Introducing IBM FlashSystem 5200

IBM’s most compact, high capacity & performant entry FlashSystem to date.

February 9th 2021 IBM introduced the latest member of the Spectrum Virtualize based FlashSystem family, somewhat unique in the mainstream storage industry coming in at just 1U high, but with power, performance, capacity and functionality that makes this a huge box in a tiny package.

Being 1U high, the enclosure supports up to 12 NVMe based drives. These can be an mixture of IBM FlashCore Modules (FCM), industry standard NVMe flash drives, or the supported Storage Class Memory drives.

FlashSystem 5200

With just 12 drives, you may dismiss this and think its not going to provide enough capacity, but at 38.4TB per FCM – with the patented inline hardware assisted compression technology providing up to 88TB per drive, for most small system installs, 345TB usable before compression (DRAID-6 9+P+Q+S), and just shy of 800TB usable with FCM 2:1 compression… thats a hell of a lot of capacity in just 1U.

The advantage of being 1U also means that compute to storage resources provide extremely well matched performance potential. The 5200 node or controller canisters each include an 8 core Skylake-D 2.3Ghz Xeon based CPU with a single 1U system providing 16 cores and from 64GB to 512GB cache per dual active active controller system. Of course with future expansion in mind, you can cluster up to 4x 1U controllers to create a clustered system with 4x the above specs, and 4x or more capacity.

The headline figures show the FS5200 can provide 67% higher IOPs and 40% higher MB/s when compared with the FS5100 it is replacing.

Each node canister supports 2x PCIe Gen3 x8 host interface cards, available as dual ported 16,32Gbit FC or 25Gbit Ethernet. If you are looking to add SAS expansions to the system, you can use one of these slots for an optional SAS card to allow the attachment of up to 20x expansion enclosures providing the usual array of SAS based SSD and HDD options.

FlashSystem 5200 Rear

Now really, that’s all well and good, but the real eye opener is when you look at the smaller configs. Lets assume you put just 3x FCM into system on day 1. That could be as small as 6TB usable, using DRAID-1 that was added to Spectrum Virtualize late last year. DRAID-1 allows smaller than 6 drive configs to be created, you can even start with just 2 drives, mirroring the data, without a spare (at your risk) – or more likely 3 drives, with a distributed mirror and sparing algorithm that means all 3 drives are in daily use – providing the performance of all 3 drives. So just like DRAID-6 where the spare capacity is distributed, so in DRAID-1 we get as similar performance advantage.

This all means that a single 1U FS5200 with just 3 FCM drives can out perform a full 24 drive FS5030 at a similar cost.

It actually makes you have to stop and re-think what you knew about storage. For years more spindles was better, and of course those of us that have been around long enough remember building configurations with thousands of 15K RPM drives, short stroking them to get the performance. Flash changed the game, meaning we could use a much smaller number of drives to get the same performance. However we still needed 16 or more drives to really get the full potential from a system, and get overall throughput rates up.

With the FlashSystem 5200, NVMe and FlashCore Modules, we’ve changed the game again. Rip up what you knew, and don’t be worried if you just need 3 drives for the capacity, configure it that way and still get crazy levels of performance from those 3 drives. Combine this with our online DRAID expansion capabilities and now you can start small and grow into the 12 drive slots over time – adding capacity and even more performance as you grow. Don’t get stuck into thinking you need to fill the 12 slots on day 1, what would be the advantage there – unless you need the capacity. Truly change the way you think and you can see that the efficiency, rack space reduction, and “compute to storage” ratio afforded by the FS5200 is second to none.

A few other notable things, the FS5200 is a full feature license, and provided under licensed machine code. This means that the associated software costs are inline with the other FS5000 series boxes, which by the way we also refreshed today. The FlashSystem 5015 and 5035 replaced the 5010 and 5030 respectively and maintain the same basic design, 24x SAS based drives.

Meanwhile the latest version of Spectrum Virtualize 8.4.0.1 (which has a new logo along with the rest of the IBM Storage family) is required to run the new FS5200 (and 5015/35) – but note that 8.4.0.0 has been available since December last year and so even if you are upgrading to the latest hardware you are picking up a tried and tested base code level. 8.4.0.1 includes the following enhancements over 8.4.0

  • Rebuild in place – during the final copy back operation of a DRAID-1 array, if another drive fails, a traditional rebuild in place will halt the copy back, complete, and then finish the copy back.
  • GUI enhancements to include new simplified visual indications for 2-site, 3-site and HyperSwap configurations including partnerships and orchestrator information.
  • Write performance improvements – internally the node to node messaging system over the PCIe inter cansister link has been re-written to make use of NVMe embedded packets rather than SCSI packets with a more parallel pipeline. This results in a 50% reduction in write latency and a 20% increase in IOPs.

New Spectrum Virtualize logo’s for dark and light backgrounds.

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