IBM FlashSystem 9100: The Importance of NVMe-based Storage in a Data-Driven Multi-Cloud World

IBM’s newly announced FlashSystem 9100 is its first NVMe (nonvolatile memory express) at the storage drive-level storage system. The FlashSystem 9100 is IBM’s enterprise-class entrée in the virtual storage infrastructure managed by Spectrum Virtualize.

But the announcement is about more than just an array solution. The true value is in how the FlashSystem 9100 makes a major contribution to the multi-cloud worlds where IT organizations increasingly play.  The FlashSystem 9100 includes an extensive set of IBM’s award-winning Spectrum Storage software and leverages that included software to create multi-cloud solution blueprints for IBM clients and channel partners.

The NVMe storage revolution

NVMe is a storage technology that accentuates, accelerates and revolutionizes the move to all-flash storage systems, as it supports solid state devices (SSDs) and not hard disk drives (HDDs). As a review of NVMe basics and IBM’s commitment to NVMe, please see However, to summarize, each new generation of a high technology system typically brings with it price performance benefit increases in speeds and feeds. NVMe is no exception.

The IBM FlashSystem 9100 speeds and feeds

From simply a speeds and feeds perspective, the FlashSystem 9100 offers 6X more data in the same space, 3X more performance, and 60% less energy consumption than traditional all-flash arrays. The Spectrum Virtualize-managed FlashSystem 9100 uses IBM’s FlashCore architecture at the storage module level.

No Future Worry Capacity Planning with FlashSystem 9100 Capacity Increases

However, there is a major new twist; the FlashCore storage modules in the 9100 have been redesigned to use the industry standard 2.5-inch form factor instead of IBM’s proprietary 10-inch form factor. The 9100 also uses 3D TLC (3-dimensional triple level cell) NAND flash with 64 layers instead of the 32 layers of the previous version. Finally, each FlashCore module offers built-in, performance-neutral hardware compression and data encryption.

These upgrades offer significant practical value. IBM expressly guarantees at least a 2 to 1 data reduction ratio standard without requiring the customer to submit to any testing and will flexibly guarantee up to a 5 to 1 data reduction ratio if the customer agrees to allow testing to show that the better compression ratio will actually apply to the customer workloads. Data reduction techniques include not only compression, but also deduplication and thin provisioning.

As a result, a single 2U 9100 system can hold up to 2 PB (petabytes) of data, and a fully populated cluster in a standard 42U data center rack can hold up to 32 PB. That is a mammoth amount of data to store in a small space. Most customers will not have that much data even in the foreseeable future, but the point is that with the FlashSystem 9100, you never have to worry about running out of storage capacity again!

NVMe-based Acceleration Turbocharges FlashSystem 9100 Performance

All the benefits of NVMe at the device level translates into a 3X performance increase over traditional all flash products. The latency for a single 2U array or a 4-way 8U cluster is the same at 100 microseconds, but the IOPS quadruples from 2.5 M/sec to 10 M/sec, and the bandwidth quadruples from 34 GB/sec to 136 GB/sec. The 9100 is truly a turbocharged system.

The IBM FlashSystem 9100 Comes in Two Flavors

The IBM FlashSystem 9100 comes in two models — the FS9110 and the FS9150. The former uses dual 8-core processors per controller and the FS9150 uses dual 14-core processors per controller. Otherwise the architecture is the same with up to 24 bays full of dual-ported 2.5” NVMe flash-based storage modules in 2U. There is also a minimum of two controller canisters that act in an active-active mode with failover/failback capabilities. An IT organization has to decide which model based upon how heavily the controllers would be used for their specific workloads.

IBM FlashSystem 9100 data-driven, multi-cloud solutions

The FlashSystem 9100 is about much more than speeds and feeds, such as being NVMe-accelerated. IBM is also targeting the rapidly emerging multi-cloud world where businesses are deploying private, hybrid, and public clouds in various and diverse combinations.

IBM offers customers a choice of three IBM validated “blueprints” that they can utilize to aid them in delivering a particular multi-cloud solution.

