IBM Beefs Up Enterprise X-Architecture With Flash, Modular Design

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An IBM X6 server, the newest incarnation of Big Blue’s X-Architecture for enterprise servers. (Photo: IBM)

IBM has introduced X6, the sixth-generation of its enterprise X-Architecture, which optimizes x86-based servers for cloud, and analytics. The company has added integrated flash storage for high performance, as well as modular design for long life cycles to help reduce costs, and improve resiliency. The company has added features that can help extend cloud delivery models to mission-critical applications.

“We think System X is a dramatic change in servers,” said Stuart McRae, Business Line Manager, High End Systems at IBM. “It’s targeted to Big Data Analytics and Cloud. This is for big scale-up, mission critical, IO intensive applications like ERP and databases that need to be fast, agile and responsive while remaining resilient. Customers don’t want to architect their application, so we’re changing the base architecture.”

The X6 is targeted to high-end and mission critical applications that are heavy in transaction processing; think credit card databases and things like SAP HANA. Clients are rapidly adopting analytics for greater business insight and moving critical workloads like ERP, analytics and database to the cloud for increased efficiency and lower costs.

Flash Memory Channel Storage Added

One of the big additions is eXFlash memory channel storage: IBM has taken high-speed flash memory and integrated it on the system memory bus.  The DIMM-based storage provides up to 12.8 terabytes of ultrafast flash storage close to the processor.

“We’ve taken high speed flash and packaged it (DDR 3 packaging) in the same sockets that system memory would go in; we’ve taken the flash device and integrated on the fastest bus,” said McRae . “This results in three times better latency than any storage on the market: five microseconds. It’s very resilient. It’s one thing to say ‘I can do three times as much’, but this doesn’t mean much if it’s not highly resilient.”

X6 can provide significantly lower latency for database operations, which can lower licensing costs and reduce storage costs by reducing or eliminating the need for external SAN/NAS storage units. It also features three times the amount of RAM in the server over the previous generation, at 12 Terabytes. “This allows customers to think about doing stuff with x86 databases,” said McRae.

Modular, hot swap components

The architecture has hot swap component capabilities. The modular, scalable design can support multiple generations of CPUs, which IBM says is an industry first, and can reduce acquisition costs. The new design supports at least 3 generations of technology.

“With the modular design, we’ve redesigned the way the physical server goes together,” said McRae. “Everything plugs in the front or the back or the server. There’s always an opportunity for error when you have human hands in the server. The processors and memory have been packaged in what we call ‘books’. I can dial in the exact amount of performance that I want. It makes it very cost efficient to deploy and meet customer needs. X6 provides stability and flexibility through forthcoming technology developments, allowing users to scale up now and upgrade efficiently in the future. Fast set-up and configuration patterns simplify deployment and life-cycle management.”

Server models supported by this new architecture currently include the System x3850 X6 four-socket system, System x3950 X6 eight-socket system, and the IBM Flex System x880 scalable compute nodes. IBM also is introducing the System x3650 M4 BD storage server, a two-socket rack server supporting up to 14 drives delivering up to 56 terabytes of high-density storage. It provides 46 percent greater performance than previous comparable IBM System x servers and is ideally suited for distributed scale-out of big data workloads.

New Storage for Cloud, Analytics

IBM has also announced the general availability of the new IBM FlashSystem 840. The new IBM FlashSystem 840 doubles performance, ideal for virtualization and cloud. The new system provides 1.1 million IOPS, nearly double the bandwidth and performance of the predecessor FlashSystem 820, making it ideal for analytical databases, virtualization infrastructures, and public and private clouds.

About the Author

Jason Verge is an Editor/Industry Analyst on the Data Center Knowledge team with a strong background in the data center and Web hosting industries. In the past he’s covered all things Internet Infrastructure, including cloud (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), mass market hosting, managed hosting, enterprise IT spending trends and M&A. He writes about a range of topics at DCK, with an emphasis on cloud hosting.

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