IBM Makes Flash Memory Push

Michael Vizard

Recognizing that the fundamentals of Flash economics have fundamentally changed, IBM today announced a new all-Flash memory storage system along with a commitment to invest $1 billion in Flash memory research and development.

According to Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for IBM Software and Systems, as overall server performance has improved dramatically, rotating disk technology has struggled to keep pace.

Based on the technology that IBM gained with the acquisition of Texas Memory Systems last year, IBM today announced the availability of its IBM FlashSystem 820 that provides 20 TB of RAID storage and the ability to integrate that system with the IBM SAN Volume Controller. According to IBM, the Texas Memory System Flash technology differs from rival Flash systems in that it makes use of variable striping to eliminate the potential impact of Flash memory durability issues.

Solid-state Flash technology, says Mills, can deliver 22 million IOPS across a 1 PB system with latencies of 100 microseconds at a cost of about $10 per GB. In comparison, high-performance disk storage costs about $10 to $12 per GB. But given the inefficient ways hard disk drives need to deployed, the total costs of hard disk drive storage in reality is close to $30 per GB.

The reason for this, says Mills, is that application developers are using crude methods to optimize disk drive performance by only storing data at the edge of the drive, which has an adverse impact on data storage utilization.

Mills says the biggest impact of Flash memory, however, will come in the form of compressed server footprints that not only reduce the amount of physical space and energy being consumed, but also results in lower application software and IT management costs because fewer servers are now going to be needed. In addition, Mills notes that developers will spend a lot less time trying to optimize application performance to accommodate hard disk latencies.

In short, Mills says hard disk technologies are fundamentally inefficient. That doesn’t mean that hard disks are going away. But it does mean that the number of applications where hard disks need to be used as primary storage are being sharply reduced.

As partial recognition of that fact, IBM is also opening up 12 centers of excellence to help customers re-engineer their data center operations to take advantage of Flash memory.

There’s no doubt that Flash memory is transforming the economics of IT. At this point the question is no longer whether organizations will be taking advantage of Flash memory, but rather how soon and for what classes of application workloads.



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