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IBM to unveil new version of high-end XIV storage system

The XIV Gen.3 array is priced at about $2M and arrives in September

On Wednesday, IBM is expected to announce the third generation of its high-end, grid-based XIV Storage System, which offers improved performance for virtualized server environments, analytics and cloud computing.

IBM claims the new IBM XIV Storage System is up to four times faster than the previous Gen.2 model and features improved management software that makes it easier to use, allowing XIV to support more workloads for a broader set of enterprises.

With this release, IBM moves from Intel Nehalem processors to the latest Westmere chips. It also upgraded from a gigabit Ethernet backbone to an InfiniBand interconnect and moved from 4Gbit/sec Fibre Channel to 8Gbit/sec Fibre Channel (FC) front-end ports.

Each XIV Gen.3 system has two InfiniBand switches with redundant inter-module connectivity for 600Gbit/sec total internal bandwidth.

IBM also increased the number of iSCSI ports from six to 22.

"We're starting to see demand pick up for IP connectivity, though I'd still say it's slower than what we in the industry predicted it would be by this point in time," said Bob Cancilla, vice president of enterprise disk storage at IBM. "But this will help [customers] get prepared for that future transition into greater workload for IP connectivity."

The XIV Gen3 array

IBM also added more memory on the XIV, moving from 256GB to 360GB of DRAM. IBM also changed the drives in the enclosure from serial ATA (SATA) drives to higher performance serial SCSI (SAS) drives. The enclosure can hold up to 180 drives, the same as Gen. 2.

Gen.3 of the XIV also can handle centralized administration of multiple XIV systems through a plug-in for vCenter Server, VMware's cloud management software that is available as a free download.

In the first quarter of 2012, IBM plans to offer an option that allows XIV users to add an autonomic solid-state drive (SSD) caching layer. The SSD would add 7.5TB of cache for high-level workloads, such as relational databases and online transactional processing.

"We'll put an SSD into every [disk drive] drawer and it will act as a caching layer, sitting between the controller and the spinning disk. This...will have all the performance benefits of SSD but it doesn't complicate management from a data tiering standpoint," Cancilla said.

IBM is pitching the XIV as an ideal storage solution for virtualized server environments.

Cancilla referred to the recently announced vSphere 5 cloud management software from VMware as one application that would increase I/O requirements on storage arrays.

IBM acquired the new array technology when it purchased Israeli storage start-up XIV in January 2008.

XIV's storage system, Nextra, was based on a grid of standard hardware components. Nextra's self-healing, self-tuning and dynamic scaling capabilities gave IBM new technology to address the growing requirements for high-performance storage for digital archives, digital media and Web 2.0 applications.

IBM released its first version of the XIV Storage System in August 2008. Since that time, IBM said it has shipped more than 4,500 XIV systems.

At the time of its release, some criticized the XIV storage system, saying it lacked high-end features and was targeted at a very narrow group of users. For example, IBM's literature on the XIV didn't specify whether it really had a clustered controller design that offered more than two active controllers on a storage volume and synchronized the cache across all active controllers. The XIV came in only one configuration with 180 SATA drives, had no data replication capabilities and couldn't tier data across multiple drive types.

Cancilla said the XIV has a grid architecture to allow performance to grow as disks are added, and he said the simple configuration of the array was designed to make set up and management simpler. "Granted, when we came out with it, people called it a tier 1.5 instead of a tier 1 array," he said. "But now it is a tier 1."

While the array still does not migrate data across multiple disk types based on performance needs, it can scale from 27TB of capacity to 161TB. IBM has also added the ability to perform non-disruptive code updates, data snapshot capabilities and synchronous and asynchronous replication.

"So we've delivered all the replication capabilities that customers demanded," Cancilla said. "In the future, we'll talk about the ability to allow asynchronous replication between prior generations of the XIV and this generation. We'll deliver that in Q1 2012."

The XIV Gen.3 has a list price of around $2 million with a one-year warranty and will begin shipping in volume Sept. 8.

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 .

Read more about cloud computing in Computerworld's Cloud Computing Topic Center.


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