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By | Chris Mellor 27th January 2014 06:04

SPLASSHH! Tech giant IBM DIVE-BOMBS into all-flash array pool

It's a belly-flop, snark startup swimmers

Analysis Splash! IBM has launched its first in-house all-flash array, one of the fruits of its billion-dollar flash storage investment. The FlashSystem 840 is an impressive box but what do IBM's mainstream and startup competitors, each with their own all-flash arrays, think of it?

We asked them - and we also asked IBM what it thought of what they said. Enjoy the two sides giving each other a kicking.

Dell

A Dell spokesperson said: "The FlashSystem 840 lacks snapshots, remote replication, and tiering that utilises less expensive storage. Putting the array behind SVC adds more cost to an already costly flash solution, while also reducing the response time benefit of having the all-flash array.

"Given the performance hit, it’s not clear when someone would use the FlashSystem behind SVC rather than the less costly native flash options for SVC. Dell Fluid Cache for SAN, out in just a few months, will offer even higher IOPS and lower response time than FlashSystem, while being compatible with snapshots in our Compellent arrays and providing additional savings with more cost-effective flash types."

It looks as if Dell hopes there will be few if any openings in Dell's accounts for the FlashSystem 840, especially in Compellent-using accounts.

EMC

We received a comment from Josh Goldstein, the VP for marketing and product management at EMC’s XtremIO Business Unit.

He said: "The FlashSystem 840 is nothing more than a hardware refresh of the FlashSystem 820 with updated serviceability and capacity points. The product has not changed in any significant way from its prior TMS incarnation. It’s still a fixed hardware appliance with no data services. XtremIO is a software-centric array with a rich set of data services engineered specifically for flash and which scale-out linearly, a must-have for the flash data centre.

“The SVC head for data management is a huge disadvantage. SVC is a disk-centric architecture. While it allows layering of some data services atop the FlashSystem 840, it’s not an integrated, flash-specific approach. We’ve already seen the limitations of Violin trying to layer Symantec and Falconstor software on top of their hardware arrays.

"This is IBM’s version. XtremIO’s data services, in contrast, are developed entirely for flash with no disk architecture legacy. Furthermore, XtremIO data services are completely integrated in the array software, with no need to manage a flash hardware layer and a separate set of data services appliances.

“XtremIO will continue to execute on our current plan, which is producing amazing results for our customers and in the market.”

FlashSystem 840

FlashSystem 840

IBM said the EMC claim that SVC is disk-centric "is not correct. SVC was tuned for flash." The EMC claim that SVC is not integrated with FlashSystem "is not correct. FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution is a solution in which FlashSystem 840 is integrated with SVC."

Kaminario

Kaminarion CEO and co-founder Dani Golan provided answers to two questions we asked:

El Reg: How does IBM's FlashSystem 840 compare to a K2 all-flash array?

Dani Golan: The biggest difference is that the Kaminario K2 all-flash array is a hardware-agnostic software appliance – one that is an economical, mature and highly-available offering. IBM FlashSystem 840 is proprietary hardware appliance, and as a result, more expensive and limited in scale. It's also more complicated as it requires two separate boxes (FlashSystem and SVC) to deliver an end-to-end solution.

El Reg: He added a couple other points of differentiation:

  • K2 has a scale-out architecture and is designed to provide the right balance of capacity and performance based with individual customer needs. [For reference, our K2 v4 (our current version on the market) can scale from 2TB to 120TB net, up to 3 million read IOPS and 1.2 Million write IOPS.] IBM’s FlashSystem 840 can neither scale up nor scale out.
  • K2 provides native data management and data protection features, unlike IBM’s FlashSystem 840 which uses SVC to provide most of these capabilities, adding management overhead, as well as more cost and less performance. K2, for example, supports native application-aware snapshots optimized for flash. These translate to overall simplicity, significant cost savings and increased productivity.

El Reg: How will IBM's entry into the all-flash array market with its first in-house system affect things in general do you think?

