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IBM bets $1 billion on Flash storage

Joab Jackson | April 12, 2013
The hard drive will soon be dead, at least for most uses in the enterprise, IBM is betting. The company is undertaking a major strategic initiative -- and US$1 billion in research -- to make flash the prominent form of storage in most organizations.

The hard drive will soon be dead, at least for most uses in the enterprise, IBM is betting. The company is undertaking a major strategic initiative -- and US$1 billion in research -- to make flash the prominent form of storage in most organizations.

IBM has launched a line of Flash-based storage systems, called FlashSystem, based on technologies IBM acquired when it purchased Texas Memory last year. The company will also open 12 centers around the globe that will help customers prototype flash systems as well as answer their questions about the technology.

A set of FlashSystems could be configured into a single rack capable of storing as much as 1 petabyte of data, capable of producing 22 million IOPS (input/output operations per second). Getting that same level of storage and throughout from a hard drive system would require 315 racks of high performance disks, Mills explained. Thanks to technology developed by Texas Memory, the eMLC (enterprise multilevel chip) flash chips that these systems use have an average lifetime of 30,000 write/erase cycles, far more than the 1,000 to 3,000 cycles that consumer grade MLCs offer.

FlashSystem joins IBM's other flash and flash and disk hybrid storage systems, including the IBM Storwize V7000, IBM System Storage DS8870 and the IBM XIV Storage System.

With flash systems "You get a lot of storage in a relative small form factor, with very high performance level," said Steve Mills, IBM senior vice president for software and systems, speaking at a New York press conference Thursday.

At the presentation, Mills made the case that it would actually be more cost effective now for organizations to use all solid-state storage rather than hard drives, when all the data-center costs are tallied.

"There is no question flash is the most economical solution to the business problem when the business problem calls for that class of technology," he said.

IBM estimates that enterprises spend about $20 billion each year buying and maintaining storage systems. "This market is as big as it is because it is an inefficient market. This will profoundly change. Inefficient markets never last forever," Mills said.

Not all systems would benefit from the use of solid-state technologies -- only those where performance is a critical factor to operations, Mills stipulated. But performance is a factor across an increasing number of workloads, including transactional processing, analysis and general cloud computing, Mills said.

Increasingly, disk drives are becoming the bottleneck in many latency sensitive systems today, Mills explained. In the past 10 years, great strides have been made in improving the performance of processors, networking and memory, though hard drives have gotten only slightly faster. "It is a mechanical device," Mills said.

 

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