IBM Simplifies Its FlashSystem Storage Portfolio

In a recent storage announcement, IBM described a simplification process that has led to a single FlashSystem solution family encompassing all of traditional block-level storage for non-mainframe environments. This is an important outcome from the company’s ongoing focus on “making storage simple.” IBM recognizes that there is a limit on what can be done as expressed in its use of a quote from Albert Einstein that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Let’s see what IBM has done to make storage simpler and why it is important.

A Fast Look at IBM’s Storage Portfolio

IBM divides its storage portfolio into two broad categories: storage for hybrid multicloud and storage for AI and big data. Storage for AI and big data focuses primarily on file data using the Enterprise Storage System (ESS) and object data using Cloud Object Storage (COS). Storage for hybrid multicloud concentrates mainly on-block-based storage. This divides into two categories as well. Our focus today is on entry level, midrange and high-level storage — which is what we think of traditionally as block-based storage within an enterprise. Mainframe storage, with its own architecture, is a separate and distinct category from this non-mainframe-based storage and rounds out IBM’s random direct access storage portfolio,

Platform Complexity is an Enemy of Storage Simplicity

What is the problem with traditional block-based enterprise storage and how has IBM addressed it? The problem is platform complexity caused by storage vendors having multiple product lines so that no single product family covers the entry, midrange, and high-level spectrum. Well-known vendors, Dell-EMC, HPE, NetApp, and Hitachi Vantara, all have multiple product families for historical reasons. IBM was no exception to the rule with Storwize as the entry and midrange family with FlashSystem at the high-end with one model managed with Spectrum Virtualize and two managed by Spectrum Accelerate.

Since IBM’s and its competitors’ products are high-quality and well-accepted, why does platform complexity matter? One answer is that if an enterprise uses only one product family it may not. Even there, however, it may matter. Say a customer uses only one entry product and would like to take advantage of high-end data services, such as the ability to copy/migrate data to the cloud. Although not all data services can (or need to) run on the very lowest entry IBM model (FlashSystem 5010), at the largest IBM entry model (FlashSystem 5100), and above all, enterprise-class data services are available. This means that anything the big boys can do, so can the little guy.

But large enterprises are likely to use more than just one level of platform product. That’s why many are likely to find IBM’s simplified FlashSystem portfolio compelling. All FlashSystem solutions have the same physical architecture and are managed by the same software in Spectrum Virtualize, meaning that users can enjoy a single experience from on-premises systems to the cloud. This is important in that a strategy or tactic to meet ever changing requirements, such as how to meet the challenges of the new California privacy legislation (including encryption and ensuring the erasure of selected information), can be planned once and then adopted across platforms more easily.

The same is true of the adoption of innovations, like storage-class memory (SCM) which offers a new tier of persistent storage that is faster, but more expensive than the FlashCore Modules (FCMs) that FlashSystems use extensively. IBM’s AI- based Easy Tier seamlessly moves the hottest data to the tiny sips of SCM from the large gulps of FCM to deliver up to 40% better response time than using just FCM alone, Not only the high end FlashSystems, such as the 9200, and the midrange FlashSystem 7200 support SCM, but so can the FlashSystem 5100 at the top end of the entry level.

No Storage is an Island in a Hybrid Multicloud World

More and more use of public clouds is taking place. FlashSystems takes advantage of the fact that Spectrum Virtualize is available on the public cloud. Among the key use cases for your hybrid multicloud environment are:

  • Business continuity and Disaster recovery — the ability to leverage rented public cloud resources as a disaster recovery site
  • DevOps analytics — the ability to make a temporary data copy on a public cloud from an on-premises copy.
  • Cyber-resiliency — the ability to use a logically air-gapped copy on a public cloud to overcome the negative impact of a cyber-incident, such as a ransomware or malware attack.
  • Workload migration — the ability to conduct a permanent data migration to the public cloud.

Mesabi musings

Simplicity overcomes complexity. IBM created the simplicity for traditional block storage by making one FlashSystem storage line for entry, midrange, and high-level flash storage. IBM thus eliminated one cause of storage complexity, namely platform complexity. Having a single common approach to data management benefits users in their ability to take advantage of innovations across all levels of storage and to use the hybrid multicloud more effectively.