Smart Modular, NVELO launch solid state products

A new SSD acronym debuts

Micron briefed us on their 'Enterprise Multi-Level Cell' Flash products earlier this year, and Smart Modular is the first to market with a 3Gb/sec. Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) SSD with the E-MLC Flash modules. 

Micron briefed us on their 'Enterprise Multi-Level Cell' Flash products earlier this year, and Smart Modular is the first to market with a 3Gbps Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) SSD with the E-MLC Flash modules. 

The E-MLC is based on 34nm lithography and has two-bits per cell. Micron is a little cagey about whether the modules are produced with a modified foundry process and/or are cherry-picked off the wafer. We suspect that both methods are used to get the chips that will support 30,000program/erase cycles, as opposed to run-of-the-mill MLC that usually tops out at 5,000 cycles.

The Smart Modular XceedIOPS SAS SSD achieves up to 26,000/20,000 Input-Outputs per second (IOPS) random read/write and 250/230MBps sustained read/write and is available in 50G, 100G, 200G and 400GB capacities. As usual, these sizes are net of the 64G, 128G, 256G and 512GB actual capacities, the balance being consumed in various controller functions. In a 2.5-inch format, the new drive has enterprise features that include variable sector sizes, which allows host transfer sizes of 512, 520 and 528 bytes. Other features include temperature monitoring and throttling and staggered power-on to limit surge in large arrays. The new drives are now being sampled to selected clients.

Denali Systems, over the years, have been the unsung heroes of many embedded controller firmware implementations across a broad range of manufacturers and products. After the recent acquisition of Denali by Cadence Design Systems, a number of Denali principals created the spin-off, NVELO. NVELO's mission is to bring many of the advanced designs implemented in RAID, solid state drive (SSD) and hard drive (HDD) technology to the client market.

NVELO's inaugural product is called DataPlex, a set of drivers which bring best practices for hybrid drive control to the PC market. The application of adaptive caching, first introduced by Adaptec's maxIQ is beginning to show up in a number of products that utilize the data stream to a RAID controller to identify hot data and maintain it as cache on an SSD. DataPlex takes that one step further, and provides a level of flexibility for laptops and desktops that has not been available. As an example, a mini-PCIe SSD card of 16GB can be added to a laptop and DataPlex will use it as cache. In a desktop example, a relatively small SSD, say 50GB, can be added in an open bay and DataPlex will cache there. In all cases, hot data is written to both the HDD and the cache, but hot data will be read from the cache.

As we have discussed, a relatively small cache is all that is needed. In benchmarking examples, DataPlex delivers 95% of the performance of an SSD at a fraction of the cost per GB. DataPlex will be available from Tier 1 PC OEMs in early 2011. The company is currently seeking partnerships in order to bring the capability to the aftermarket.

Now we have a major SSD supplier (Smart Modular) shipping the new Micron Enterprise-Multi Level Cell (E-MLC) components, we should take some time to discuss the growing jargon around these devices. And to add another wrinkle to the acronyms, MLC comes in different versions. When referring to MLC, there is another question that needs to be asked: 'How many bits in a cell?' MLC is usually two bits per cell, but three bits and even four bits per cell chips are out there.

Generally speaking, the more bits per cell, the slower the access, the fewer program/erase cycles and the lower the cost per bit.

Marketers love to invent new acronyms, and we just got a new announcement from Intel-Micron which touts their new 25nm '3LC' technology. If you guessed that they have baked three bits in a cell, you are correct. These acronyms are not universal to all suppliers, so our recommendation is to always ask how many bits per cell. Again, Single Level Cell is best (read 'expensive') and four bits per cell is not to be used for anything but throw away storage. For example, if you lose a few bits in a photograph or music file, you will never miss it. Lose a few bits in an ERP record and you have a big problem. E-MLC strikes a new balance, with a premium 2-bit per cell MLC at a higher price (but not double) of run-of-the-mill MLC.

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