IBM is First Mover with Disruptive Flash Memory Technology on New x6 Servers

This week, IBM announced its new line of x86 servers, and included among the usual incremental product improvements is a performance game-changer called eXFlash. eXFlash is the first commercially available implantation of the MCS architecture announced last year by Diablo Technologies. The MCS architecture, and IBM’s eXFlash offering in particular, allows flash memory to be embedded on the system as close to the CPU as main memory, with latencies substantially lower than any other available flash options, offering better performance at a lower solution cost than other embedded flash solutions. Key aspects of the announcement include:

■  Flash DIMMs offer scalable high performance. Write latency (a critical metric) for IBM eXFlash will be in the 5 to 10 microsecond range, whereas best-of-breed competing mezzanine card and PCIe flash can only offer 15 to 20 microseconds (and external flash storage is slower still). Additionally, since the DIMMs are directly attached to the memory controller, flash I/O does not compete with other I/O on the system I/O hub and PCIe subsystem, improving overall system performance for heavily-loaded systems. Additional benefits include linear performance scalability as the number of DIMMs increase and optional built-in hardware mirroring of DIMM pairs.

■  eXFlash DIMMs are compatible with current software. Part of the magic of MCS flash is that it appears to the OS as a standard block-mode device, so all existing block-mode software will work, including applications, caching and tiering or general storage management software. For IBM users, compatibility with IBM’s storage management and FlashCache Storage Accelerator solutions is guaranteed. Other vendors will face zero to low effort in qualifying their solutions.

■  Applications will benefit. A wide range of applications, including digital marketing, analytics, general VM and VDI hosting, seismic and image processing, and high-speed trading, essentially any that would have benefitted from an on-board PCIe card or mezzanine flash card, will benefit from eXFlash.

Initially eXFlash DIMMs will be available in 200 GB and 400 GB capacity and available on the new x3650 and x3850 systems. The 2-socket x3650 can be configured with up to 3.2 TB of flash DIMMs (8 eXFlash DIMMs out of 24 available DIMM slots), and the x3850 can be loaded with up to 12.8 TB (32 DIMMs out of 96 slots).

For more information, check out the report Quick Take: IBM's New eXFlash Delivers A Performance Boost For Data-Intensive Apps, Janaury 16, 2014.

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