IBM lines up all-flash storage to help power cognitive computing

New systems in the company's FlashSystem line are designed for cloud computing and analytics

20160427 ibm a9000 flash storage appliance

IBM's FlashSystem A9000 all-flash storage array was introduced on April 27, 2016.

Credit: IBM

IBM is expanding its flash storage lineup to power cloud data centers that carry out so-called cognitive computing.

The company’s newest FlashSystem arrays, introduced Wednesday, combine its fast and relatively affordable FlashCore technology with a scale-out architecture designed to be easy to expand.

Cognitive computing, which IBM defines as real-time data analysis for immediate, automated decision-making, is at the heart of much of IBM’s current technology push for enterprises and service providers. Its Watson technology is the star of the show but only the most visible part of what the company is doing in this space. An example of cognitive computing is a mobile operator analyzing information about phone call quality to make decisions on the fly about changes in the network, said Andy Walls, an IBM Fellow and CTO for flash systems.

Large-scale, real-time computing needs flash, IDC analyst Eric Burgener said.

“You basically can’t run that stuff on hard disk drives, because the latencies are way too slow,” Burgener said. IBM, like other vendors, wants to make flash work for the fast-growing Web-scale world.

To build scale-out flash arrays suited to these kinds of applications, IBM combined its FlashCore hardware with its Spectrum Accelerate software for easy expansion and streamlined management. FlashCore is flash media IBM builds right onto boards as an alternative to pre-built SSDs (solid-state drives). Other vendors like EMC and Violin Memory are using similar boards, which are designed to be faster and more economical than SSDs.

On Wednesday, IBM introduced an all-flash appliance, the FlashSystem A9000, and a rack-based version of the same system, called the A9000R. They’re the first products in IBM’s all-flash lineup designed for cognitive computing, Walls said.

IBM is also adding data deduplication and compression that it says won’t delay data delivery.

Another feature, Hyper-Scale Mobility, can move data among arrays without disrupting operations. FlashSystem arrays do this by learning an organization’s usage patterns over time.

The A9000 is an appliance designed for hyperscale and cloud storage in mid-sized enterprises. It can retune itself when customers add more storage, and its mangement software lets administrators run more than 100 appliances from one user interface.

The A9000R is a petabyte-scale rack-based system for large enterprises and cloud service providers. It’s designed for multiple tenants and has quality-of-service features to make sure one tenant doesn’t monopolize network or processing capacity at the expense of others. IBM will custom-build these systems for customers, saving them configuration work.

The A9000 and A9000R systems will be available this week, priced as low as US$1.50 per gigabyte, IBM said.

Also on Wednesday, the company introduced the DS8888, an all-flash storage array optimized for IBM’s z Systems and Power Systems mainframe platforms.