Dani Golan: This move from IBM is just more validation that flash is no longer niche – and shows all-flash arrays to increasingly be the choice for primary storage. Of course, it also promotes healthy competition across all vendors and continued innovation from all directions.


IBM said the Kaminario claim that "IBM’s solutions are “limited in scale” and cannot scale-out ... is not correct. The FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution scales up and scales out."

HDS

An HDS spokesperson offered this thought: "The new IBM system looks like a fine flash-only entrant, but certainly nothing market-changing about it. At HDS, we think the need to use SVC for functionality is a major difference versus what we are doing with HUS VM. HUS VM appears to have similar performance, enterprise-grade Hitachi Accelerated Flash, can tier to HDDs and has all the storage virtualisation that SVC brings, but does so in a native, built-in fashion.”

IBM said the HDS view that "IBM’s solution is “flash only” ... is not correct. The FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution supports all flash configurations and configurations that virtualise other IBM and third party storage."

HP

Vish Mulchand, HP Storage’s director of product management was asked if SVC was a disadvantage or advantage in front of the FlashSystem 840. He said: “Flash is disruptive. Customers want to accelerate mission critical applications with Flash. Performance is important, but more importantly customers want to leverage this acceleration without compromise! While IBM FlashSystem 840 can deliver performance, it is an All Flash Appliance that lacks Tier1 resiliency and data services."

Even IBM agrees, he claims, according to this Q-and-A session with Ambuj Goyal, the general manager for IBM system storage and networking:

Question: “What about the FlashSystem all-flash platform acquired from Texas Memory Systems?”

Goyal: “That goes into scenarios where clients say, 'I'm already doing things like data backup and replication and all the data loss prevention things in my software. All I want is the amazingly fast capability to access data'. … In those scenarios we are seeing a huge interest in all-flash.”

FlashSystem 840 module

FlashSystem 840 module pulled out.

Mulchand added other points:

  • FlashSystem lacks Tier 1 data services (such as replication, QoS, snapshots, etc) and forces customers to deploy SVC in front of FlashSystem to get data services. SVC adds a net new layer in the architecture requiring compromises.
    • Added latency - customers considering FlashSystem would be seeking low latency, yet adding a virtualisation appliance (SVC) increases latency, thereby raising the question why deploy FlashSystem?
    • Expanded failure domain – SVC sits in the data path and therefore a failure at the SVC level can lead to data unavailability.
    • Increased cost – SVC adds a redundant controller layer and customers would require minimum of two SVCs for failure tolerance. Flash is a premium asset. Adding SVC to the deployment, increases the cost further.
    • Added complexity – Another layer to manage and coordinate for change management.
  • The performance capability that Flash can deliver surpasses the demand of any single application. Maximising Flash investment means consolidating multiple applications onto a single Flash Appliance or Flash Array.

    Consolidation drives multi-tenancy requirements (Tier 1 resiliency, mixed-workload performance, secure sharing of resources, and Quality of Service (QoS) controls to consolidate safely. HP 3PAR StoreServ 7450 offers Tier1 resiliency, mixed workload performance, Virtual Domains for secure sharing and Priority Optimization for QoS controls. Flash Appliances such as FlashSystem are typically not multi-tenant capable.

He finishes by pointing out the HP’s 3PAR StoreServ 7450 is an All Flash Array that delivers across performance (IOPS, Latency), scalability (capacity), and Rich Data Services (including Tier1 resiliency).

IBM rebutted much of the HP view as incorrect, saying that:

  • The HP claim that "IBM’s all flash solution lacks tier 1 resiliency and data services ... is not correct. The FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution meets all industry requirements for resiliency and has the broadest array of advanced data services in the market. The IBM quote references a time before the FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution was marketed."
  • The HP view that "SVC adds complexity ... is not correct. IBM FlashSystem 840 and FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution both use the same SVC GUI enabling easier management".
  • The HP idea that "The IBM offering does not support multi-tenancy ... is not correct. IBM FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution supports Quality of Service (QoS) and offers the performance characteristics needed to support consolidation of multiple applications."

