New IBM all-flash systems seen as strong channel play

Two new systems were announced, the FlashSystem 900, a pure speed system aimed at traditional flash use cases, and the V9000, which IBM believes can replace high end spinning disk arrays.

Kevin Powell IBM

Kevin Powell, Business Line Program Director for the IBM FlashSystem

IBM has announced two new all-flash enterprise storage solutions. The smaller FlashSystem 900 is targeted at the traditional flash market, tough VDI and database workloads that need a performance boost. The larger FlashSystemV9000 has a more ambitious goal, however. With a full IBM software stack, it lowers the cost of flash to be competitive with spinning disks, and is aimed at displacing high end spinning disk arrays from the data centre.

“This is the next generation of flash solutions, building on those that we announced two years ago, but it’s a whole new product line,” said Kevin Powell, Business Line Program Director for the IBM FlashSystem. “The V9000 is a Tier One system with all software stack features, while the 900 is a Tier Zero, a very fast all-flash array, for specific workloads.”

The technology behind both systems is the IBM FlashCore innovations, the suite of innovations and capabilities that is the result of IBM’s heavy investment in the technology. They also benefit from IBM’s partnership with Micron, which makes the MLC flash chip used in these systems.

“The advantage we have is that because of our relationship, they open up the APIs and doors to let us modify things, and overprovision the chip,” Powell said. “It’s the same chip across the industry, except they let us change the levers to optimize the endurance, latency, and other aspects for FlashCore.”

Powell said the entry of flash into mainstream workloads, which was pretty much nowhere in 2013, has been clearly moving forward, something the V9000 is intended to accelerate.

“In 2014, we started to see a shift in this direction, and by the end of 2015 you will see more and more flash being used as disk replacements, not just to solve bottleneck problems,” he said. “The data reduction technologies in the 9000 makes that possible. With the compression, the cost really is as low as two dollars per GB.”

That cost factor makes the V9000 a serious threat to high end disk arrays running mixed workloads.

“The opportunity is there,” Powell said. “Workloads are changing and more workloads are opening up. It won’t replace all disks. It’s not a threat to the ‘cheap and deep’ disks for capacity tiers, but it is to the high end high speed disk systems. We think it will be able to replace that 20-25 per cent of the market.”

Powell said that the V9000 isn’t just for large enterprises.

“We do expect to sell it to the midmarket,” he said. “The V9000 can start as small as under 4 TB capacity and you can scale up and scale out that system. 80 per cent of IBM’s flash system business runs through the channel, and we expect that to hold, even on the V9000, although it’s a bigger system.

The IBM FlashSystem 900 is a more traditional flash performance system, with IBM emphasizing that unlike competitor systems, it can be deployed in as little as two hours.

“The 900 is a pure speed system, with no software stack in the middle, and is all about solving the application bottleneck,” Powell said.

Powell indicated that they are already seeing a lot of interest from partners in both systems, from ones selling into the midmarket as well as to larger accounts.