Top 10 Cool Solid State Drive Implementations

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Flash technology has been one of the hottest data storage technologies in the last year or so, finding its way into everything from PCs to high-end networked storage from the likes of EMC (NYSE: EMC).

In enterprises, OEMs typically package flash as solid state drives (SSDs), which emulate hard disk drives (HDDs) in many devices.

“Flash memory can improve the performance and reduce the total cost of ownership of your IT infrastructure, even though each SSD may carry a higher price tag per GB than the mechanical devices [HDDs] they replace,” said Clipper Group analyst David Reine. “In fact, a single SSD can provide more IOPS than a chassis full of enterprise HDDs.”

Below are 10 of the cooler flash and solid state drive implementations. Limiting the list to 10 excluded many worthy candidates — feel free to add your own favorite in the comment form at the bottom of the article — and certainly the pace of innovation could soon make this list obsolete, but nonetheless, here’s our stab at a list of Top 10 Cool SSD Implementations.

Corsair Flash Voyager

It’s important to realize that SSD is not the only possible form factor. There is, of course, the ubiquitous USB (or thumb) drive, which uses essentially the same technology. Not so long ago we were dazzled by a 2GB or 4GB model. Now, there is a monster among men in the USB department. Corsair’s Flash Voyager GTR provides 128GB, with 32MB/sec read and up to 28MB/sec write speeds. It’s nearly 75 percent smaller than a typical USB hard drive. It’s currently listed around $300 to $330 on sites such as Newegg and Amazon.

Violin 1010 Memory Appliance

Another non-hard drive format — this time for enterprise use — has been issued by Violin Memory. The Violin 1010 Memory Appliance offers integrated Flash RAID and what is said to be the industry’s lowest cost per IOPS.

A single 2U appliance can support from 1 to 5TB, with the expectation that this will scale with future flash memory technology innovation. It supports 8 PCIe interfaces (20 Gbit/s). Internally, there are more than 100Gbit/s of flash memory interfaces distributed across 40 or more Violin Intelligent Memory Modules (VIMMs). They are managed by hardware controllers rather than software-based processors. Flash RAID is also included. Flash failure and bit error rates are much higher than those of HDDs; ECC algorithms provide sufficient data integrity for short-term testing, but Violin says RAID is needed for long-term data integrity and retention. Thanks to distributed flash management, the system can achieve more than 200,000 sustained write IOPS with low latency. In comparison, most SSDs have a sustained write performance of between 1,000 and 5,000 IOPS.

Adaptec MaxIQ SSD Cache Performance Solution

The Adaptec MaxIQ SSD Cache Performance Solution integrates Microsoft solid state storage control technology while further enhancing it. In a simulation brokerage application environment, Adaptec demonstrated a 3.2 times increase in system I/O performance over a comparable system without SSD caching.

MaxIQ creates High-Performance Hybrid Arrays (HPHAs) by pairing tuned 32GB Intel X25-E Extreme Solid State Drives, used as high-performance cache, with MaxIQ SSD caching software and standard hard disk drives for maximum I/O performance.

Fusion-io ioXtreme

Fusion-io is so cool it lured Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) co-founder Steve Wozniak out of retirement a year ago. The company’s ioXtreme and ioXtreme Pro PCI Express solid state storage devices are aimed at I/O-intensive workstation applications. With ioXtreme Pro comes X-Link layering technology to scale performance upwards by adding more cards. This provides the level of I/O required for cinema-quality rendering, high-resolution video playback and scientific computing. Fusion-io reports an average bandwidth of 520 MB/s and throughput of 700 MB/s from 80GB of flash storage.

Sun Storage F5100 Flash Array

Most flash vendors claim to be the world’s best at something, and it’s difficult to determine who’s right. In this case, the Sun Storage F5100 Flash Array is said to be the world’s fastest and most power-efficient flash array for accelerating databases and I/O-intensive applications, where it can cut transaction times in half while doubling application throughput. It comes in a 1 RU form factor and can have up to 1.92 TB of storage capacity while using a tiny fraction of the power of a typical hard drive.

Besides, Sun’s open source ZFS file system was one of the first to offer SSD tiering — placing only the most critical data on SSDs to maximize the pricey drives — so how cool is that?

3PAR InServ Storage Servers with Autonomic Storage Tiering

3PAR’s (NYSE: PAR) InServ Storage Servers with Autonomic Storage Tiering solution takes everything that is great about a storage server and tries to make it even greater. It reduces cost, footprint and improves proficiency of the system by enabling fast and specific access to the MACH8IOPS SSD from STEC (NASDAQ: STEC). It basically adjusts the storage level optimization between the SSD tier, the main access tier, and the nearline storage, automatically.

Intel X25-M

According to Troy Winslow, director of product marketing for Intel’s (NASDAQ: INTC) NAND Solutions Group, the company has a financial services customer achieving 1 million IOPS, thanks to a combination of: Intel Xeon 3.2 GHz W5580 processors, 12 GB DRAM and an Intel Server Board S5520UR; LSI SAS 9210-8i firmware version 2.250, driver version 2.8; and 28 Intel X25-M 160GB SSDs configured as 146GB. The Intel X25-M Mainstream SATA SSD uses multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash memory.

“The workload exceeded one million Input/Outputs Per Seconds at 4KB transfer size with 4GB per second (4GB/s) throughput,” said Winslow. “The value of this performance was $20,000 for a million IOPS system.”

Level 3 Communications plus Intel X25-M

While the financial customer above wouldn’t go on the record, Intel has another cool implementation in telecommunications that isn’t top secret. Level 3 Communications (NASDAQ: LVLT) has an installed base of many users who push the boundaries of content delivery with high definition (HD) streaming, online games, video distribution, software downloads, Web portals and user-generated content.

Clients include the likes of Netflix, Fox Interactive Media, Comcast and Yahoo. Previously, L3 used a dual-core Intel Xeon chip, four SATA HDDs and 25 servers per rack. However, it created content delivery network servers using Intel X25-M SSDs for a 3X increase in transactions per server with reduced power consumption. This is done by swapping out one of the four SATA drives with the SSD without having to reconfigure the server.

ARM deployment of Isilon IQ-10000X-SSD with SyncIQ

ARM Holdings is a semiconductor intellectual property (IP) supplier involved in a multitude of electronic products. It has deployed the Isilon (NASDAQ: ISLN) IQ-10000X-SSD scale-out NAS system using MACH8IOPS SSDs by STEC to accelerate replication of hundreds of million of files. ARM has slashed data archiving on the current system from 17 hours to 2 hours.

EMC FAST Storage

Two years ago, EMC launched the enterprise SSD craze by introducing flash-based drives inside some high-end Symmetrix systems. Since then, it has continued to add SSD to more and more of its product portfolio. Now its FAST technology, for Fully Automated Storage Tiering, automates the movement and placement of data across storage resources. EMC was hardly first to market with automated SSD tiering, but as always, whatever the data storage giant does serves to draw more attention to the technology.

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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