NetApp

For NetApp, John Rollason, director for product, solutions and alliances marketing in EMEA provided this thought:

"NetApp has shipped 60PB of Flash (both hybrid and all-flash arrays) including over 500 shipments of our all flash array EF series. Our EF-Series (EF540 and EF550) has a resilient architecture that’s proven to deliver consistent, sustainable, low-latency performance. EF550 supports up to 87TB usable, significantly more than IBM FlashSystem 840 (48TB).

"Enterprise RAS is fundamental to the EF-Series’ design with features such as: no single point of failure, automated path failover, hot swappable components, extensive diagnostics with auto support and proactive wear life tracking of each SSD, proactive repair, online administration and non-disruptive upgrades. In just 2U, the EF-Series is a fully-redundant, enterprise-class All-Flash Array. Nothing else is needed to meet the demands of business-critical tier one and tier zero applications.

"We would assume the challenges SVC presents to the customer includes performance bottle necks, higher latency and affects to the overall TCO. By offering snapshots, clones, thin-provisioning and replication as part of the SANtricity OS, NetApp enables storage administrators to achieve maximum performance and utilization of their EF-Series all-flash array.

"Architected to provide the highest levels of reliability, availability and serviceability, SANtricity features include a fully-redundant I/O path with automated failover, advanced monitoring and diagnostic features, and non-disruptive serviceability. And SANtricity already offers plugins and provides for tight integration with VMware, Oracle and Microsoft applications.

"The effect of IBM’s entry into the market will not be seen until real world testing and customer implementation takes place."

IBM made two points about the NetApp view:

  • "The claim that "NetApp supports larger capacity configurations than IBM ... is not correct. The IBM FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution can scale to support far more than 87TB configurations."
  • It added: "The view that "IBM’s effect on the market will not be seen until real world testing and customer implementations take place" is inappropriate. IBM and Texas Memory Systems have been providing solid state storage solutions for more than 30 years, and have ample customer testimonials that speak to the success of the technologies and strategies."

Pure Storage

Scott Dietzen, Pure Storage’s CEO said:

  • We welcome IBM's entry into the all-flash arena. It's further evidence that the future of Tier 1 storage is 100 per cent flash rather than hybrids, and that customers should stop wasting their money on mixes of flash and disk that perform like disk, cost the same as the all-flash alternatives (at least from Pure), and are much more expensive to operate (power, space, simplicity).
  • We welcome competition with IBM and others. Competition drives innovation, market growth, and customer value.
  • The challenge with the hardware-centric all-flash solutions (the JBOFs, for "just a bunch of flash") is that they wholly lack the Tier 1 native data management services:
    • no snaps,
    • no clones,
    • no replication,
    • no deduplication,
    • no compression,
    • no non-disruptive upgrade for software, hardware swap, & expansion.
  • Only by closing this software gap within the array did Pure become a better alternative to existing Tier 1 disk-centric storage, and it takes years to hone that software.
FlashSystem 840 rear view

FlashSystem 840 rear view

IBM says the Pure Storage assertion that "IBM lacks storage services ... is not correct. The FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution offers a broader feature set than Pure Storage and has more than a decade of experience than Pure Storage in delivering these features."

Solidfire

Solidfire CEO Dave Wright said: “The FlashSystem 840 appears to be a continuation of the TMS focus on solving point performance problems with low latency flash and a limited feature set that doesn't even include basic data management features like thin provisioning and snapshots.

“The use of SVC to add data management features that are not optimised for a flash architecture doesn't really change that picture. To deliver any significant number of IOPS, a large number of SVC "engines" are required.

“For example, IBM's recent 500k IOPS SPC result used 8 SVC engines at a discounted price of $367,000 for the engines and SVC software license. A similar configuration when used in front of a 48TB FlashSystem 840 would add over $7.50/GB to the basic cost of the FlashSystem itself, not to mention over a dozen rack units and thousands of watts of power.

“The combination of the added SVC cost and inefficiency, the use of more expensive eMLC (instead of cMLC), and the lack of deduplication in any form, completely prices the solution out of a large scale general-use case like public or private cloud.”

