Fusion-io Lowers the Price of Solid State Storage


Fusion-io says its has developed a new class of solid state drive technology that could lower the cost of SSDs for enterprise deployment.

The company, which made a name for itself by signing on Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) co-founder Steve Wozniak as its chief scientist, says its has developed a new engineering technique for managing lower-cost multi-level cell (MLC) flash technology that "combines the reliability of single-level cell (SLC) technology with the economical consumer-grade MLC flash."

Fusion-io has dubbed the new technology "single mode level cell," or SMLC, which will offer an MLC-based solid-state solution "with the endurance and performance of SLC at a much lower cost per gigabyte."

SMLC-based products from Fusion-io will be available starting this quarter, the company says. The ioDrive and the ioDrive Duo product lines will initially support 160GB and 320GB, respectively.

Fusion-io says SMLC technology offers bandwidth equal to SLC, with comparable endurance and write performance levels, "at a cost that is substantially lower than traditional SLC solutions."

Objective Analysis analyst Jim Handy noted that in two years, MLC has gone from being viewed as a technology that couldn't be used in SSDs at all, to being used only in consumer-grade products, and now is facing the possibility of enterprise adoption, thanks to Fusion-io's breakthrough.

"MLC chips cost about half as much to make as SLC flash, but SLC has become a niche market product, only made by a few companies in low volumes, so it has sold for as much as six times MLC's price," said Handy.

SandForce is also working on an MLC product, but Handy said it is "much less sophisticated and is aimed at mass markets. The Fusion-io board is pinpointed at high-end enterprise storage and is significantly higher in price and performance."

Could enterprise solid state leader STEC (NASDAQ: STEC) finally get some competition?

Maybe not just yet, said Handy.

"Fusion-io and STEC have been successful in different parts of the same space for over a year now, and I don't see any real competition going on between the two," he said. "STEC sells a device that can be substituted for a standard Fibre Channel HDD with minimal effort, so OEMs are offering boxes that come with variable numbers of STEC's ZeusIOPS drives. Fusion-io requires a more significant system re-think since it connects via the faster PCI-express bus and software must be configured around it."

STEC, Handy said, "has a far less visible line of SSDs called Mach that is similar in performance to the Intel and SandForce drives, all of which ship in SATA models. So, in a way, you can look at it from the perspective of interface.

"You can be assured that STEC and everyone else in this space is looking at converting to MLC, especially after the SLC/MLC price ratio peaked at six to one a couple of months ago."

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