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IBM Plans Breakthrough Solid-State Storage System 'Quicksilver'

In the new flash-based system, IBM is using the same Intel-based IBM System x server running Linux that the company uses with its traditional Fibre Channel disk array.

IBM on Friday said it hopes to introduce in about 12 months a high-performance solid-state storage system that's multiple-times faster than contemporary disk drive arrays and is designed for time-sensitive applications, such as reservation and financial trading systems.

The new system is based on research IBM is doing in the design of a controller for an array of flash memory cards. Researches have developed software that can squeeze out all of the higher performance of flash.

Currently, companies use solid-state drives behind the same controllers for disk drives. As a result, the former seldom meets its full potential, according to Charlie Andrews, director of product marketing for IBM System Storage.

In the new flash system, IBM is using the same Intel-based IBM System x server running Linux that the company uses with its traditional Fibre Channel disk array. The difference is in the software running in the server, and the use of flash memory cards built by Fusion-io.

IBM researchers at the company's Hursley development lab in England and the Almaden Research Center in California have assembled a 4 TB storage system using the new technology. The system, codenamed Project Quicksilver, is more than 250% faster than a traditional disk-drive storage system, according to IBM. Data transfers using the solid-state technology have been measured at a sustained rate of more than 1 million input/outpoint per second with a response time of less than 1 millisecond.

Compared to the fastest industry benchmarked disk system, the new technology had less than 1/20th the response time. In addition, the solid-state system took up 1/5th the floor space and required 55% of the power and cooling.

The performance boost means businesses can accomplish two to three times the work in a given timeframe for classic workloads, IBM said. In addition, the system can increase the efficiency of time sensitive applications, such as reservation and financial trading systems and data warehouses used with business intelligence software.

While the prototype is 4TB, Andrews said researchers could easily increase capacity by building a controller cluster to drive more flash memory cards. "There's no real strict maximum," Andrews told InformationWeek. "We could easily go up multiples in size."

While there's no firm timeline for shipping product based on Project Quicksilver, Andrews said there is a "12-month time horizon for this type of system." IBM expects to offer the technology as a packaged product, which would be used for applications in which customers would be willing to pay a premium to run time-sensitive systems much faster. Solid-state memory in general is far more expensive per gigabyte than disk-drive storage.

IBM has offered solid-state drives for select BladeCenter servers for more than a year, and the company has committed to offering solid-state storage across a broad range of applications, middleware and hardware systems.

To explore more of the future of long-term storage, InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of the subject. Download the report here (registration required).

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