Systems and Storage Practice Lead
18 August 2018
IBM recently launched their new FlashSystem 9100, due to become generally available on 28th August.
In this blog, Tom Richards takes a first look at the 9100 and what makes it different with a special Q&A section
The 9100 is important as it’s IBM’s first full NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) array in a market where this is the new buzzword. If like me, you subscribe to IT industry news sites, you will be inundated with 10-15 new articles per week from industry news sites around NVMe – far more than any other subject in data storage. The majority of these are very focused on NVMe drives as a technology rather than NVMe as part of a solution. For me, this completely misses the point as the emphasis is on the hardware rather than the data. The challenge facing businesses isn’t fixed by introducing fast storage as a point solution but by implementing a data management solution to make sure that the right data is in the right place, at the right time – either based on its business value or usage. This is where the 9100 steps in and differentiate itself from a standard NVMe array.
However, it’s worth taking a step back first – what is NVMe and why is everyone talking about it? If you’ve not come across NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express), it is a relatively new protocol specifically designed for high-speed storage media. The previous protocols of SCSI, SAS and SATA can trace their lineage back to the mid-1980’s and were formed at a time of HDDs and tape. Whilst there have been numerous updates to the protocols over the years to increase transfer speeds, the same basic bottlenecks existed. NVMe is designed to remove some of these bottlenecks and reduce the ‘chatter’ associated with SCSI/SAS to make data access more efficient as well as increase the number of data queues that improves the ability to process data in parallel.
Further enhancements to NVMe will become available over the coming months and years as host adapters become more widely available that support NVMe over Fabric (NVMeOF) to provide further performance benefit. If you’re looking to replace your storage infrastructure and gaining the low latency performance that NVMe can bring, one thing to check is whether the array supports NVMe End-to-End to make sure that you protect your investment.
Coming back to the new FlashSystem 9100 – it’s designed to support NVMe End-to-End but IBM has dropped the ‘V’ moniker that is associated with the 9100’s predecessors (i.e. V5000, V7000, V9000) signifying the integration of IBM’s Spectrum Virtualise Software Defined Storage (SDS) hypervisor. Yes, all 9100’s will still come with Spectrum Virtualise as standard but the new array extends SDS integration far beyond this to help clients focus on improving the use of their data. In achieving this, the 9100 is available either as a standalone array with Spectrum Virtualise or as a choice from three solution bundles that incorporate functionality like multi-cloud support, data protection and reuse, business continuity and private cloud flexibility.
Whilst 9100 is being positioned as a replacement for clients that would have otherwise considered the V9000, there is currently no withdrawal from marketing planned for the V9000. The midrange V5030F and V7000F will continue to exist as lower price points into high-performance storage although not currently NVMe.
What is NVMe?
NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is a relatively new protocol specifically designed for high-speed storage media. The previous protocols of SCSI, SAS and SATA can trace their lineage back to the mid 1980’s and were formed at a time of HDDs and tape. Whilst there have been numerous updates to the protocols over the years to increase transfer speeds, the same basic bottlenecks existed. NVMe is designed to remove some of these bottlenecks as well as increase the number of data queues to increase the ability to process data in parallel.
What is NVMe storage?
NVMe storage is engineered to work over PCIe lanes, directly connecting the storage devices to the CPUs. This allows lower latencies and increased transfer rates.
What is SCM-capable?
Storage Class Memory (SCM) is a substantial step forward in memory technology, offering non-volatile, ultra low latency memory for a fraction of the cost of traditional memory chips. As vendors make SCM-based NVMe products available, the FlashSystem 9100 with it’s NVMe storage architecture will be capable of supporting these devices.
What is NVMeOF?
on-premise is NVMe Over Fabric. This extends the advantages of the NVMe protocol to the host layer allowing lower latencies, increased transfer rates and reduced server IO workload demand. The 16Gb Fibre Channel card and 25GbE iWARP and RoCE cards in the FlashSystem 9100 are hardware-ready for NVMeOF. This means you’ll not need to upgrade your FlashSystem 9100 hardware when you upgrade your host environment. Host drivers and workloads will also need to be ready for NVMeoF.
Is the 9100 Designed for End-to-End NVMe
Yes, one advantage of the 9100 is that it provides investment protection to clients – it is designed for end-to-end NVMe to allow clients to take advantage of NVMeOF along with technologies such as Storage Class Memory (SCM) when they become generally available.
Do I have to use NVMeOF to take advantage of the NVMe storage?
No, you can still use the other host interfaces (Fibre Channel and iSCSI) to take advantage of the NVMe storage.
Is Spectrum Virtualize built into FlashSystem 9100 or do I need additional hardware?
Each of the controller canisters is a Spectrum Virtualize node. No other hardware is needed.
Can I virtualize other IBM and 3rd party storage controllers?
Yes, over 440 different types of storage controller can be virtualized behind a FlashSystem 9100, adding additional storage to the storage pool, simplifying management and removing siloes of storage across your estate. Virtualization can be permanent, or it can be used as a way of migrating from other storage controllers to the FlashSystem 9100
What host types does FlashSystem 9100 support?
The interoperability matrix is similar across all Spectrum Virtualize products – including IBM Power Systems, Cisco UCS and most open systems platforms running on x86.
Is the FlashSystem 9100 supported in a Cisco VersaStack environment?
The FlashSystem 9100 will in a VersaStack environment. A Cisco Validated Design (CVD) is expected to be completed by 4Q18.
What data reduction features does Spectrum Virtualize have?
Thin provisioning, compression and deduplication. It also supports SCSI UNMAP to reclaim unused storage and return it to the storage pool. This is in addition to the data reduction features in the FCMs themselves.
How does Spectrum Virtualize do high availability (HA)?
HA is delivered using the HyperSwap function to provide an active-active storage cluster. buzzword allows different IO groups (or FlashSystem 9100 controllers) to be geographically dispersed over a limited distance, with a coordinated volume mirror between the two sites.
What Disaster Recovery (DR) capabilities does Spectrum Virtualize have?
The FlashSystem 9100 has inherited all of the DR capabilities of Spectrum Virtualize, allowing for volumes to bon-premiseacross sites that are 1000s of miles apart. Up to 4 Spectrum Virtualize clusters can on-premise. Volumes able to be synchronously or asynchronously duplicated on write using Remote Copy, or copied periodically to meet a given RPO using Global Mirror.
What user interfaces does the FlashSystem 9100 offer?
Aintoeasy-to-use GUI, a command line over SSH, REST API for integration into other workflows and an SMI-S certified CIMOM.
Is encryption supported?
Yes. FlashSystem 9100 storage supports hardware encryption for all drive types, with the FCMs designed to be FIPS 140-2 compliant. For high-performance controllers without encryption, Spectrum Virtualize offers software encryption. Encryption can be enabled per storage pool or per storage array.
What is FIPS 140-2?
The Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a U.S. government computer security standard used to approve cryptographic modules. This means it is a standard to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of information with four increasing, qualitative levels of security which cover a wide range of applications and environments. Federal agencies and other regulated industries often require FIPS compliance differentiated they can validate the FCMs are covered by existing FIPS 140-2.
What if I want more performance or capacity than a 9100 can deliver?
Using native clustering, up to 4 FlashSystem 9100 systems can be joined together. Unlike some 3rd party offerings, growth is near linear when 9100 controllers are added to provide predictable growth as and when it is required.