IBM to invest $1 billion in R&D for flash storage

With the move, Big Blue is the latest on the bandwagon to aggressively push flash into data centers. IBM's flash push comes courtesy of its Texas Memory Systems acquisition.

Larry Dignan
3 min read

NEW YORK -- IBM today outlined its flash storage plan, which includes a $1 billion investment in research and development and a series of systems that will use solid-state drives.

With the move, Big Blue is the latest on the bandwagon to push Flash into the data centers. Developments like big data are pushing flash storage mainstream in the enterprise because companies need to tap into so-called hot data---information that needs to be used real time. Fusion-io, EMC, NetApp and other storage players have also formulated flash storage strategies.

At an event here, IBM's Ambuj Goyal, general manager of the company's storage systems unit, said the economics are lining up to make flash pervasive in data centers. Steve Mills, head of IBM's software and systems division, said flash is at a key tipping point and IT will see all-solid state data centers sooner than later. 

Mills said that inflection points are hit when innovative technology meets economic scale. "We think we're at that point with flash or solid-state disk," said Mills. Flash has been around for a while, but the economics didn't line up. Mills said economies of scale, cost reduction and new opportunities in big data will drive flash data centers. 

He added that "the rotating disk has served us well," but what does become clear is that the economics have shifted toward flash. Mills added that flash can run $10 per gigabyte compared to $6 per gigabyte for rotating disk drives. However, traditional drives aren't fully utilized. "There's no question that flash has compelling economics," he said. The economic variables break down like this:

  • Data center space savings by putting 1 petabyte on one floor tile;
  • Cooling;
  • Better application performance;
  • Lower software via fewer cores, licensing and maintenance and hardware costs via better utilization and fewer servers;
  • Durability leveraging IBM's research and engineering on flash;
  • And better operational data.

Now Mills is largely preaching to the flash storage choir, but the importance of IBM pushing solid-state aggressively is notable. Why? IBM has a massive customer base, operates enterprise data centers and has the services unit to push all-flash systems more than other vendors. It's one thing for Fusion-io or a smaller vendor to convince next-gen companies like Facebook to go all-flash. It's another issue entirely to drive all-flash data center adoption to Fortune 500 customers. 

The pitch toward all-flash data centers revolves around the argument that they are 30 percent less expensive relative to traditional data centers. Mills said Flash can end storage sprawl in data centers. 

IBM's plan goes like this:

  • Establish 12 centers of flash competency around the world. These centers will demonstrate proof of concepts, real data and business benefits. These centers will be in China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore, South America and U.K. and U.S.
  • In addition, IBM launched a FlashSystem line of all-Flash storage appliances. These products are based on the Texas Memory Systems acquisition. IBM touted the FlashSystem 820, which is the size of a pizza box and can store 24 terabytes of data.
  • The company will integrate Flash into hybrid systems throughout its hardware lineup.
  • PowerSystems and DB2 PureScale will also integrate Flash.

As for reference customers, Sprint Nextel recently cut a deal to install nine IBM flash storage systems in its data centers.

This story originally appeared at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "IBM doubles down on Flash storage, will invest $1 billion R&D."