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Easy Tier and DS8000 Are Two of Many Storage Innovations Driven by IBM’s Vincent Hsu

Photo by Steven Meckle

Storage systems are becoming smarter, thanks to improvements in solid-state drive (SSD) technology and analytics. Storage is capable of analyzing data usage and making decisions on where hot and cold data should be stored. Soon, storage may use these content-aware capabilities to draw insight from the data residing in storage. The IBM Smarter Storage concept can contribute to the smooth running of any data-reliant business.

The transformation from passive storage to a smart system that can learn, adapt and communicate is the focus of work led by Vincent Hsu, CTO System Storage, IBM Systems and Technology Group. As CTO, Hsu is responsible for IBM’s storage roadmap and storage strategy.

“In some cases, people use 5 percent of the SSD and get 10 times the improvement in performance.”
—Vincent Hsu, CTO System Storage, IBM Systems and Technology Group

Hsu’s passion for IT drives many of the innovations he’s developed for IBM, such as the DS8000* system—launched in 2005 and a major part of IBM’s storage offerings—and the Easy Tier* technology deployed in many storage platforms.

Hsu worked with the IBM Research team to develop Easy Tier storage technology, which is advancing the IBM Smarter Storage concept to enable direct-attached, server-based SSDs. The team began working on the technology in late 2008 and Easy Tier was available to clients in 2010. Currently, 40 percent of enterprise storage ships with Easy Tier technology, Hsu says.

Hsu, who is developing the fourth generation of Easy Tier, is guided by a fascination with data and information. “I’m always very interested in how people are managing data and leveraging it to gain competitive advantage,” he explains.


The SSD Advantage

Enabling SSD technology is the key to success for Easy Tier. The demand for Easy Tier grew out of the realization that clients can satisfy performance demands by using SSD, reducing the number of disks needed for storage. Unlike hard disk drives (HDD) with their spinning disks and mechanical data retrieval, SSD uses solid-state technology with data placed as a memory address. On HDD, the data might be in the outer part of the disk or on the inner portion and those physical addresses run at different speeds. As a result, the magnetic head must travel great distances to locate data. SSD doesn’t have this drawback, making it nearly 50 times faster than HDD in terms of latency. Looking at throughput, SSD is about one to three times faster than HDD.

Although HDD capacity has increased in the last decade, it doesn’t necessarily translate to better performance, Hsu says. Many clients use only a small fraction of the larger HDD to keep the same input-output operations per second to capacity ratio.

SSD outpaces HDD in other ways. With no moving parts, it’s more reliable and more energy efficient. The health of SSD can be monitored and preventive care can be performed when indicated. Since SSD is made up of chips, its packaging has more options. “People are talking about packaging 100 terabytes in an enclosure,” says Hsu. “You can package SSD in very innovative ways.”

For example, SSD can be packaged as a memory DIMM form factor, PCI adaptor or as an appliance. It can be used as general-purpose storage or stationary memory; the latter is an area where IBM is keen to advance SSD.

Yet most clients may not consider SSD’s versatility when making usage decisions. “When companies have SSDs in their infrastructure, they are likely to want to put the most critical data on SSD in order to get the best performance,” Hsu says. “That strategy is OK until companies figure out that they can’t keep track of which data is hot at what time in a complex environme

nt. What’s hot today might not be hot tomorrow.” To make that determination, IBM created Easy Tier technology, which monitors data usage and places it accordingly. Easy Tier can see what data is being used most often, also known as hot data, and put it on SSD. Infrequently used data, or cold data, gets put on HDD. “You get the best of both worlds,” Hsu says. “HDD has the best capacity and SSD has the best performance.”

Easy Tier is an intelligent way for companies to use heterogeneous or mixed media storage for data. Rather than hard coding the storage with each application, clients with Easy Tier can turn the system on and it can learn the company’s work pattern and put data in the right place at the right time. “In some cases, people use 5 percent of the SSD and get 10 times the improvement in performance,” Hsu says.

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at



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