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IBM Adopts Flash DIMMs for New X Series Servers

By Pedro Hernandez (Send Email)
Posted January 16, 2014


IBM today took the wraps off the sixth-generation of its X series enterprise x86 server lines, System x and PureSystems.

The IT titan's X6 Architecture debuts with enhancements designed to help provide organizations with a computing foundation for their cloud and analytics initiatives. IBM PureSystemsSpecific models include the four-socket System x3850 X6, the eight-socket System x3950 X6 and the Flex System x880.

Among the new servers' most notable features is a DIMM-based flash storage option, an industry first according to IBM.

Leapfrogging PCIe-based SSDs, IBM is offering eXFlash memory-channel storage flash on the new hardware. Like typical RAM, eXFlash plugs into the DIMM slots. Unlike RAM, it provides server processors access to "up to 12.8 terabytes of ultrafast flash storage close to the processor, increasing application performance by providing the lowest system write latency available," boasted the company in a statement.

Other benefits include lower latency database operations, which can have a profound effect on enterprise storage planning. In keeping with the hyperconvergence trend that is taking hold in cloud and Web-scale data centers, IBM said its flash DIMM-enhanced server architecture "can lower licensing costs and reduce storage costs by reducing or eliminating the need for external SAN/NAS storage units."

IBM has been working with Ottawa, Canada-based Diablo Technologies, a pioneer in DIMM-based flash storage. In a blog post, Forrester analyst Richard Fichera described the technology as "disruptive" and noted that "eXFlash is the first commercially available implantation of the MCS architecture announced last year by Diablo Technologies."

During the technology's debut, Kevin Wagner, vice president of marketing for Diablo (Spanish for the Devil) told InfoStor that his company's product "acts and behaves more like DRAM than SSDs." While PCIe SSDs have latencies of 25 to 28 microseconds, MCS beats them with times in the 3 to 5 microsecond range. The difference is owed to how RAM interacts with processors. "Because the memory controllers run in parallel, everything is completely parallelized," said Wagner.

IBM also touted another industry first, a modular, future-proofing design that "supports multiple generations of CPUs" and reduces CAPEX by up to 28 percent versus the competition. "X6 provides stability and flexibility through forthcoming technology developments, allowing users to scale up now and upgrade efficiently in the future."

X6 systems guard against downtime with self-healing CPU and memory systems. Upward Integration Modules leverage virtualization tools to enable systems management, reducing cost and complexity, according to the company.

The advancements add up to a solid server foundation for big, enterprise-grade workloads, remarked Pund-IT analyst Charles King. "In essence, IBM’s new X6 platform has the I/O performance and memory scalability necessary to support and virtualize large, intensive business applications, including the most mission-critical workloads," he stated in a research note.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InfoStor. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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