“There are undoubtedly use cases where the combination of very low latency and a limited feature set can be successful, but that is a very narrow segment of the storage market.”

Dave Wright points us to this SPC reference (PDF).

IBM rebuts two of Wright's assertions. The claim that "SVC is not optimised for Flash ... is not correct. IBM tuned and optimised SVC for Flash.

Also "SolidFire implies that IBM’s lack of deduplication, in any form, prices it out of the market ... That is not correct. IBM FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution includes Real-Time Compression which is proven to be more effective for active data environments. IBM also has a complete product line, ProtecTIER, which offers a full-suite of deduplication features."

Violin Memory

A Violin Memory spokesperson gave answers to questions about the new FlashSystem.

El Reg: How does IBM's FlashSystem 840 compare to a Violin 6000 or 3000 array?

Violin: The IBM FlashSystem 840 announcement offers little published data to support its claims of suitability for shared enterprise storage environments. As such, we encourage prospective customers to carefully evaluate its performance and availability characteristics. This includes validating sustained performance under load and verifying that all components of a single system can be non-disruptively upgraded without reliance on external components or hot standby systems.

The IBM FlashSystem 840 also relies on SVC to support basic data management features, adding significant cost, reducing performance and tripling its footprint.

The Violin 6000 Series Flash Memory Array is a proven enterprise-class storage system, with fully-redundant hot-swappable components, NDU (non-disruptive upgrade) capability and consistent performance under heavy workloads. The system is managed by Symphony software, which provides a single-pane-of-glass view across all Violin arrays, reducing operational complexity with customisable dashboards, in-depth performance and health monitoring and automated operations.

El Reg: Does IBM's need for an SVC head for data management features empower or disadvantage the FlashSystem 840?

Violin: Customers will ultimately decide whether the performance, density and cost penalties associated with adding an SVC head are acceptable. Violin’s purpose-built memory fabric architecture and management software allow customers to take full advantage of the performance and density of the system without adding unnecessary latency, complexity and cost to the equation.


IBM takes issue with the Violin view that "IBM offers little published data to support its claims of suitability for enterprise environments ... That is not correct. FlashSystem (and its predecessors and IBM SAN Volume Controller) have been in the Enterprise market for more than a decade."

Boiled-down summary

All of IBM's competitors are heartened by the validation IBM's FlashSystem 840 move gives to the all-flash array market. But, while supportive of the need for advanced data protection and management functions, they typically feel these are best provided inside the all-flash array infrastructure itself rather than through bolt-on head units like the SVC.

IBM's general responses to the competitors' claims above are:

  • SVC was tuned for flash.
  • FlashSystem 840 is integrated with SVC.
  • The FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution scales up and scales out.
  • The FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution supports all flash configurations and configurations that virtualize other IBM and third party storage.
  • The FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution meets all industry requirements for resiliency and has the broadest array of advanced data services in the market.
  • IBM FlashSystem 840 and FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution both use the same SVC GUI enabling easier management.
  • IBM FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution supports Quality of Service (QoS) and offers the performance characteristics needed to support consolidation of multiple applications.
  • The IBM FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution can scale to support far more than 87TB configurations.
  • IBM and Texas Memory Systems have been providing solid state storage solutions for more than 30 years, and have ample customer testimonials that speak to the success of the technologies and strategies.
  • IBM tuned and optimized SVC for Flash.
  • IBM FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution includes Real-Time Compression which is proven to be more effective for active data environments. IBM also has a complete product line, ProtecTIER, which offers a full-suite of deduplication features.
  • FlashSystem (and its predecessors and IBM SAN Volume Controller) have been in the Enterprise market for more than a decade.

Big Blue sold 1,500 FlashSystems before the 840 was announced. It will be interesting indeed to see how well it has done by the end of 2014, and how that compares to how its competitors will have done too. Do I hear anybody saying IBM will sell another 1,500 systems? 2,000? More? ®

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