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Rev Up Your Cloud With IBM FlashSystem A9000

IBM FlashSystem A9000
Nick Harris wrote this article on behalf of IBM Systems Magazine.

In April, IBM announced its latest flash storage system. The two models—the FlashSystem A9000 and the FlashSystem A9000R—are designed to make fast storage simple.

IBM Systems Magazine sat down with Andy Walls, IBM Fellow, CTO and Chief Architect, IBM FlashSystem, to learn more about the way cloud storage is changing as well as how the features and benefits of these new FlashSystem offerings will make a difference in cloud storage.

Q: Apart from its rapid adoption, how is cloud storage changing?

A: Very rapidly. Businesses are putting the full gamut of applications in the cloud and they expect it to service a huge variety of workload and data types, any of which can influence the storage capabilities needed at the back end.

One may think of cloud storage as a cheap repository for large amounts of rarely accessed data in order to reduce infrastructure cost. But, we are seeing clients move pools of storage and applications to the cloud. The need for cheap and deep is being augmented by a need for more demanding business-driven requirements including analytics on all that data.

Q: Once clients get their ‘I luv my Cloud’ sticker, what is their next step?

A: As clients become more comfortable with deploying their workloads in a cloud—either on- or off-premises—the demand for performance/cost differentiation between workloads based on value to the business, will soon appear. We are seeing this right now with managed service providers (MSPs) and enterprise cloud adopters, where they have multiple workloads that share the same infrastructure. Clients are looking for the mission-critical applications sharing that infrastructure to be protected, or have guaranteed microsecond latency. This means cloud providers will demand a new level of cloud management technology. These are the same management features that IBM FlashSystem A9000 and Spectrum Accelerate have built in with IBM Hyper-Scale Manager.

Q: Are infrastructure managers on board with large cloud deployments yet?

A: The infrastructure managers are cautiously very interested. They are looking at cloud and investigating our Spectrum Accelerate products for all types of cloud deployments. This enterprise class consideration is becoming more important to them.

Most infrastructure organizations now defining their hybrid environment are fairly bimodal, applying different rules for their new workloads to their existing systems of record. Over time organizations will become familiar with the new underlying infrastructure, and the business will expect cloud infrastructure to have the same characteristics as their systems of record counterparts. They will also want to differentiate their workloads. This will drive up the need for workload separation through performance tiers, managed with multi-tenancy and quality of service (QoS) functions.

FlashSystem A9000 very neatly fills this new requirement for high performance in the hyperscale cloud space with differentiated QoS technology. One of the propositions that is very attractive is IBM Spectrum Accelerate’s breadth both across deployments types. Whether you deploy FlashSystem A9000, FlashSystem A9000R, XIV or Spectrum Accelerate, as an on-premises, off-premises or hybrid cloud, you can enjoy consistency of management experience and functions reducing the effort in what can be a very labor-intense environment.

Q: Can you explain what hyperscale clouds are?

A: Yes, I see this confusion in my discussions with clients. Hyperscale storage differs from traditional storage in many significant ways. The sheer scale of storage is orders of magnitude greater, and the permutations of workloads are nearly infinite. Total storage is measured in petabytes rather than terabytes. The terabyte can approach petabyte size, but that introduces the other variable, workloads. Also workloads in hyperscale can vary from a single massive multithreaded analytics query to a consolidation of tens of thousands of virtual machines as in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). These two types have very different storage requirements. This is vastly different from the relatively few relational database workloads driving an enterprise’s mission-critical business. These tend to occupy just a few terabytes.

Q: Many clients are concerned about transferring the complexity of the data center to a cloud they cannot touch and feel. How do IBM’s products reduce these concerns?

A: Hyperscale, by its size, has a mandate for simplicity and automation. This is a key strength of FlashSystem A9000 and FlashSystem A9000R. Both get their heritage from IBM’s grid-based enterprise class storage system, XIV. This is why the IBM Spectrum Accelerate family has such momentum in the cloud space. You have a similar and familiar product set across all aspects of cloud. It is also important to remember that the same requirements exist even if clients keep the data on-premises. FlashSystem A9000 allows for workload consolidation regardless of whether it is on- or off-premises.

Q: Why did IBM choose IBM Spectrum Accelerate as the basis for delivering capacity and performance?

A: Hyperscale in a whole cloud sense demands a new delivery construct. Recently storage cloud has been moving away from just being about capacity. Data is the key to meeting the demands of a Cognitive Era. Some data is relatively easy to handle, but depending on some aspects of the workload, simple storage and retrieval is not enough. For some new workloads, delivering near-instant response times is critical.

Spectrum Accelerate was built with the grid architecture of IBM XIV. This architecture provides a cloud storage solutio that provides high performance consistency across scalable capacity. Because many consolidated environments already use IBM XIV, IBM decided it was a natural cloud fit

The grid-based architecture provides the balanced footprint for mixed workloads. The grid is a cluster of small commodity nodes and drives, with data being spread across all of the storage, giving it multidimensional scale to meet the growing demands of enterprise-class high density and highly virtualized infrastructure. You could look at these early deployments as small on-premises storage clouds.

These pre-clouds needed to provide basic capacity to users with all of the complexity of storage infrastructure and management hidden. This simplicity was delivered by XIV, and as its popularity grew, rich multitenancy management functions were added, making it a natural and popular choice of MSPs because it allowed them to build out their evolving off-premises cloud infrastructures with very low management overhead. The hands-off methodology of XIV gave MSPs the edge as these clouds grew. IBM delivered more features in this space and IBM Hyper-Scale Manager was born, offering the capability to manage many XIV systems from a single pane. Along with its built-in self-healing, self-optimizing capability, Hyper-Scale Manager also offers integrated management and monitoring.

Pairing IBM FlashCore with the grid architecture of Spectrum Accelerate was an evolutionary step, enabling a simple capacity solution to inherit the fast and consistent performance of FlashSystem building blocks.

Q: What enterprise storage characteristics are clients demanding?

A: Cloud infrastructure managers are beginning to develop similar expectations to most of the existing traditional storage models, where performance, data reduction, and data protection and resiliency are becoming key metrics alongside capacity/cost.

Nick Harris is the Storage Lead in the IBM Competitive Project Office.



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