IBM Expands Storage Line With New AI, Analytics Appliance, New Container Protection

IBM is bringing its storage to the modern artificial intelligence, data analytics, and containerized world with multiple new technologies including an NVMe flash-based analytics appliance and new storage services.


IBM is integrating its fastest NVMe array with its high-performance scale-out storage software into a new appliance targeting artificial intelligence and data analytics workloads.

Big Blue on Tuesday also unveiled a new version of its data insight software that now works with backup data sets in addition to primary data, a new play for Red Hat OpenShift and Kubernetes container data protection, and new storage-as-a-service offerings.

The storage introductions are part of a move by IBM to bring storage into the modern A.I. and cloud world, said Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer and vice president of worldwide storage channels for IBM storage.

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New from IBM is the IBM Elastic Storage System 3000 which combines IBM's FlashSystem 9100 NVMe storage system with the company's Spectrum Scale cluster file system for file, object, and Hadoop File System storage into an integrated appliance, Herzog told CRN.

"It's all about big data and A.I.," he said. "There's 40-Gbytes-per-second bandwidth scalable to terabytes of bandwidth. It scales on capacity and performance. We have customers with over an exabyte in a single name space right now, with the software."

The big complaint about Spectrum Scale has been it is hard to install, Herzog said.

“So I asked my team two weeks ago, build one," he said. "Put it in the shipping box and everything, like you're really shipping it. They took it out of the shipping box. They timed it. They installed the whole thing--didn't tune it, obviously--but made it available. They were able to make it visible to all the servers and all the hosts in about two hours and 56 minutes."

With the IBM Elastic Storage System 3000, A.I. is going mainstream, and is not just for supercomputing, Herzog said.

"Partners said they can make Spectrum Scale work better if we made it easier," he said. "So that's what this does. It has NVMe inside the box, NVMe out for both InfiniBand or Ethernet, which is what would be used on the cloud side. You can integrate it into old accounts. Just sell them the new box, as long as they're running the new version of the software, Spectrum Scale 5. Upgrade, and boom! they can use the new Elastic Storage System 3000 even in an old installation."

The FlashSystem 9100 hardware for the IBM Elastic Storage System 3000 is unchanged, except for the addition of a small nameplate on the front, Herzog said. The software is the Spectrum Scale 5 with updates to support the hardware. "It just comes now as an easy-to-use appliance," he said.

Herzog did mention one big change to the IBM Spectrum Scale software. The company is unveiling IBM Spectrum Scale Erasure Code Edition. This version increases storage efficiency, particularly in commodity server-based production environments requiring durability, reliability, and performance, he said.

IBM Spectrum Scale also now supports the industry-standard Container Storage Interior Interface, or CSI, across all IBM Spectrum Scale configuration and deployment modules, he said.

Mike Piltoff, senior vice president for strategic marketing at Champion Solutions Group, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based solution provider and IBM channel partner, said he loves the appliance approach IBM is taking with its Spectrum Scale offering.

"The intelligence comes from the software," Piltoff told CRN. "IBM is just turning it into move of an integrated platform. Don't get me wrong. IBM's NVMe storage is as fast as hell. But the functionality is all in the software."

Bob Elliott, vice president of storage sales at Mainline Information Systems, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based solution provider and IBM channel partner, told CRN that he loves where IBM is going with the IBM Elastic Storage System 3000.

"This is IBM continuing to move in the direction the industry is moving," he said. "I can't even think of a good term to describe the exploding amount of unstructured data we're seeing. And IBM has more than the ultimate solution."

IBM already had the most scalable offering for unstructured data he had heard of, Elliott said. "Now they've make it easier to package, sell, and configure. And it's even more saleable. It now plays in bigger environments when it already played in the biggest environments."

Elliott agreed that IBM Spectrum Scale in the past was complicated, but said that IBM with its IBM Elastic Storage System 3000 has streamlined the process.

"By putting it in a high-performance platform, IBM is making it easier for partners to sell," he said. " And customers get the performance of the FlashSystem."

IBM is also enhancing a number of its other offerings to make them more useful for A.I. and analytics.

One of those is an expansion of IBM Spectrum Discover, the company's software that provides data insight for exabyte-scale unstructured storage. Spectrum Discover now supports backup data sets in addition to primary data, as long as the data was backed up by IBM Spectrum Protect, Herzog said.

"We have a lot of big enterprise shops who have lots and lots of data who want to do analytics on old data as well as new data, or who want to analytics on A.I. because A.I. is all about learning," he said.

IBM is also modernizing its data protection capabilities via IBM Spectrum Protect Plus with a tech preview of Red Hat OpenShift container backup support, and is adding container backups using CSI snapshots in Kubernetes environments.

IBM has for years managed persistent primary file, block, and object storage with containers, but couldn't back that data up, Herzog said.

"So now we'll back it up and we'll support Red Hat OpenShift," he said. "But also, as long as you've got a Kubernetes environment, you can do that, too. Because not everyone's using Red Hat OpenShift. And we support CSI."

The new version of IBM Spectrum Protect Plus will have both a command line interface and a GUI, Herzog said.

"Today, the container world is dominated by the developers," he said. "As containers become more and more common, what happens. Remember when VMware first came out? There were no VMware admins. Today, it's commonplace to see VMware admins. We think there's going to be container admins over time. And they want a GUI."

IBM Spectrum Protect Plus also now includes support for AWS with VMware, in addition to existing support for VMware on the IBM Cloud, Herzog said. This includes virtual machine backups, application backups, and so on. "It's a feature we already had," he said. "It's just a new platform."

Herzog said he expects support for VMware on Azure to be available sometime in 2020, with possible support for Google to follow.

Champion's Piltoff said IBM's move to protect container data is smart.

"We partner with Red Hat OpenShift, but Red Hat doesn't have that kind of data management," he said. "And Kubernetes is going to be the real big deal going forward. We see a lot of our large accounts already deploying Kubernetes containers, and if they can't backup or restore the containers, they don't want to deploy them."

On the mainframe side, IBM also introduced a new virtual tape library, or VTL. The new VTL will include data encryption at rest to tape or to the cloud. It also features a 15-percent performance increase over the older version, but uses 25 percent less power.

Mainline's Elliott said that his company, as one of IBM's top mainframe channel partners, sells a lot of VTL, and sees the new IBM TS7770 VTL as a real winner.

"I look at it this way," he said. "IBM already was the industry leader in VTL. But it continues to improve the product by leveraging its mainframe, its DS8000-series mainframe storage, and its increasing density and resiliency capabilities to improve its industry-leading position."

Also new from IBM is a move to make it easier for customers to purchase IBM storage as a service by reducing the time customers must commit to a contract to only 12 months.

All IBM's storage arrays have been available as a utility. Starting this year, IBM plans to make its Storwize and FlashSystem arrays available as a service to channel partners and their customers with terms of as short as 12 months.

Starting next year, IBM also plans to make its software available as a service for the first time, starting with Spectrum Protect.