IBM refreshes entry-level FlashSystem arrays with a little NVMe

Big Blue refreshes three entry-level systems – the 5200, 5035 and 5015 – with the flagship of them gaining all-NVMe flash storage capability and cluster scaling to 10s of PB

IBM has refreshed the entry-level flash storage arrays in its FlashSystem line with the introduction of the all-NVMe flash 5200, plus the 5015 and 5035 that can be equipped with SAS-connected flash drives or spinning disk.

The move completes that hardware refresh begun on the FlashSystem line last February when the 7200 and 9200/9200R – the top end of the range – were upgraded.

The 1U 5200 comes with up to 12 NVMe flash drives and Fibre Channel NVMe-over-fabric (NVMeoF) connectivity to hosts with bandwidth of 16/32Gbps. It has been refreshed with two 8-core Intel Skylake CPUs and up to 512GB of cache.

NVMe capacity is in IBM’s own FlashCore modules and up to 745 can be accommodated for maximum capacity per node of 23PB. Up to four nodes can be clustered, meaning the 1.5 million IOPS per node can theoretically reach six million per cluster.

The 5015 and 5035 are not intended with such high performance in mind and come with Broadwell CPUs with fewer cores (two and six respectively) and up to 64GB of cache. The 5015 scales to 12PB with 392 drives per node and the 5035 to 15PB with 504.

Two-node clustering is possible on the latter but the 5015 is standalone. Connectivity is Fibre Channel, with iSCSI also possible, as it is with the 5200. All three arrays offer latency of 70 microseconds.

All FlashSystem arrays are hybrid cloud-capable, with connectivity to public clouds for data tiering, migration, replication and snapshots possible. That functionality comes as part of IBM’s Spectrum Virtualize, which all these products include.

It started life as IBM’s SAN Volume Controller (SVC) which has built on its original storage virtualisation capabilities to embrace the hybrid cloud, three-site replication, support for Red Hat's Ansible provisioning and configuration tool, and Container Storage Interface (CSI) support for Red Hat OpenShift and Kubernetes.

Use cases IBM has in mind for the 5200 are, according to IBM’s CMO Eric Herzog, edge deployments like the branches of retailers that need high performance in a compact form factor, or core datacentres that want to consolidate lots of existing multi-vendor storage to one platform, via Spectrum Virtualize.

Isn’t an all-NVME array overkill for edge use cases?

Herzog said: “Every storage vendor has got NVMe and so has every server vendor. Here in the midrange, it’s an industry standard, it’s ubiquitous. You don’t pay a premium any more for NVMe.”

That said, Herzog added: “We do SAS-equipped arrays because we haven’t refreshed our product line to NVMe yet. And the 5015 and 5035 provide a low-cost hybrid cloud-capable array for customers that are budget constrained.”

The move follows last year’s unification of the FlashSystem and Storwize product ranges. Upgrades came first on the higher end 7200 and 9200, with the 9200R, a rack-scale FlashSystem model that IBM will deliver, assemble, install and configure for customers with Brocade or Cisco Fibre Channel switches.

The upgrade to 5200, 5035 and 5015 products also looks like it may be partially the result of a change to chassis, midplane and power supplies away from their StorWize heritage.

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