little bunny foo foo (Not sure about the bopping part).

What I have seen is most of the solutions sound good on paper and power point but once in the sandbox they are complicated and take weeks of tuning to get the performance as advertised. There seems to be a growing trend in the flash market of “just get it in there” and then deal with tuning later mentality. This is not surprising from where its coming as they typically have more engineers on a customer to make sure their legacy gear behaves properly.

dr-evil
The IBM FlashSystems 710/720 and 810/820 were announced last week with a huge kick off meeting in New York and a huge social media push which I thought was marvelous. There was announcements of IBM setting $1 Billion (Yes, Dr. Evil does now work at Almadean Labs) for research and product enhancement of Flash technology. I think someone actually said something on our tweet chat that day like “Who else in the world could spend as much money on one particular part of hardware but IBM?” and I think the answer is fairly clear, no one.
What will come from this huge R&D investment you may ask? I suspect IBM is looking at how to take the technology and sprinkle it through out the storage portfolio and into server side as well. There are already some vendors who are getting started with adding flash PCIe cards into the hosts but they are typically storage companies trying to talk to server people. Not saying server people are different than storage people, but its a different language at times. Again the question comes up “Who else but IBM can talk servers, switches, storage and software and offer good pricing and support?”; no one.
I suspect the neigh sayers will be ramping up with their FUD about the IBM FlashSystem and how its this and not that, but let me tell you:

  • It is fast
  • It is easy to manage
  • It is efficient

One aspect that I see as HUGE win is having the FlashSystem behind our SAN Volume Controller (SVC) and allowing the Easy Tier program figure out what data needs to be on flash and leave the rest on old rusting spinning drives.  This becomes very interesting because now you get better performance out of your storage and increase the usability of the FlashSystem by always keeping the hot data on the fastest device.  Per the IBM SSIC the FlashSystems are supported as a device that SVC can virtualize with different OS types.

SAN-Volume-Controller-Fig1

I believe this is a very interesting time to be in storage as we are seeing the change in storage designs. I hope the new flash systems can be adopted by main stream customers and helps drive the cost down even further so we can start looking at solutions like Flash and Tape  only.  Needless to say there are a lot of ideas and cool things coming out of IBM Labs and Flash is going to be one of the biggest.

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