Mission Impossible? Not for these IBM scientists

IBM scientist Ioannis Koltsidas’ phone rang on the afternoon of February 4. His manager was on the other line.

“Pack your bags, you and Nikolas [Ioannou] need to fly out to the IBM lab in Almaden and build a half-petabyte storage system out of Flash. It's for a demonstration at a critically important meeting on 28 February.”

“But I don’t think that’s ever been done before,” commented a nervous Ioannis.

His manager shot back, “It’s possible, right?”

Ioannis, “Theoretically, yes.”

“Then what are you waiting for?”

On the 12-hour flight from Zurich to San Francisco, the two scientists plotted out the fastest way to install and setup the two racks -- each filled with 240 terabytes of Flash provided by Texas Memory Systems (an acquisition IBM completed in October 2012), as well as 10 IBM Power 730 Express servers.

After the team unpacked and prepared the racks, Ioannis and Nikolas, together with their Almaden colleagues John Palmer, Hyojun Kim and Clement Dickey had the system working in 48 hours.

“This demonstration marks a tipping point for transactional workloads. It's the first time Flash storage has outperformed hard disks in all aspects, including capacity and performance density, and cost per Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS) and energy efficiency," Ioannis said.

By the numbers, the two achieved a remarkable feat: the IBM Flash System 820 achieved more than 6 million IOPS running an IBM DB2 workload on IBM Power servers.

“I think the important metrics here are capacity and performance density, as well as energy efficiency when compared to hard disks. If you consider the IOPS, what we achieved in two days with two racks would require 630 racks of hard disks. That’s roughly two years of planning and installation and they would require a room larger than the size of two basketball courts."

“In terms of energy our system runs on 19 kilowatts compared to 4.5 megawatts with high capacity hard disks, a 236 fold improvement," Nikolas said.

The demo left a big impression on IBM’s important guests, which is good news for banking, online markets, business analytics, media streaming, modeling and cloud computing clients due to its unique combination of performance and efficiency.

Mission accomplished.  Check out more photos here.

IBM's FlashStorage Impossible Mission Force. Photo credit John Palmer.


  1. How much did that cost to build?!

    1. Let me find out. In the short term Flash is certainly more costly than HDD, but over the long term when it comes to energy costs it becomes more interesting.

    2. Flash might be a little more expensive than disk if you are only considering the cost per GB of the hardware acquisition, if you factor in the cost of datacenter floor space, power and cooling then the cost of getting the same performance out of spinning disk is more than 10X the cost of flash.
      The cost of capacity is also quite a bit less with flash when you consider space, power and cooling requirements but not quite as exponential as the performance equation.
      The other thing to keep in mind...tape is cheaper than disk but it doesn't mean we use it for real time data access.

  2. Way to go Team IBM !!

  3. amazing, true computer science stuff.

  4. Fantastic! Are there any slides comparing this system to the all-flash system you can share? I market IBM disk storage (amarin@us.ibm.com).

    1. Thanks for your comments. Let me check.

    2. Allen, Chris, in case there's any confusion: the TMS RamSan-820 units that Research incorporated into this demo are actually all-flash systems (and are available now). If there are any ambiguities or further questions, please reach out to me internally - I'm from the Flash team and can answer any related questions.

  5. Awesome - Power7 and flash technologies... perfect pairing!

  6. When will you present performance test results with VMware vSphere 5.1 ?

  7. Which OS was used for this demo? We are considering using Flash to upgrade our IBM i environment.

  8. This is SO unfair. I've been living in the Power+AIX matrix for over 10 years and solely looking after a BIG environment serving a BIG company in South Africa. With little opportunity I would stagnate, then occationaly drewl on my desk keyboard reading articles like these.

    Isn't there some entity in the U.S. that can sponsor someone like me, who would serve IBM virtually for free in doing things like these?

    Man, how I would love to apply my skills and abilities doing things like this.

  9. Hi, Jaco Bezuidenhout, we are actually currently hiring in South Africa and Kenya. If this would be of interest please email me at cia@zurich.ibm.com