IBM boosts flagship array speeds by 3X with SSD caching

New IBM app allows admins to monitor XIV Storage Systems via iPhone interface

IBM Tuesday unveiled several upgrade options for the flagship grid-based XIV Storage System, including the ability to use solid-state drives (SSDs) as cache to increase performance by up to three times.

IBM's top competitors, such as NetApp and EMC have been offering SSD options for their arrays for a year or more.

IBM today also announced a new Apple iPhone app that lets administrators monitor XIV storage environment through a web-browser interface.

iPhone interface
A view of the XIV Storage System via the iPhone interface

IBM introduced the third generation of the XIV Storage System in July 2011, raising capacity from 256GB to 360GB of DRAM and moving from serial ATA (SATA) drives to higher performance serial SCSI (SAS) drives. The enclosure can hold up to 180 drives.

The new SSD caching option lets users store the most frequently used data on flash, which resides between the DRAM and hard drives.

IBM said it's using commodity 400GB SSD drives to provide up to 6TB of capacity.

Beside the higher performance that comes with serving up highly-accessed data through flash, the SSD cache requires no separate tier to manage, IBM said.

The XIV system automatically distributes the application load across all SSD modules uniformly, putting the aggregate power of all modules at the service of all requests concurrently.

"Unlike some of today's storage systems that incorporate multiple drive tiers (i.e., SSD, enterprise hard drives, and near-line drives), the XIV system is unique in that it uses only large, nearline drives for enterprise workloads. The new XIV SSD Caching modules function as a super large 'read' caching layer, rather than a separate drive tier, which means no tiering software is needed," an IBM spokesperson wrote in an email reply to Computerworld

The XIV SSD modules use smart caching algorithms that make the most efficient use of these SSD Caching modules. "For example, the system removes from consideration sequential reads that wouldn't benefit from such a cache," the spokesperson added.

In addition to the SSD Caching option, IBM added the ability to mirror data between previous versions of XIV and its current XIV Gen3 systems, which it said will ease data migration and allow customers to repurpose their XIV models as disaster recovery backup systems.

Of course, with a price tag that can exceed a million dollars, it would be an expensive backup system.

Built into the XIV Gen3's remote monitoring capability, the new XIV Mobile Dashboard for the Apple iPhone lets customers monitor XIV systems from virtually anywhere, IBM said.

The app will be available for download at no cost later this month from the Apple Online Store.

In October 2011, IBM released the XIV Mobile Dashboard for the Apple iPad.

IBM today also announced an update to its Linear Tape File System Library Edition. LTFS Library Edition Version 1.2.5 supports Mac OS X and lets users of the operating system create, manage, and optimize video workflows using LTO-5 based tape libraries.

IBM also revamped the way customers pay for the XIV Storage System, offering monthly payments with financing from IBM Global Financing.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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