  1. The Data Re-use, Protection, & Efficiency Solution focuses not only on how to backup data in virtual or physical environments such as using IBM Spectrum Protect Plus, but also how to re-use backup and other copies for DevOps, analytics, reporting and disaster recovery (DR), while also adding in the use of IBM Spectrum Copy Data Management.
  2. The Business Continuity and Data Re-use Solution focuses on how to use storage in the public IBM Cloud as a DR target with easy migration among on-premises, private cloud, and public cloud. IBM Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud is used in addition to IBM Spectrum Virtualize and IBM Spectrum Copy Data Management.
  3. The Private Cloud Flexibility and Data Solution focuses on delivering on-premises or private cloud storage with cloud efficiency and flexibility for Docker and Kubernetes environments for new generation applications. IBM Cloud Private and IBM Spectrum Access Blueprint are used in the deployment process.

IBM software-defined storage targets the multi-cloud world

Software is the integrating glue that ties the NVMe-accelerated IBM FlashSystem 9100 to the multi-cloud, as enterprise-class storage systems are not only about hardware. In addition to a wide range of data services, such as snapshots and data replication, IBM includes with each FlashSystem 9100 access to the IBM AI-based Storage Insights as well as integrating four key members of its storage software and modern data protection family of Spectrum Storage solutions: namely, Spectrum Copy Data Management, Spectrum Protect Plus, Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud and Spectrum Connect.

IBM Storage Insights is a powerful tool for managing storage that in addition to helping with event and problem resolution management also provides infrastructure planning capabilities for forecasting capacity growth, planning purchases and optimizing data placement.

As for the four Spectrum Storage products, Spectrum Copy Data Management provides ongoing visibility into where data lives, how that data is used and who has access to it through data lifecycle management automation that delivers self-service data access along with necessary orchestration and visibility features. Spectrum Protect Plus focuses on easy-to-use backup and recovery in virtual environments. Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud connects on-premises and cloud storage (private or public) in order to deliver a hybrid cloud storage data replication and disaster recovery solution. Spectrum Connect enables the provisioning, monitoring, automating and orchestrating of IBM block storage in containerized (Dockers and Kubernetes), VMware and Microsoft PowerShell environments.  

Now what do all of these software products have in common? The answer is that they are integrated with the FlashSystem 9100 storage architecture that includes support for key capabilities, such as data portability between private and public clouds, native DevOps capable, containerization support, and self-service-enabled, that go beyond traditional block-based applications.

IBM states that modern IT organizations face three major challenges in the multi-cloud world that these software products address in conjunction with the FlashSystem 9100 addresses. The first is the need to modernize traditional applications in private clouds, which bring the agility, flexibility, and cost effectiveness of a public cloud, while at the same time being able to extend seamlessly to and leverage public clouds as appropriate. The second is to be able to adopt successfully new data-driven applications, such as big data and a host of analytically-oriented applications. The third is the ability to modernize applications, such as containerization in private clouds that use agile development approaches with full portability that leverages the public cloud infrastructure. The multi-cloud world is here to stay and the FlashSystem 9100 has been designed to play effectively in that world.

The IBM FlashSystem passes the litmus tests of reliability and pricing with flying colors

All of the above attests to the power of the FlashSystem 9100, but IT organizations also want to know about issues, such as reliability and pricing. On the reliability front, IBM guarantees 100% data availability for users of HyperSwap, which is a Spectrum Virtualize capability that is used in a dual-site, active-active environment. In addition, IBM offers a seven-year life on the FlashCore media itself while on warranty or extended maintenance, which should end any concern over read/write endurance.

Pricing deals with many factors, such as total cost of ownership. However, IBM believes in current customer retention and providing enticements to attract new customers for whom the multi-cloud world presents challenges that the FlashSystem 9100 can solve. Therefore, the price of the current V9000 and a 9100 are roughly equivalent. For example, if a V9000’s warranty period has expired and an IT organization is willing to buy three years of maintenance support on the system, then it could acquire a new 9100 with its warranty for approximately the same price. Now, IT would have to migrate its data to the new array, but since Spectrum Virtualize is used on both systems, that data migration could be made non-disruptively. That is what is called a good deal.

Mesabi musings

What’s not to like about IBM’s new FlashSystem 9100? NVMe-accelerated performance, solid data reduction, starting with compression, multi-cloud functionality to deal with the world that IT organizations now must face more and more each day, and multiple PB capabilities to name just a few — and all this in only a 2U box!

As a side note, NVMe at the storage device level in all-flash systems drives a final nail in the coffin for the use of hard disks for Tier 1 production storage. On the positive side, enterprise-class NVMe storage is the way to go in the rapidly growing multi-cloud world and the IBM FlashSystem 9100 is a clear illustration of why that is the case.