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IBM refreshes its FlashSystem All-Flash Array product line
Well, it's Tuesday again, and you know what that means? IBM Announcements!
Today, IBM announces a complete refresh of its IBM FlashSystem® all-flash array product line.
(FCC Disclosure: I work for IBM. Compression, data footprint reduction, and performance results, based here on internal IBM tests, vary widely by data and workload type. Your mileage may vary. This blog post can be considered a "paid celebrity endorsement".)
New FlashSystem 900 model AE3
The new AE3 model introduces new Microlatency cards at larger capacities: 3.6, 8.5 and 18 TB. Compare that to the previous model AE2 at 1.2, 2.9 and 5.7 TB.
These capacities are achieved by combining three-dimensional (3D) chip layout with Triple-Level Cell (TLC) transistors, often referred to as 3D-TLC. The previous technology was single-layer 2-dimensional, multi-level cells (MLC).
Last week, at IBM Systems Technical University in New Orleans, Clod Barrera, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technical Strategist, explained this via an analogy. The 2-dimensional is like a Bungalow. If you want to pack in more people, you need to make the rooms smaller, which is getting more difficult. Alternatively, you could build a multi-story skyscraper, adding more floors relieves pressure to shrink the rooms down.
Triple-level cell holds three bits per transistor. In the past, we had Single-level Cell (SLC) that stored one bit, and Multi-level Cell (MLC) that stored two bits. A future technology, Quad-level Cell (QLC) is not yet ready for production workloads in a datacenter.
The new AE3 models also offer Embedded inline Compression (EiC), with "Always-On" compression being done right on the Microlatency cards. With a fully-loaded 12 card 2U drawer, that is 10+P+S RAID-5 configuration, the amount of effective capacity is drastically increased:
FlashSystem 900 Model AE3
2U Drawer (Usable TB)
2U Drawer (Effective TB) w/EiC
The compression gets 2x to 3.5x on typical data, but your mileage may vary. The small latency cards are capped at 110 TB, and the medium and large at 220 TB effective capacity, to avoid overwhelming the on-board DRAM cache. For clients who need smaller amounts of flash, IBM will continue to sell the AE2 models with 1.2 TB MLC Microlatency cards.
After the compression, the data is encrypted with AES 256-bit encryption. This is same as the previous AE2 models, so nothing changing there.
The EiC compression and encryption do not impact performance. The new Microlatency cards achieve as low as 95 microsecond latency, about 10x faster than traditional Solid-State Drives (SSD) found in Dell EMC XtremIO and Pure Storage competitive offerings, and 40 percent faster than the new NVMe Solid-State drives. A 2U drawer can deliver up to 1.2 million IOPS, slightly more than the AE2 models (1.1 Million IOPS).
The new FlashSystem V9000 take advantage of the new FlashSystem 900 AE3 models, effectively tripling the usable capacity.
The interesting thing now is compression. Both are hardware-accelerated, with EiC being done on the Flash cards, and Real-time Compression (RtC) being done by the Intel QuickAssist chips in the controllers.
The EiC method works on 4KB blocks, so only gets 2.5x to 3.5x on typical data. The RtC method works on larger 32KB blocks, is therefore able to find more replicated sequence of characters, gets up to 5x ratio, with compressed data in the controller node cache for better cache hit ratios.
However, RtC is limited to only 512 volumes, so admins would run the [Comprestimator tool] and select the cache friendly workloads with the best compression, such as Databases and CAD/CAM images.
With new FlashSystem V9000, you now get the benefits of both. Continue to use RtC for data that is better served with 4x-5x compression, and let EiC compress everything else!
FlashSystem V9000 model AE3
Usable (1 drawer) TB
Usable (8 drawers) TB
Running a typical 70/30 workload, representing 70 percent reads and 30 percent writes, each controller pair can deliver up to 600,000 IOPS. With four V9000 controller pairs clustered together, that is 2.4 Million IOPS. For more read-intensive, cache-friendlier workloads, IBM has clocked the system up to 1.3 million IOPS per controller node-pair, and 5.2 million for a four-pair cluster.
As with the previous model, the FlashSystem V9000 offers "Easy Tier" automatic sub-LUN tiering, and "storage virtualization" to manage both SAS-attached and SAN-attached storage. Over 400 different devices from major vendors are supported. This means that the busiest blocks will be moved up to low-latency Flash, and less active data will be moved to spinning disk.
As with the FlashSystem V9000, the A9000/R model 425 use the new FlashSystem 900, increasing the effective capacity.
The A9000/R models will continue to do "Data Footprint Reduction" of pattern removal, data deduplication and RtC compression for data to achieve up to 5x compression ratio. However, to improve performance, internal metadata will not be compressed with RtC, allowing the underlying Flash cards to do EiC instead. This reduces CPU workload.
The FlashSystem A9000 model 425, aka "The Pod", has three grid controllers combined with the new FlashSystem 900 model AE3 for compact 8U solution that can store nearly a Petabyte. For smaller deployments, IBM also offers an 8-card partially-filled drawer for lower entry system size.
A9000 Model 425
Number of cards/drawer
Effective @5x TB
The FlashSystem A9000R model 425, aka "The Rack", has two to four grid elements, each grid element has two grid controllers and one FlashSystem 900 AE3 drawer. The previous 415 model supported five and six grid elements, but for now, model 425 is limited to just two, three or four. The A9000R model 425 supports all three Microlatency sizes, whereas the previous 415 model only supported medium (2.9 TB) and large (5.7 TB) sizes.
FlashSystem A9000R model 425
Usable (2 elements) TB
Usable (3 elements) TB
Usable (4 elements) TB
Performance of both the A9000 and A9000R are based on the number of grid controllers. Each grid controller gets about 300,000 IOPS. The A9000 pod with three controllers gets up to 900,000 IOPS. Each A9000R grid element has two controllers, so 600,000 IOPS per element, with 2.4 million IOPS for a maxed out four-element A9000R rack.
Along with the hardware changes, IBM released version 12.2 of the Spectrum Accelerate software that runs in the FlashSystem A9000/R models.
This version supports Asynchronous mirroring between FlashSystem A9000/R systems and IBM XIV Gen3 storage. The replication can go in either direction, but the intent is to use FlashSystem for production, replicating to XIV Gen3 at a disaster recovery facility. Version 12.2 also increased the number of volumes, snapshots, and consistency groups supported.
24,000 volumes and snaps
1024 consistency groups, 512 volumes per consistency group
The new version applies to both the new model 425, as well as the previous 415 models!