IBM recently announced three models of high-end DS8880F all-flash storage systems. You might ask: Since IBM already has a wide spectrum of all-flash storage systems, why does it need more products? The answer is that the DS8880F models are targeted at IBM z Systems mainframe users who tend to have very high demand HA/DR (high availability/disaster recovery) requirements in addition to the high performance and other benefits that are common in all-flash systems.

For a background on the other products in the IBM all-flash portfolio, please see and click on the link at the Mesabi Group Web site.

DS88880F Systems offer mainframe-class storage

The three products in the DS8880F portfolio also represent the instantiation and evolution of IBM’s DS8000, the flagship storage for the mainframe. Now, z Systems users have always been willing to evolve, but they don’t deal with revolution. That is, they are willing to adopt new technology, such as all-flash systems in contrast to what were originally all hard disk systems. However, mainframes run many of the world’s most mission critical applications and workloads, and their owners are understandably risk-adverse.

How IBM makes changes may not matter as long as IBM vouches for them, but the look and feel from a user perspective must be familiar and consistent.

For example, HA/DR is absolutely critical for most mainframe users, and the DS8880F family offers the same three-site/four-site replication capabilities of its predecessors. Moreover, deep integration with z Systems environments offers the robustness that mainframe users demand as well as six nines (99.9999%) or better uptime. Six nines translates into no more than 31.5 seconds of downtime per year as contrasted to 5.26 minutes per year for a five nines solution —the standard many other enterprise storage systems advertise. To some that difference may not seem important, but then those people are probably not running 24x7x365 mission-critical online transaction processing (OLTP) systems.

DS8880F: Architected for all-flash

The flash cards that fit into an enclosure are obviously different than hard disk drives (HDDs), and so the physical architecture — notably the data path — has to be different. In addition, IBM’s DS8880F systems are built using the new High-Performance Flash Enclosure Gen 2 that supplants the original High-Performance Flash Enclosure. The Gen 2 flash enclosures offer not only greater storage capacity, but also enable fast throughput and low application response times, which are a requirement for the I/O intensive applications that are de rigueur in the world of DS8880F systems.

DS8880F Systems offer deep integration with z Systems

Remember the DS8889F family is not only about the new, such as the new enclosure as well as higher IOPS and storage throughput at low latency, but also about delivering on capabilities that mainframe users expect or demand in the way of robustness and reliability. But the family also inherits the deep integration with z Systems, which frankly is a great competitive advantage. How does this love and marriage of the horse (computing) and carriage (storage) work? One integration example is with IBM High Performance FICON and DB2 for z/OS that helps improve data speed for database-intensive applications, such as core banking and real-time analytics.

A DS8880F family portrait

The DS8880F family consists of three models:

  • DS8884F, which IBM calls its “business class” solution, is targeted for midrange enterprises and maxes out at 154 TB of flash storage.
  • DS8886F, which IBM calls its “enterprise class” solution, is targeted for high performance  large enterprise applications and maxes out at 614.4 TB of flash storage.
  • DS8888F, which IBM  calls its ‘analytic class” solution, is targeted for high performance analytics and cognitive applications and maxes out at 1.22 PB of flash storage.

All are tightly coupled with POWER8 processors (as IBM continues to emphasize its use of Power Systems) and use fibre channel/FICON ports for connectivity purposes.

DS8880F systems emphasize block storage, not on the file and object storage common in Intel-based systems, which are addressed by other members of IBM’s all-flash portfolio.

The applications and workloads that IBM projects for the DS8880F line is interesting. The foundation continues to be on database and related applications, including the well-known DB2 as well as Oracle and SAP, but also up and comers, such as Cassandra, MongoDB, and PostgreSQL that are commonly used in “big data” applications.

Of course, the analytics push continues with IBM Cognos Analytics, IBM SPSS, and SAS business intelligence. But IBM also has the Cognitive Era squarely in its sights with Watson Explorer and Watson Content Analytics. IBM obviously intends for mainframe users to move upstream to analytics and cognitive applications in addition to traditional mainframe applications (notably OLTP).

Mesabi musings

To paraphrase the mythical F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, mainframe users are very different from you and me. All application workloads are serious to somebody, but mainframe application workloads tend to be even more serious as a whole. So it’s no surprise that mainframe storage systems have to conform to the robustness and reliability standards set by z Systems. But IBM’s mainframe systems are not stagnant. They demand ever better performance as well as the ability to extend to the insightful applications that the new world of mission-critical analytics and cognitive applications demand.

Enter the new IBM DS8880F products. They inherit the good capabilities from their storage predecessors and bring new capabilities, such as a new flash storage enclosure. What will be interesting to see will be how rapidly analytic and cognitive applications will be added on top of the more traditional mainframe storage applications. If that occurs as quickly as some believe, the DS8880F could be just the beginning of a long line of all-flash IBM solutions for the mainframe.