The IBM FlashSystem 9200 is an end-to-end NVMe storage system, meaning it supports NVMe over Fabric with Fibre Channel and Ethernet as well as attaching storage devices in the form of SSDs and FlashCore Modules using PCIe with NVMe protocol. The FlashSystem is targeted with the performance and capacity to cover requirements from mid-tier to high-end enterprises. With Spectrum Virtualize software in the FlashSystem 9200, it is capable of virtualizing other attached storage systems providing common administration, advanced features such as replication and snapshots, and the ability to seamless migrate data. The FlashSystem 9200 is a scale-out storage system with the basic unit being a pair of controllers that can be scaled to four pairs or eight controllers in a cluster. Included in the system is data reduction via Data Reduction Pools. Data is deduplicated, compressed, and compacted as it is received in the 9200 controllers and stored in reduced form. Data in the virtualized external storage systems may also be reduced.
Storage devices used in the FlashSystem 9200 include NVMe protocol SSDs and FlashCore Modules along with SCM devices. The FlashCore modules were re-engineered from the original FlashSystem 900 to attach to the controllers using PCIe and support the NVMe protocol. FlashCore modules are in a 2.5” form factor. Up to 12 SCM devices can be supported as a storage tier.
The functionality of the FlashSystem is the same as the IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC), and previous Storwize systems. The management is a web-based GUI that is highly advanced, targeted at an IT generalist. Different from most other storage systems, the advanced features are pre-installed on the FlashSystem 9200 with many being included in the base price of the system. Additional cost features are enabled with license keys.
The virtualization of external storage systems from a variety of vendors has two forms that can be utilized. One is to explicitly map the LUNs (volumes) from the external storage for host access through the FlashSystem and the other is to migrate the data through the FlashSystem to internal or external storage to take advantage of the block-level virtualization with the advanced features for thin provisioning, wide striping, and the EasyTier automated data tiering. Since all the accesses are through the FlashSystem controllers, this type of virtualization has been called an “in-band” type of virtualization approach.
For high availability, FlashSystem 9200 runs in a paired configuration with custom clustering software. Clustering for a scale out configuration is supported for up to four pairs of controllers. (Note – IBM uses the term ‘node’ for a controller rather than a pair of controllers, which is different from most other vendors).
Transparent Cloud Tiering allows volumes to be tiered to clouds including Amazon S3, OpenStack Swift, and IBM Cloud. IBM Cloud Object Storage is also a tiering target.
IBM Storage Insights is included with the FlashSystem purchase, providing storage analytics and monitoring. Storage Insights improves resiliency, manages problem resolution, and has storage resource management reporting.
For the FlashSystem 9200, IBM has an evergreen program where the controllers will be replaced with purchase of a three-year hardware and software maintenance agreement.
The IBM FlashSystem 9200 is targeted as a high-end and mid-tier enterprise general purpose, block storage system with the ability to virtualize existing storage systems as a consolidation solution. End-to-End NVMe support on the 9200 gives the system performance capabilities to address demanding applications and for consolidation of multiple workloads to a single platform.
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The IBM FlashSystem 9200 system is a high-performance, scale-out block storage system built-on the mature Spectrum Virtualize software. The End-to-End NVMe capability is a major step for IBM, giving them a system with leading technology and performance to compete in the block storage space for enterprises. The major value for customers is with the block storage system and the ability to scale performance and capacity and the integration of Spectrum Virtualize software to virtualize externally attached storage systems.
Advanced features of replication, snapshot and tiering to clouds are very complete implementations. Inline data reduction with compression, deduplication, and compaction utilizes the Intel chip set with the Cascade Lake processors, removing the normal performance impacts seen in other solutions that utilize software algorithms.
The scale out capability is another advanced feature for block storage. Currently the system scales to four pairs of controllers but we would expect this to be increased at some point. The storage virtualization features are the same as offered with the SVC and provide great customer value.
Evaluator Group believes the FlashSystem 9200 system to be a leading high-end and midrange block storage with the advanced features, scale-out capability, storage virtualization, and data reduction.