IBM FlashSystem Storage Appliances Launch With $1 Billion Investment

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-04-11

IBM FlashSystem Storage Appliances Launch With $1 Billion Investment

NEW YORK—IBM announced a strategic initiative to drive flash technology further into the enterprise to help organizations better tackle the mounting challenges of big data and beyond.

At an April 11 launch event here, IBM announced its new FlashSystem line of flash-based storage appliances, pledging to funnel $1 billion in investment into research and development of flash technology. The investment will go to R&D to design, create and integrate new flash solutions into Big Blue’s expanding portfolio of servers, storage systems and middleware.

“We’re announcing three things,” said Ed Walsh, vice president of storage systems marketing and strategy at IBM. “We’re announcing a $1 billion investment in software and systems across IBM, 12 new Centers of Competency around flash and a new line of products called IBM FlashSystem.”

Flash, a highly efficient rewritable memory, can speed the response times of information gathering in servers and storage systems from milliseconds to microseconds—orders of magnitude faster, IBM said. Because it contains no moving parts, the technology is also more reliable, durable and energy-efficient than spinning hard drives.

Such benefits have led flash to pervade the consumer electronics industry and be built into everything from cell phones to tablets. Today, as organizations are challenged by swelling data volumes, increasing demand for faster analytic insights and rising data center energy costs, flash is quickly becoming a key requirement to enable the Smarter Enterprise, IBM said.

“We’re at an important tipping point in the IT industry,” said Steve Mills, IBM’s senior vice president and group executive for software and systems. “There’s no question that this technology can improve performance, but even more important are aspects of cost reduction.”

“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,” said Ambuj Goyal, general manager of systems storage in IBM Systems & Technology Group, in a statement. “The confluence of big data, social, mobile and cloud technologies is creating an environment in the enterprise that demands faster, more efficient access to business insights, and flash can provide that access quickly.”

As part of its commitment to flash, IBM also announced plans to open 12 Centers of Competency around the globe. These sites will enable clients to run proof-of-concept scenarios with real-world data to measure the projected performance gains that can be achieved with IBM flash solutions. Clients will see first-hand how IBM flash solutions can provide real-time decision support for operational information and help improve the performance of mission-critical workloads, such as credit card processing, stock exchange transactions, manufacturing and order processing systems.

IBM is currently targeting Centers of Competency in China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore, South America, the U.K., and the United States to all be operational by the end of the year.

IBM FlashSystem Storage Appliances Launch With $1 Billion Investment

IBM announced the immediate availability of the IBM FlashSystem line of all-flash storage appliances, which are based on technology IBM acquired from Texas Memory Systems (TMS) last year. The IBM FlashSystem provides organizations with instant access to the benefits of flash. The IBM FlashSystem 820, for example, is the size of a pizza box, is 20 times faster than spinning hard drives and can store up to 24 terabytes of data—more than twice the amount of printed information stored in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Flash systems can provide up to 90 percent reductions in transaction times for applications like banking, trading and telecommunications; up to 85 percent reductions in batch processing times in applications like enterprise resource planning and business analytics; and up to 80 percent reductions of energy consumption in data center consolidations and cloud deployments.

Some use cases for IBM’s new flash technology include OLTP databases, cloud-scale infrastructures, computational applications, analytical applications and virtual infrastructures, Mills said. He said with the new systems, IBM is able to provide storage at $10 per gigabyte. That is comparable to $30 to $50 per gigabyte for more traditional types of storage, he noted. “You can fit a petabyte of data into one floor tile,” he said.

“We’re pushing over 5 gigabytes per second through the system,” Charles Godshall, client technical director on IBM’s global flash storage team, said.

On hand at the event were a handful of IBM customers who have used the FlashSystem technology.

Karim Abdullah, director of operations at Sprint, said Sprint has 121 call centers and after implementing an “all-you-can-consume” mobile initiative for customers, “It drove our systems crazy.” However, the move to flash technology drove a 45-fold boost in access to data, he said.

“I saw benefits of 10x improvement in throughput and similar achievements in latency,” said Al Candela, head of technical and services at Thomson Reuters. He said processes that used to take two hours with traditional storage technology now only take 10 minutes with flash. Moreover, “Just dropping flash in allows you to go into apps and tune them to improve performance.”

Candela also noted that flash exposes weaker developers. “This raises awareness; there’s no place to hide anymore,” he said.

“Developers no longer have any place to hide,” Goyal added. “They used to be able to hide behind the latency of mechanical storage devices, but flash eliminates that.”

Rick Mattingly, director of IT infrastructure projects at Kroger, said his organization began looking at flash technology late last year after many of the company’s database users complained that response times were not fast enough. Yet, “With the move to flash we’re seeing 10 times performance improvements,” he said. “We’re also able to do more virtualization. This allows us to virtualize some databases. We would not have done that previously because of the virtualization tax.”

Bob Bruce, vice president of Vion, a storage system provider to the government, said his company has sold more than $24 million in Texas Memory Systems flash products to the government. Much of that technology is being used “to help the intelligence community try to find bad guys,” Bruce said.

IBM FlashSystem Storage Appliances Launch With $1 Billion Investment

One agency was using Oracle technology and was having problems, so it moved to the TMS flash technology and saw improvement immediately, Bruce said. “When you’re chasing somebody and you’re looking at two- to three-minute response times, they’re gone,” he said. “Flash cuts the response time down to two to three seconds.”

However, Bruce added that he would like to see IBM deliver tighter integration of its flash technology and its data analytics technology. “Most of the use cases we see for flash products are in data analytics,” he said. “Our customers are taking a number of data points and looking at where somebody might be. That’s a large disk problem, and it’s a performance problem of getting a response as quickly as you can.”

Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel Corp., an early adopter of flash, recently completed a deal with IBM to install nine flash storage systems in its data center, for a total of 150TB of additional flash storage. The company was looking for a way to improve the performance and efficiency of its phone activation application. When performance rose and energy consumption dropped, the company began to expand the technology to other parts of the data center. According to Sprint officials, this latest installation is part of the company’s new strategy to move its most active data to all-flash storage systems.

The new IBM FlashSystem joins the company’s growing stable of all-flash and hybrid (disk/flash) solutions, which include IBM Storwize V7000, IBM System Storage DS8870 and the IBM XIV Storage System.

“If this was all just about flash, that’s not interesting,” IBM’s Goyal told eWEEK. “But once it becomes about systems and it becomes about how systems are designed and built, then it becomes core to IBM. The tipping point is about how data centers and systems are designed, and that’s right in our wheelhouse. We are accelerating this tipping point.”

“I think the broad move to flash storage is a big, future trend, which will blur the distinction between storage and memory,” Jonathan Yarmis, an analyst with Yarmis Group, told eWEEK. “In an increasingly real-time world, that's a powerful unification. From a marketing perspective, this was a good announcement from several perspectives. One billion is real money, even by IBM standards.

“I think the timing is good. IBM can clearly seize some thought leadership to accompany a good product story. And I thought their choice of customer stories was masterful. You had Kroger in a razor-thin margin business, talking about how this saves them money. And then you had Reuters talking about all the business transformation value they see.  I think this speaks to how important this will be over time. Flash changes economics and enables new kinds of applications. Depending on who you are, IBM has a story to tell you: save money; be disruptive safely.”

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