IBM continues to play a key leadership role in two trends that are transforming computer storage — software-defined storage (SDS) and all-flash storage systems. This week’s Q3 storage announcement focused on IBM’s virtualization-driven SDS product, IBM Spectrum Virtualize, both as standalone software and in its powering IBM’s all-flash solutions. Those include the FlashSystem V9000, the Storwize V7000F and the Storwize V5030F.

Now, why are SDS and all-flash systems transforming the world for IT organizations? SDS manages provisioning and other storage functions independent of the underlying hardware. The decoupling of storage software from the physical storage itself offers a number of benefits, including more flexible, simpler, and efficient management of storage resources, such as through the use of automated policy-driven commands, and the ability to manage heterogeneous storage resources as if they were a single shared pool.

Meanwhile, all-flash storage is being adopted rapidly for primary production storage. The performance of all-flash products vs. hard disk drive (HDD) alternatives is certainly one reason but not the only one. All-flash is also the better product physically, delivering power, rack, stack, and floor space footprint savings that, along with a reliability edge over HDDs, reduces operational burdens. In addition, all-flash storage can support complex functions, like quality of service (QoS) that are difficult at best for spinning disks.

IBM’s recent Q3 storage announcement focused on SDS and all-flash storage for what it calls the virtual storage infrastructure environment. This is the traditional Microsoft, Linux, and Intel-based world of distributed block workloads for traditional IT applications that run, for example, on SQL Server and MySQL.

The featured SDS product for virtual storage infrastructure is IBM Spectrum Virtualize but it is also important to pair SDS solutions with appropriate hardware, and that includes specific all-flash products. For example, for big data storage environments, IBM offers DeepFlash 150 paired with SDS-product Spectrum Scale that has a general parallel file system suitable for the big data, high performance computing, and media and entertainment worlds. In contrast, Spectrum Virtualize focuses on block-oriented virtual storage infrastructure environments.

IBM’s all-flash systems for the virtual storage infrastructure

As noted, Spectrum Virtualize can be standalone or used to power specific IBM all-flash products. Before we look at Spectrum Virtualize in its standalone incarnation, let’s consider the three IBM all-flash products it manages.

IBM FlashSystem V9000

The IBM FlashSystem V9000 is IBM’s enterprise-class entrée for the virtual storage infrastructure environment. Its foundation is FlashCore technology, IBM’s high-end flash storage architecture that acts as a hardware accelerator to deliver as low latency as possible in the movement of data. But the enterprise-class world is about more than improved performance. The key attribute is data services and this is where Spectrum Virtualize comes in. Among the many data services it provides are storage virtualization, thin provisioning, snapshots, cloning, replication, data copy services, and high-availability configurations for disaster recovery, such as using IBM HyperSwap for access to data from data centers that can be as far apart as 300 km. In other words, HyperSwap also is about continuous availability, including data and application mobility with vMotion or IBM Power HA. The V9000 provides the same basic services as a comparable hard disk system while delivering all the benefits that flash has over HDDs. The IBM FlashSystem V9000 can also scale to over 2 PB to meet large scale demands.

In addition, it (as well as the other all-flash solutions) plays nicely with other popular enterprise IT platforms as it is VMware-integrated and linked to OpenStack.

IBM Storwize V7000F

The IBM Storwize V7000F is IBM’s midrange entrée for all-flash virtual storage. Of course, it provides the performance, reliability and environmental savings of all-flash but also delivers all the capabilities of a HDD alternative. That includes improving storage efficiency with thin provisioning and snapshots as well as asynchronous and synchronous replication. The V7000F also includes capabilities of hardware-assisted Real Time Compression, distributed RAID, and multi-layer write caching.

