All Flash & Substance – Is The System z Microsecond The New Millisecond?

Is 2016 the year of the All Flash disk array?  Seemingly from a System z perspective, 2016 has seen improvement in the All Flash disk array offerings from the major disk suppliers, namely EMC, HDS and IBM.  From a usability perspective, managing latency might be the overall challenge, where these ultra-fast SSD systems are delivering I/O performance response times measured in the ~250-500 Microsecond (μs) range, potentially consigning the traditional Millisecond (ms) measurement to history!

Whatever the speeds and feeds might be, as of 2016, the benchmark for a System z All Flash Disk Array is seemingly measured @ <500 Microsecond μs response time, supporting ~n PB of capacity and delivering ~nnn GB/S throughput for mixed read/write workloads.  Of course, strong encryption, typically full disk Data @ Rest Encryption (D@RE) based and full seamless data replication interoperability are also mandatory.

Historically we evolved from Data Processing to Information Technology, not only automating the capture and processing of data, but gradually evolving our processes, using this data for business advantage.  In recent years, the information explosion has dictated that each and every business must be a cognitive business, using intelligent analytics to gain insight and faster decision-making from the business data collected.

Currently the Internet of Things (IoT) supplements the medium-term Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social & Security (CAMSS) initiative, being the processes and associated solutions required by cognitive businesses to make timely and informed decisions, capturing deeper customer insight, ultimately delivering competitive advantage.  Therefore the 21st century business generates a significant requirement for storage capacity and performance to fully realize the benefits of this truly business aligned cognitive approach.

The largest global organizations from all verticals leverage from the power and true 24*7*365 availability and reliability of the System z Mainframe to power enormous relational databases, processing millions of customer transactions on an hourly basis.  These always-on, mission critical business environments demand the performance, reliability, TCO and System z platform integration delivered by the associated DASD (3390) subsystem.

Each and every System z user will have their IHV of choice for delivering disk storage, in alphabetical order, EMC (E.g. VMAX AFA/All Flash Array), HDS (HAF/Hitachi Accelerated Flash) or IBM (E.g. DS8888).  The choice of disk storage was forever thus, reviewing the market place and choosing the best option for your business.  What might require reflection is how the DASD I/O subsystem is managed and the associated interaction with said IHV supplier.  Systems Management solutions such as Easy Disk Analyze Mainframe (EADM) and IntelliMagic Vision (Disk Magic) will certainly simplify the analysis and presentation of DASD subsystem performance data.

However the emphasis of the actual System z DASD subsystem for an All Flash array might move from being an internal consideration, to a direct and timely communication with the IHV supplier.  Put very simply, in an environment where Mission Critical systems rely upon ultra fast processing of massive amounts of data, any flash memory issues, whether capacity or defect related will need IHV interaction ASAP, arguably “Before The Event”.  As with the System z Server itself, where we’re used to On/Off Capacity on Demand (OOCoD) processes, maybe we need to consider a similar approach with our All Flash System z DASD arrays.  For the avoidance of doubt, as opposed to waiting for an issue to impact our business, maybe we need to work smarter with our IHV, to safeguard that sufficient flash memory is available, to proactively resolve capacity or defect issues…

Aligning this with our traditional 3390 DASD I/O subsystem analysis, which might have been on a daily basis, from the rich RMF/CMF data resource, we must fully automate this process to minimize or eliminate the Mean Time To Resolution (MTTR)!  The ultimate benefit will be the delivery of meaningful messages that incorporate our 3rd party IHV supplier, who potentially with Remote Support Facility (RSF) type processes, deploys the “Golden Screwdriver” to seamlessly safeguard the performance profiles of our Mission Critical business applications, leveraging from the latest All Flash disk array.

In conclusion, as always, technology can deliver business benefits, with substance, and this includes All Flash disk arrays.  As always, what might need to evolve are the associated Systems Management processes.  Therefore asking yet another potential rhetorical question, what is more important, the System z Server or timely data access?  The diplomatic answer is that they’re equally important and if so, let’s safeguard the availability of All Flash memory for our DASD subsystems, with the requisite levels of meaningful proactive reporting and IHV supplier interaction.