IBM Introduces DS8900F Storage System for the Mainframe

The IBM Z mainframe continues to support a very large number of the world’s most mission-critical applications and the company works diligently to ensure that the platform continues to deliver the capabilities that customers need in their rapidly-evolving data-driven hybrid multicloud enterprise. Therefore, any introduction of a new storage system, namely the IBM DS8900F, that tightly integrates with IBM Z servers, is very relevant and, by definition, newsworthy.

IBM DS8900F Storage Systems make their debut

IBM DS8900F (F stands for all-flash) represents the next generation in the evolution of IBM DS8000 mainframe-focused storage systems. Both  DS8900F and its predecessor, DS8880F (see DS8880F Storage for more information), can work with the older IBM z13 server generation, the current IBM z14 generation, and the just-announced IBM z15, but only the new family members deliver seven 9’s of availability (what this means will be discussed later), providing the ultimate in storage system reliability and uptime.

Of course, IBM DS8900F also has improved many of the solution’s speeds and feeds features.  The IBM DS8900F has two family members: namely little brother — DS8910F — and big brother — DS8950F. However, the importance of the DS8900 extends well beyond its impressive speeds. Rather, we will touch upon the tight coupling of IBM DS8900F with BM Z Systems and with the hybrid multicloud, but also illustrate the use of the new solution with a number of IBM software features that enable it to deliver exceedingly strong data protection and disaster recovery capabilities.

Unlike the mainframe itself, IBM has long had strong competition for mainframe storage sales. Therefore, it wants to emphasize its strong storage systems integration with Z Systems that its competition cannot match. To illustrate this point, IBM points out that storage latency, which is the most important metric for the transaction-based mission-critical systems that are the raison d’etre of Z Systems, strongly favors IBM. It claims that its latency is more than 5x better with its very cost effective but powerful zHyperLink technology.  Even without the zHyperLink technology, the DS8900 still out performs its competition in latency – the #1 enemy for high transaction applications and workloads.

IBM also emphasizes that its storage plays well in the modern IT world of the cloud with a secure, seamless, and transparent integration to hybrid multicloud configurations with its Transparent Cloud Tiering (TCT) capability. TCT enables hybrid multicloud storage tiering for data archiving, long term data retention, and backups See Transparent  Cloud Tiering for the DS8880F for more information on the use of TCT with IBM mainframe storage.

The focus on IBM DS8900F should not only be about what is new and different, but also include what the new storage inherits as an important legacy from its predecessors. In other words, the total package has to be taken into consideration Let’s concentrate on IT-infrastructure-operations data protection with respect to the availability, preservation, and confidentiality of the data on the storage that it manages.

Please note that this is not the data protection perspective as best illustrated by the European Union-based General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which focuses on how data can be properly used, such as for ensuring privacy. Rather this is the traditional American view of data protection.

Seven 9’s of availability for operational recovery at a primary site

Availability of the physical storage system to provide data access on demand comes in two flavors, operational and disaster recovery. For many years, the standard acceptable downtime for mission critical applications for a storage system at a primary site was expressed as five 9’s (99.999%), which translates into 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. The prior generation IBM DS8880F provides six 9’s (31.5 seconds of annual downtime). Now, in conjunction with IBM HyperSwap, IBM DS8900F system introduces seven 9’s (3.16 seconds/year average downtime for continually running storage systems). Why is this important when even 5+minutes downtime per year doesn’t sound so bad at first blush? The answer is that mainframe customers, including some of the world’s largest banks, financial services companies, airline reservation players, Global Fortune 500 companies, and many government agencies, require 24x7x365 mission critical systems for which any hiccup in storage and system availability is unacceptable. Seven 9’s practically means that, very often, there is absolutely no downtime in a year and that is a very good thing for these companies and government agencies.

3 or 4 Site Replication for Disaster Recovery

For disaster recovery purposes where for whatever reason a primary site fails or for safety’s sake has to be temporarily shut down (such as an impending hurricane), IBM DS8900F offers IBM’s well-proven 3 and 4 site replication capability. For a secondary site within a metro distance (roughly up to 300 km) there is no data loss, as the most sensitive transactions can operate synchronously (through IBM’s Metro Mirror capability). For a site at a greater distance where replication has to be done on an asynchronous basis, the data loss is only 3 to 5 seconds for the recovery point objective (RPO), while providing a recovery time objective (RTO) of less than a minute (using the IBM Global Mirror capability). Given the severity of a disaster that would require having to invoke a third or even a fourth site, getting an ancillary site functional should probably be the least of IT’s worries.

Safeguarded Copy prevents temporary data corruption from becoming permanent

Preservation of data is about preventing corruption i.e., unauthorized changes in data. IBM uses its Safeguarded Copy software feature to prevent non-approved modification or deletion of data due to user error or malicious third-party attacks, via malware or ransomware. Up to 500 virtual backup copies can be made with IBM DS8900F using incremental immutable snapshots on a non-production volume that allow a point-in-time before an attack restoration process to take place on a separate recovery volume. Given the increasing prevalence of cyber-attacks and the inevitability of human error, one would have to wonder why any mainframe IT organization would not put this feature on its shopping list.

Encryption  ensures the confidentiality of data

Confidentiality is about making sure that data Peeping Toms do not have a view of production data or can make or steal a usable copy of the data that they can use at their leisure for their nefarious purposes. Encryption is the cure for this problem. Encryption of data, both at rest in the customer’s data center and in public cloud platforms, is a staple capability that IBM provides. Now, in conjunction with the IBM z15, IBM DS8900F also offers data-in-flight encryption, which should be very useful in a hybrid multicloud world. Encryption on the DS8900 has NO performance impact, as it is performed in hardware (as opposed to many other storage encryption products where encryption is software based).  Additionally, the DS8900 provides 256-bit AES GCM encryption technology. The pervasive use of encryption should now be a no brainer.

Mesabi musings

If you were to ask an IBM Z Systems user who also uses the company’s mainframe storage what one characteristic or phrase, they most have come to expect, you would historically get a lot of answers, including performance, reliability, and safe. However, three words — peace of mind — encompasses those choices as well as many more. The new IBM DS8900F continues in that tradition with improved performance in orchestration with IBM Z Systems, seven 9’s of reliability and availability, and a number of safe choices for data protection. Not bad for many days of work.