IBM SSDs spread across product lines

The company announced flash storage options for Power and System X servers and the DS8000 storage platform

IBM on Thursday continued its push into SSDs (solid-state drives), announcing flash drives for server and storage platforms as well as new software for allocating data among different types of drives.

Enterprise SSDs allow for faster access to data but cost far more, per bit, than spinning HDDs (hard disk drives).

IBM is clearly committed to the emerging technology, as are EMC and other enterprise storage vendors. IBM, though, doesn't believe SSDs will make up more than 5 percent of any average company's total storage capacity.

For the foreseeable future, SSDs will be used as part of tiered storage architectures alongside HDDs, said Charlie Andrews, director of marketing in IBM's Dynamic Infrastructure group. For that reason, the company offers a variety of software to help store "hot" data in SSDs and "cold" data on HDDs.

On Thursday, it announced the IBM i:ASP Data Balancer, which can automatically shift different bits of data to the most appropriate tier in a storage system. The software uses an algorithm that draws upon information such as how often each bit of data has been used, Andrews said. The i:ASP Data Balancer is designed for IBM's iSeries servers, part of the company's Power line.

The Power line became the latest class of IBM servers to have SSD options, with a set of 69GB SSDs going on sale that can be used on all Power6 systems.

These SSDs are available in 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch form factors and use a SAS (serial-attached SCSI) controller, which offers greater speed and reliability, according to IBM. List prices for the Power SSDs are about US$145 per gigabyte.

The company also announced availability of new SSDs for System X servers, which have been offered with SSD options since 2007. There is now a 50GB SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drive in a 2.5-inch disk package, which can run on 2.1 watts of power.

Another 50GB drive, designed for higher I/O performance, comes in either a 2.5-inch or a 3.5-inch form factor. These SSDs can be used with Windows, Linux and VMware's ESX Server. The list price is about $50 per gigabyte.

Also Thursday, IBM announced availability of 3.5-inch SSDs for its System Storage DS8000 storage platform.

The new SSDs can improve IBM DB2 transaction performance by as much as 800 percent over HDDs, while reducing the physical space requirement by about 80 percent and energy consumption by as much as 90 percent, IBM said.

Enterprise-class SSDs are built to much higher standards than consumer versions, Andrews said. Consumer flash drives, such as on a thumb drive or portable music player, can pack much more data into a given amount of space with a multilevel design.

The enterprise drives have only a single level because they need to be longer lasting and more reliable under more intense use, he said.

As a result, enterprise SSDs are more expensive and can't ride the same steep curve toward higher density and lower price per bit, Andrews said.

The upside is that most enterprise drives should last five years under typical enterprise use, he said.

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