IBM FlashSystem

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IBM FlashSystem products are enterprise computer data storage systems that store data on flash memory chips. Unlike storage systems that use standard solid-state drives, IBM FlashSystem products incorporate custom hardware based on technology from the 2012 IBM acquisition of Texas Memory Systems. According to IBM, this hardware provides performance, reliability, and efficiency benefits versus competitive offerings.[1]


Texas Memory Systems RamSan-810 flash storage system

The IBM FlashSystem architecture was originally developed by Texas Memory Systems (TMS) as their RamSan product line. TMS was a small private company founded in 1978 and based in Houston, Texas that supplied solid-state drive products to the market longer than any other company.[2] The TMS RamSan line of enterprise solid state storage products was first launched in the early 2000s,[3] and over seven RamSan technology generations were released through 2012, when TMS was acquired by IBM.[4] As RamSan technology evolved, TMS adapted the systems to different storage media (DRAM, single-level cell flash memory, and multi-level cell flash memory) and external storage area network interfaces (Fibre Channel and InfiniBand), but the core system design principles remained relatively constant: custom hardware with a shared internal network to maximize speed, particularly latency.[2] The last RamSan products available were the RamSan-710, RamSan-810, RamSan-720, and RamSan-820 systems, which were replaced directly with corresponding IBM FlashSystem products in 2013.[5]

IBM FlashSystem products were first made generally available on April 11, 2013 as part of IBM's Flash Ahead initiative, in conjunction with the announcement of a US$1 billion investment in flash optimization research and development and the opening of 12 Flash Centers of Competency around the world.[6] At the Flash Ahead event, IBM emphasized the economic "tipping point" that flash had reached versus traditional storage devices for high-performance applications.[7]

On January 16, 2014, IBM announced the next-generation FlashSystem 840 product, which was the first FlashSystem designed entirely by IBM post-acquisition of TMS. The key enhancements of the new generation were RAS enhancements, higher capacities, higher performance, new 16 Gbit Fibre Channel and 10 Gbit Fibre Channel over Ethernet interfaces, and a new management GUI. IBM also announced the FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution, which added software features and functions to the 840, including real-time compression, replication, and snapshots.[8]


IBM FlashSystem products are based on a custom hardware architecture that incorporates field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for most key functions. The FlashSystem design omits traditional server-based array controllers. The primary components of each FlashSystem unit include custom flash modules, external storage area network interfaces, and FPGA logic that spreads data through the system. Each flash module within a FlashSystem incorporates enterprise multi-level cell or single-level cell flash chips and FPGAs that provide IBM Variable Stripe RAID data protection as well as standard flash memory controller functions. IBM claims that these architectural attributes provide strong performance, reliability, and efficiency.[1] In August 2013, IBM submitted a single FlashSystem 820 SPC-1 benchmark result to the Storage Performance Council that showed fast response time (SPC-1 LRT) and high SPC-1 IOPS per external storage port - common measures of high storage performance - as well as low power consumption.[9]

IBM claims that enterprise multi-level cell flash plus Variable Stripe RAID and other IBM reliability technology forms a good balance between reliability and economics for most enterprise environments. IBM Variable Stripe RAID is a patented[10] highly granular RAID 5 type data protection arrangement implemented across each set of 10 flash chips in the system. IBM FlashSystem 840, 820, and 720 products also include a second layer of RAID 5 implemented within the data distribution logic at the system level, providing "two-dimensional" data protection within the system. IBM claims that this two-dimensional protection is strongly differentiated within the industry.[11]


Product Capacity Performance Reliability Efficiency Marketing Withdrawn
IBM FlashSystem v840 (9846/8-AC1, 9846/8-AE1) Internal storage enclosure(s): Scalable from 2 TB (usable) up to 320 TB with full scale-out of control enclosures Less than 60 microsecond minimum latency; up to 945,000 random read IOPS Two-dimensional flash RAID with Variable Stripe RAID 6U rackspace, 900 Watts maximum, 625 Watts typical operation -
IBM FlashSystem 840 (9840-AE1, 9843-AE1) Up to 40 TB usable with RAID 5 (65 TB raw) Less than 135 microsecond minimum latency; up to 1,100,000 random read IOPS Two-dimensional flash RAID with Variable Stripe RAID 2U rackspace, 625 Watts -
IBM FlashSystem 820 (9831-AE2) Up to 20.6 TB usable with RAID 5 (33 TB raw) Less than 160 microsecond minimum latency; up to 525,000 random read IOPS Two-dimensional flash RAID with Variable Stripe RAID 1U rackspace, 300 Watts 2014/07/22
IBM FlashSystem 720 (9831-AS2) Up to 10.3 TB usable with RAID 5 (16.5 TB raw) Less than 145 microsecond minimum latency; up to 525,000 random read IOPS Two-dimensional flash RAID with Variable Stripe RAID 1U rackspace, 350 Watts 2014/03/28
IBM FlashSystem 810 (9830-AE1) Up to 10.3 TB usable (13.7 TB raw) Less than 160 microsecond minimum latency; up to 550,000 random read IOPS Variable Stripe RAID 1U rackspace, 350 Watts 2014/07/22
IBM FlashSystem 710 (9830-AS1) Up to 5.2 TB usable (6.9 TB raw) Less than 145 microsecond minimum latency; up to 570,000 random read IOPS Variable Stripe RAID 1U rackspace, 280 Watts 2014/03/28


  1. ^ a b Gilge, Megan; Orlando, Karen (June 26, 2013). "Flash or SSD: Why and When to Use IBM FlashSystem". IBM. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Kerekes, Zsolt. "Who's who in SSD? - Texas Memory Systems". ACSL. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Texas Memory Systems Announces Availability of RAM-SAN 520" (Press release). Texas Memory Systems. January 8, 2001. Archived from the original on November 9, 2001. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  4. ^ "IBM Completes Acquisition of Texas Memory Systems" (Press release). IBM. October 1, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  5. ^ Mellor, Chris (April 15, 2013). "IBM pours $1 BEELLION into flash SSDs". The Register. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  6. ^ Handy, Jim (April 15, 2013). "IBM to Invest $1B in Flash Promotion". Objective Analysis. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  7. ^ Lelii, Sonia (April 12, 2013). "Big Blue's billion-dollar bet on SSD includes all-flash storage array". TechTarget. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  8. ^ "IBM Introduces X6 Architecture, Optimizes x86-Based Servers for Cloud, Analytics". IBM. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "SPC Benchmark 1/Energy™ Executive Summary - IBM FlashSystem 820 (#AE00006)". Storage Performance Council. August 16, 2013. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  10. ^ B2 US US8560881 B2, Frost, Holloway H. & Charles J. Camp, "FLASH-based memory system with static or variable length page stripes including data protection information and auxiliary protection stripes", issued October 15, 2013 
  11. ^ Pearson, Tony (November 22, 2013). "Enterprise Reliability features of the IBM FlashSystem". IBM developerWorks. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 

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