This week IBM shone a spotlight on a refresh of its Storwize midrange storage family. In addition, it emphasized the value of its Spectrum Virtualize software, upon which the Storwize systems are built, but can also be used for many other purposes, including a new capability for integrating Amazon Web Services (AWS) workloads. This illustrates the continuing innovation that IBM and others are bringing to the information storage table, and should be most pertinent and pleasing to IBM customers and channel partners, who can use Storwize and Spectrum Virtualize to build a solution that extends into the public cloud.

The term “midrange” has long been used for block-based storage systems that are not in the top “enterprise-class” echelon in terms of performance, and, of course, price. However, that term is also a little misleading and a misnomer as many large “enterprises” (both private and public) use midrange storage because of the technology’s great scalability, strong performance, and ability to support software-delivered data services and other functionalities for a wide range of use cases. Not only that but Storwize products deliver enterprise-class functionality as well as the six 9s availability (which from a business perspective in a world where every second and minute counts is really a great improvement over the standard bearer five 9s availability) as their larger brethren.

New members of the Storwize family

Moreover, IBM Storwize offers entry level, middle tier, and upper end options. In October 2018 IBM launched the StorwizeV7000 Gen 3 product, the top of the Storwize range, which introduced NVMe at the storage device level for the first time in one of its midrange products. With this new announcement, IBM has introduced a whole new lineup of products into its Storwize V5000 storage system family, including two new entry level products — the V5010E and the V5030E — which do not use NVMe, as well as midrange level products, the V5100F and the V5100, which offer NVMe end-to-end (which means both the device level and the network level).

The Storwize V5010E, as the smallest member of the family, targets edge and containerized environments. Even though IBM expects a normal system to use about 9 TB, the V5010E can scale to a whopping 12 PB. It can provide up to 2x maximum IOPS compared to its predecessor, the Storwize V5010, but at an expected 30% less price.

The Storwize V5030E targets the same use cases as its smaller brother. It has a typical expected use of about 24 TB, but can scale to an unbelievable 32 PB (23 PB in a single system). Compared to its predecessor V5030, the new offering can deliver 20% better maximum IOPS at an expected 70% of the cost. Both entry level offerings are hybrid systems that can support combinations of SAS SSDs and SAS disks according to workload and customer requirements.

The last two systems, the Storwize V5100F and V5100 are variations on a common platform; the former is an all flash system while the latter supports hybrid combinations of flash and disk. Only specially-architected flash storage can have performance turbocharging NVMe built in but that capability here is the latest example of advanced functionality first being made available on a higher end product, then migrating to a less expensive product. IBM feels that a typical use case for the V5100F/V5100 will be about 70 TB with scaling to 32 PB. Depending on configuration, the new solutions can offer 2.4x maximum IOPS of the previous generation Storwize 5030F with data reduction turned on, but at only a 10% greater price. The IBM unique FlashCore Modules have hardware enhancements to deliver both data reduction and encryption without impacting performance.

Spectrum Virtualize Serves Both the Storwize Family and the Multicloud

Recall that IBM has a broad and extensive set of software-defined-storage (SDS) products under the rubric of the IBM Spectrum Storage family. A key member of this family, Spectrum Virtualize, is IBM’s block-based storage virtualization offering. Storage virtualization is a logical representation of storage resources that creates virtualized volumes independent of the physical limitations of storage media. Spectrum Virtualize can virtualize block storage arrays, enabling all of the virtualized storage volumes to be managed as a single pool of storage with a centralized point of control.

However, IT organizations have great flexibility in how Spectrum Virtualize is deployed (i.e., storage consumption models). One model is the IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC) appliance. A second is as a traditional storage array system — for example, the Storwize family. A Cisco and IBM converged infrastructure VersaStack deployment also includes one or more of those storage systems. Finally, another consumption model is a software-only solution that can be used, say, for supporting cloud services.

The Storwize family has a solid software foundation in Spectrum Virtualize. All Storwize products offer transparent data migration, local and remote data replication (snapshots, disaster recovery [DR], and copy/migrate to the cloud). In conjunction with IBM Spectrum Copy Data Management, data can be made available at three sites. Plus, except for the low end V5010E, all the other new Storwize family members support data reduction pools, scale-out clustering, and encryption.

Spectrum Virtualize operating on-premises with its standard list of clients — including Storwize solutions and over 450 heterogeneous storage arrays — can now run in the public cloud, initially the IBM Cloud (formerly IBM Bluemix and IBM SoftLayer). The big news is that it is now available with AWS, as well.

Spectrum Virtualize in a public cloud provides real-time DR (disaster recovery) and data migration between an on-premises data center and a public cloud. Using public cloud for DR means that if an on-premises data center becomes unavailable due to a declared disaster, IT can failover to the remote public cloud. Spectrum Virtualize runs in conjunction with the computing, storage, and networking resources at both locations, delivering a single management layer for fully-functional storage between locations.

What AWS brings to the table, in addition to its immense popularity, is its optional usage of object storage. Now why would a block-based system want to create an object-based copy? The reason is that ransomware and malware (so far, at least) have only worked with block-based data. As a result, object data acts as if it were an “air-gapped” (physically isolated from a network) copy, which means that the copy is not accessible to hacking attempts. Now, while this is not truly an air-gap (as a network is still involved) for practical purposes it may be sufficient, at least for now.

Mesabi musings

The fact that each year storage innovation and progress seem to deliver more for mostly less never grows old. IBM’s new Storwize family members serve as affirmation of this fact, such as the migration of NVMe to the V5100 products. In addition, IBM customers whose Storwize arrays use Spectrum Virtualize can now avail themselves of both the IBM Cloud and AWS public clouds to create multi-cloud environments that makes it easier to do DR. All in all, this announcement qualifies as a good day at the office for IBM, its customers and channel partners.