IBM Spectrum Virtualize Review

Enables us to build an infrastructure and replace storage with no disruption to our hosts whatsoever.

What is our primary use case?

We use it for all our block storage requirements. I was a user of the storage between 2004 and 2017, i.e. 13 years. We sell service, assist others with storage. We have been using it since 2004, and we have used all versions of the product. It is currently up-to-date. We are a platinum business partner of IBM, but we also have competing business partnerships with other companies, such as Dell. It is a product line as opposed to a singular product. There are entry mid-level and enterprise-level tiers of products, the lowest end entry, which is comprehensive in terms of being able to deliver millions of IOPS and microsecond latencies all the way up to the upper level of that product line. All the products have high availability. My clients are generally government agencies. We also have some commercial businesses, and they range overall categories, but mostly it's used by the government. However, even in government situations, there are ranges of business in terms of small, medium and large business size, given the environment we are deploying into. Some agencies have minimal budgets, and I would classify that as a very small business, but some are large. We deploy it both on the cloud and on-premise.

How has it helped my organization?

It enabled us to build an infrastructure and replace storage with no disruption to our hosts whatsoever. It's an amazing capability, and we stayed with it. I loved the product so much that while I had learned about several other products, none of them compares unless you're looking for a precise capability. This is a general-purpose but very high-performance system when it comes to flash systems. There are cases where you need more performance than possible with the system's design, but you always have to pick your top requirement.  Most people have similar requirements. They want decent response time, decent costs, a plethora of functionality, including remote and local copy services. It addresses all of those concerns, but it has to sacrifice resources here and there to be that capable. You can't get 32 petabytes running 20 million IOPS at .07 microseconds. Generally, there are limitations to everything. Some systems could offer that, but of course, it'd be memory-based only, and they wouldn't have any storage and cost 1000 times what this solution costs. So there are limitations to everything.

What is most valuable?

I like all the features, but the most impressive recently has been the introduction of IBM's Flash Core Modules. They are a form of a flash drive, but they have many more features. They actually have embedded computers in them. Each drive has its own computer and performs compression and encryption. It also manages the flash chips inside it, including multiple low levels of the raid. They typically have a response time of 70 microseconds. They also have NVMR attached.

What needs improvement?

It is limited in terms of a single system to eight nodes or four, what they call IO groups. However, this is still 32 petabytes worth of capacity, so it is substantial. In theory, you could have tens of thousands of volumes, so it can be considered a limitation.

For how long have I used the solution?

I was a user of the storage between 2004 and 2017, i.e. 13 years. I am associated with as an IBM business partner. I sell service, assist others with storage. We have been using it since 2004, and we have used all versions of the product. It is currently up-to-date.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

I have seen issues where the system just basically failed, depending on how you raid some volumes. For example, if you use raid five and you happen to have a dual drive failure. No matter what system it is, you will have a problem; you will lose data. Compared to other systems, I would say it is at the top of that list regarding availability, reliability, and serviceability.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It has one limitation: you can only scale a single system to eight nodes, and they call that four IO groups. It's got its limitations. I would say scalability is for 99.5% of the cases in the business world the product is used for.

How are customer service and technical support?

As with any tech support, the design of the tech support infrastructure influences exactly how they respond to their clients. If I were a customer who didn't have a huge amount of skill or knowledge about this product, they would find it totally satisfactory and excellent eventually, given the support available. It has multiple layers to technical support. When you first call in, the first layer is really basically a gathering of information to kind of pass you on to someone who can actually help you. It's a little laborious, just like any help desk is; whether it's Comcast, Verizon, EMC, Dell, HP, they're all the same. You have to get through their system. Once you have identified the problem, and they couldn't find a solution immediately from historical records of the same kind of problem, you will eventually get to someone who will fix the problem and devise and modify code if necessary. The support is the best there is.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We have looked at Hitachi Data Systems products and HP's product line, but it is ageing and old. In 1998, I worked for the U.S Department of energy with a couple of federal people and myself. We architected a solution that essentially matches what most people do today, except that it's moving into the cloud. All current data centers use a similar design and architecture that we conceived back in 1998 and implemented using IBM's. It wasn't called spectrum virtualize; it was called San volume controller, and it still is. It is the same in that sense as it was back then, but it's grown tremendously in capability and functionality. We chose it at the time because it did what we needed it to do. We did not want to be constrained by having to purchase storage from one single vendor. We wanted to be able to purchase from IBM, EMC, Hitachi data systems, HP; whoever we felt at the moment had the best price and product, we want them to be able to purchase it without disruption.

How was the initial setup?

You plug something into an ethernet port in the back, typically a laptop, and you go through three steps, and the system is initialized. It is effortless and straightforward.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

The entry point of pricing for this product is the most amazing price ever in the industry. You'd have to compare it with others. I would say their price is excellent given their support, the capabilities of the product, and knowledge of their product. There are tens of thousands of these units, maybe hundreds of thousands, deployed throughout the world. Nobody can beat the price of the low end, especially for the performance. You couldn't even beat it with spinning disk technology. 

What other advice do I have?

My advice would be to talk to someone who knows the product and learn it well enough. It is such a capable product that a sales, five minute or 30-minute brief could not possibly do it justice. The way they should approach looking for a product if they're looking for storage is to indicate what they need the product to achieve exactly. That's how you determine whether the product is suitable or not. Of course, consider your budget. It is best to have all your requirements available upfront. This product operates in the old legacy world where you have data centres and servers on your floor with racks in your data centre. It operates in a containerized world that began in 2014 with Kubernetes, and it operates flawlessly and seamlessly in all those environments. It even has a component, which I would say is a bit lacklustre. I'm not sure I understand how much people would need it, but it even has a component that will operate in a cloud environment. So in an AWS or Azure, or Google cloud, the spectrum virtualize component actually works there. It's a bit less capable in the cloud because it has limitations in that environment, but it enables you to move between those environments if you wish seamlessly. 

I'd rate this product a 9 out of 10.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Hybrid Cloud

If public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, which cloud provider do you use?

**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner
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