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By | Chris Mellor 7th October 2010 17:38

IBM's mid-range storage blast

Storwize. But without compression

IBM has announced a new mid-range array made from many existing components. It uses the Storwize brand, but there's no compression. The XIV-style GUI brings Mac desktop graphics to storage admin.

The Storwize V7000 is a mid-range array that is said to complement the DS5000, but it uses modern software components allied to Jasper Forest processors and Xyratex drive enclosures to produce an array platform that looks eminently extensible.

It is a dual controller array, with each controller utilising a quad-core Jasper Forest (Nehalem style) processor to drive a virtualised three-tier storage backend connected over a SAS interconnect. The system uses the SVC (SAN Volume Controller) code stack, with its deduplication, thin-provisioning, virtualisation and data protection features. To this platform IBM has added the XIV GUI and DS8000 RAID and EasyTier features, producing an array from this mixture that could well replace the DS5000 at some stage.

This product takes the SVC idea of an in-fabric storage virtualiser that can embrace both IBM and third-party arrays, and implements it as a true array controller, Hitachi USP/VSP-style - albeit in a dual controller, modular design and not a monolithic array architecture.

It uses the Storwize main brand and V7000 sub-brand to mark a separation from the existing DS branding. We understand that the XIV brand is for enterprise arrays, with the V-brand being for mid-range ones.

Hardware spec

V7000 storage tiers can be 300GB STEC solid state drives (SSDs) which are a brand new 2-bit, multi-level cell design. The intermediate tier is 10,000rpm, 2.5-inch, SAS-interface, 2.5-inch hard disk drives. These use the 6Gbit/s SAS II interface, shades of HP's P9500 here.

The third tier is bulk data storage 7,200rpm, 3.5-inch SATA disk drives.

Hosts interface to the V7000 via 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel or four 1Gbit/E ports, while iSCSI is provided natively. The controller unit is a 2U rack enclosure which can hold 24 2.5-inch drives or 12 3.5-inch drives, with capacity maxing out at 24TB using 2TB drives. The 2.5-inch disk drive capacities are 300, 450 or 600GB.

There can be up to nine expansion cabinets, making a grand total of 240 small form factor (SFF) drives or 120 3.5-inch drives.

Drive types, meaning SSD and HDD, can be inter-mixed in the same enclosure, with drive enclosures being inter-mixable too. Our understanding is that 15,000rpm drives are being qualified.

The performance, as you might expect from a design featuring plentiful flash and spindles, is pretty good. "We've submitted an SPC-1 benchmark with 120 drives and a visualised DS5020 behind it," IBM master inventor Barry Whyte said. "It's not been published yet but it achieved 56,500 SPC-1s." We understand that peer review has been completed and this is number is solid.

"We're running an SPC-2 benchmark and will be doing an SPC-1 with a full 240 drive configuration," Whyte said. "At 240 drives,we still have 50 per cent of the controller functionality left over to virtualise other drives. It means it can keep up with SSDs, and performance is maintained with EasyTier and thin provisioning active. ... We would be quite happy for customers to run a production archive behind it."

Majoring on efficiency

IBM is pushing a strong efficiency story here, saying this is a densely-packed system making good use of floor space. It also has lower energy needs than an all-3.5-inch array, and uses thin-provisioning to avoid allocating lots of storage space up front that won't get used for weeks or months.

All the storage is virtualised into a single pool spread across the three tiers, with LUNs carved out of it for servers.

The EasyTier feature watches the data I/O pattern and moves the most active sub-LUN-sized pieces of data, called extents, up to the SSD tier for the fastest response.

"Having 6 per cent of the capacity being solid state can deliver around 200 per cent performance improvement," said Doug Balog, an IBM VP and the disk storage business line executive. "EasyTier was developed by IBM research and monitors sub-LUN pieces (extents)  and puts hot extents on SSD with the rest on SATA. The extent size 16MB to 8GB and is settable, with the default being 256MB. The system learns over time as it watches the data patterns; it's autonomic."

The protection features are all inherited from the SVC with snapshots, clines, and replication. All the software features are bundled in except the Remote Mirror replication which is an option.

Why is there no compression, especially with the Storwize brand being used? (IBM recently completed the purchase of hardware compression company Storwize.)

Basically there hasn't been time, as the system was designed and in development before the Storwize acquisition. "Storwize does compression in a 1GB or 10GB NAS at the moment using RACE engine. It will work well with N-Series [and] will come as embedded block compression next year," Balog said.

Oh, it works well with the N-Series. Is NetApp going to OEM it? "Storwize has 100 customers and many include NetApp. We haven't announced anything regarding NetApp OEM'ing the technology," Balog said.

Mac-like GUI

The V7000's GUI is startling, having a MAC-style dock on the left-hand side of the screen with a 3D representation of the storage capacity and the array on its right, complete with traffic light-style health lights. Mousing over the dock items causes them to increase in size, exactly the same as mousing along the Mac dock.

IBM V7000 Screen GUI

There are buttons at the bottom of the screen that cause a pop-up window to be displayed with numeric and text information about elements of the V7000. You have full access to the command line scripts behind the GUI if you want. Indeed you can import scripts from the XIV and they will run.

The GUI is much, much easier to use than the SVC's command line interface, and provisioning storage is a matter of a few clicks and a five minutes or less. A provisioned LUN can be achieved in 10 clicks after inserting the installed system's USB key.

Seeing it in use, it is easy to wonder why all storage arrays aren't managed the same way. Whyte thought that SVC sysadmins might find themselves up to 10 times as productive in SVC management operations using it.

The V7000 is, in effect, a release 6 SVC product, and the two products share the same code base, meaning that current XIV customers get the XIV-derived GUI.

Storage strategy

IBM's storage strategy features overlapping products in the mid-range area, with the V7000  and the DS5000 both offering block-level access. IBM also resells N Series unified storage arrays sourced from NetApp offering both file and block storage. IBM has its own SONAS file-access products that scale up more than NetApp's FAS products, but these are enterprise-class.

Big Blue is not abandoning the DS storage line. Indeed, it has announced a new top-end DS8800 today as if to emphasise the point. But, as with HP, the storage times they are a changing, and our feeling is that the V7000, like the XIV, is a platform for the future, whereas the DS5000 and DS8000 products are existing and mature architectures that might face an ultimately more limited future than the XIV and V7000s.

IBM reckons that XIV and the V7000 are equivalent to 3PAR in terms of being new storage architectures. "When we bought XIV we looked at 3PAR and Compellent and we're pretty confident we have the right answer," Balog said.

IBM isn't revealing prices yet, but does say it will be competitively priced against existing mid-range storage suppliers. Big Blue classifies them into three groups.

Firstly, there are the traditional RAID 5 products such as CLARiiON and EVA, which have had the most mid-range market share for past 10 years. Secondly, there are the iSCSI arrays such as DEll/EqualLogic and HP P400 (LeftHand). Lastly there are startups such as Pillar, Compellent, and Xiotech.

"We compete with the top end of Compellent and 3PAR every day and have won over 600 new customers since the beginning of our XIV offering in 2007 ... This modular V7000 system will add to our competitive weapon armoury," Balog said.

The V7000 is a re-invented modular array with enterprise array features and a GUI that is like eye candy in its appeal. Its general availability commences on 12 November and the bulk of sales will be through IBM's channel partners. They will, we hazard a guess, be very happy to demo it. ®

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