IBM Storwize V5030F

The IBM Storwize V5030F is IBM’s entry-level solution for Spectrum Virtualize. In fact, it supports all the capabilities that Spectrum Virtualize brings its big brothers, the V7000F and the FlashSystem V9000 including remote site replication and IBM HyperSwap. What a deal! The only tradeoffs are in using software compression and encryption (rather than the hardware-assisted versions on the V7000F and V9000) and lower performance relative to its siblings. But these are the tradeoffs that result in a lower priced solution that still meets users’ needs.

VersaStack

A converged infrastructure (a bundle of networking, compute, and storage elements) can accelerate application deployment, reduce risk, decrease costs and speed up overall deployment of a new information infrastructure. VersaStack, a joint effort between Cisco and IBM, is just that: a combination of Cisco network, compute and IBM storage capabilities with integrated management into a single rack solution. Cisco provides their UCS servers and Cisco MDS or Nexus series switches.

IBM’s contributions include the FlashSystem V9000, the Storwize V7000F, and the Storwize V5030F (all, of course, including IBM Spectrum Virtualize). The FlashSystem V9000 version supports high levels of performance for application acceleration at scale. The Storwize V5030 with Cisco UCS Mini brings a converged infrastructure within the budgetary reach of entry and mid-size businesses.

Spectrum Virtualize as standalone software

As much as IBM (or any other vendor) would like IT organizations to consolidate only on its storage products, the company recognizes the heterogeneous nature of the storage environment in most IT organizations. Add to that the diversity of environments, such as the cloud, in which storage plays a key role. SDS can help restore some sanity and sensibility to what otherwise can become an overwhelming and seemingly out of control storage world.

Enter IBM Spectrum Virtualize as that core SDS component. Spectrum Virtualize supports common data services, such as snapshots and replication, in nearly 400 heterogeneous storage arrays. But don’t these systems have their own data services? Of course, all but commodity storage include some services. However, Spectrum Virtualize offers a common set that all can use, simplifying operational storage management since those same tools can be used for storage provisioning and other management tasks.

IBM is making Spectrum Virtualize available for x86 servers. It initially supports Lenovo x3650 M5 servers, but IBM has a statement of direction for extending support to Cisco, Supermicro, and HP, as well as for hypervisor and container support. The reason for x86 server availability of the software is to provide more flexibility in hybrid cloud deployments for service providers and IT organizations.

A key target for Spectrum Virtualize are service providers — both managed service providers (MSPs) and communications service providers (CSPs) — who can deploy Spectrum Virtualize on commodity Intel hardware as a means of lowering their overall infrastructure costs. In short, Spectrum Virtualize delivers the flexibility to virtualize all storage on the same Intel hardware without the burden of costs/limitations of specialty software and appliances that they would have to use otherwise.

One way service providers might use Spectrum Virtualize is to enable a low cost disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) solution without the need to exactly duplicate the same physical storage at a secondary site or at a cloud data center. Now, since the physical storage on premises and in remote sites might be physically different, IT organizations would have to make sure that the service meets the necessary service level objectives, such as performance, if a disaster is declared. But this is something that can be worked out with aid managed by the DRaaS provider.

Mesabi Musings

Data storage used to be considered more or less staid and static, and not deeply involved in major trends affecting the IT infrastructure. That is no longer the case as managing the seemingly endless increase in data and the storage arrays that house that data becomes an ever-more complex challenge. Software-defined storage and all-flash storage systems are two of the transformative trends designed to meet that challenge.

In the virtual storage infrastructure world, IBM offers Spectrum Virtualize as software-defined storage and three all-flash systems — the enterprise-class V9000, the midrange V7000F, and the entry-level V5030F — that run on Spectrum Virtualize. Overall, Spectrum Virtualize improves the ability to manage storage resources more efficiently and cost effectively. Meanwhile, the company’s all-flash systems offer improved performance and storage operational benefits over comparable HDD systems.

These products represent another step forward in IBM’s long tradition of innovation in storage. They are also part of a continuum of SDS and all-flash solutions that target a broad range of workloads and use cases for not only the virtual storage infrastructure environment, but other IT environments as well, such as big data.