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IBM's New FlashSystem 9100 All-NVMe Flash Storage Comes Loaded

IBM's latest entry in the all-flash storage array business is aimed at performance thanks to its end-to-end NVMe architecture, and includes software that the company said will make it the center of a hybrid on-premises and multi-cloud infrastructure.

IBM on Tuesday unveiled its first storage system featuring embedded high-performance NVMe storage capacity along with the full complement of IBM's storage software and new storage "blueprints" to help partners build multi-cloud solutions.

The new FlashSystem 9100 supports both IBM's proprietary high-performance FlashCore flash storage modules as well as industry-standard SSDs, and comes with Storage Insights, IBM's artificial intelligence-powered analytics software, said Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer and vice president of worldwide storage channels for IBM storage and software-defined infrastructure.

"This is not just an NVMe array with faster speed," Herzog told CRN. "All our competitors are doing this. This ships with tons of software."

[Related: IDC: 2018 Q1 Enterprise Storage Market Hits $13B Mark As Hyperscale Cloud Providers Boom]

The FlashSystem 9100 offers raw capacity of up to 460.1 Tbytes, or up to 2 petabytes with data reduction, in each 2U enclosure, Herzog said. "With our Spectrum Virtualize software, partners can create clusters of up to four units totaling 8U," he said.

The array features latency of 100 microseconds. With an 8U cluster, performance is expected to reach 10 million IOPS with bandwidth of up to 136 GBs per second, he said.

The FlashSystem 9100 is IBM's first array to feature new 2.5-inch FlashCore flash storage modules, Herzog said. That allows customers to mix and match FlashCore modules and industry-standard SSDs in the array. "They just need to be configured in separate RAID groups," he said.

The built-in software stack with the FlashSystem 9100 includes software to allow migration of data between arrays from multiple vendors without the need for a server between them, Herzog said. The software also allows for unified cross-platform storage management, and also provides template-driven automation via APIs for dev/ops people.

"There's no need for dev/ops people to call the storage administrators," he said. "This saves them time and money. And their use of the storage can be tracked. They don't have to take snapshots and go to AWS without telling administrators. Now IT can look at the log and see who spun up what."

IBM is also including its full range of Spectrum Storage software with the FlashSystem 9100, Herzog said.

This includes IBM Spectrum Virtualize, which provides storage management capabilities including snapshots, encryption, and storage virtualization; IBM Spectrum Copy Data Management; IBM Spectrum Protect Plus for data protection; IBM Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud to connect on-premises and cloud storage as part of a hybrid cloud; and IBM Spectrum Connect to integrate IBM block storage in Docker, Kubernetes, VMware, and Microsoft PowerShell environments.

With the FlashSystem 9100, IBM is also introducing a series of three optional blueprints aimed at making the storage system a central part of a multi-cloud offering, Herzog said. These include blueprints targeting data reuse, protection, and efficiency; business continuity and data reuse; and private cloud flexibility and data protection, he said.

The FlashSystem 9100 is slated to be available next quarter with certification for the FIPS 140-2 cryptographic standard, Herzog said. "We need shipping products to submit for certification," he said.

IBM is also hoping its channel partners will make the FlashSystem 9100 as part of a utility-type service offering under which customers pay only for the capacity that is used when it is used, Herzog said.

The FlashSystem 9100 is eligible for a new series of storage incentives IBM in April introduced for channel partners, Herzog said. These allow partner sales people and systems engineers to earn up to $100,000 in storage incentives annually.

Incentives include a new-client incentive of 3-percent of a deal size for a maximum of $30,000 per partner rep per deal; a 1-percent bonus for selling an all-flash array, with up to 10,000 per deal split between partner reps; an incentive of up to $20,000 per deal to bundle Spectrum data protection software with the array, split between partner reps; and a $500 bonus for each registered deal opportunity of $100,000 or more, split between partner reps.

IBM continues to have three strong advantages over its storage competitors, including its high-performance DS8000 storage systems for mainframes, its tape storage, and the best flash storage lineup as exemplified by the new FlashSystem 9100, said Bob Elliott, vice president of storage sales at Mainline Information Systems, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based solution provider and long-term IBM channel partner.

"Just look at the 9100," Elliott told CRN. "They're incorporating all their software in it. It has built-in virtualization. And it uses Spectrum to enhance all their capabilities. For example, with Spectrum Virtualize, you can hand anyone else's storage on it. That's a big advantage."

Customers are definitely ready for all-NVMe storage, Elliott said. "NVMe is leading to increased performance and improved cost models," he said. "As it gets more and more accepted in the market, customers will reap the benefits. There may be a slight acceptance curve. But I think we'll all be shocked at how quickly it get adopted."

IBM, with the FlashSystem 9100, is making a clear statement about the future of flash storage, said Lief Morin, president of Key Information Systems, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based IBM channel partner recently acquired by fellow solution provider Converge.

The FlashSystem 9100 offers a true flash storage architecture instead of a collection of solid-state storage, Morin told CRN. It also offers market-leading performance, a full suite of software with all the advanced capabilities customers expect, and an artificial intelligence-supported architecture that drives down the time to resolve issues, he said.

"It's right on the forefront," he said. "It has all the qualities that FlashSystem customers are looking for in one package. It's a statement that, 'Hey, we've got this, we have all the performance and reliability you need.'"

The all-NVMe architecture of the FlashSystem 9100 is important because of the increasing need for performance, Morin said.

"If we can help customers decrease the query times on analytics jobs from, say, four hours to four minutes, that is meaningful to a business' economics. That lets them iterate models faster, or increase the number of iterations they can do in a certain time."

As IBM's Storage Insights analytics software gets further adoption, it will make a huge difference in terms of avoiding outages and quickly recovering from outages, Morin said.

"If something does go bonk in the middle of the night, this is critical to making sure systems stay running," he said.

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