Fusion-io touts high-performance, lower-cost SSD

New drive will offer cheaper SSD storage for datacentre applications

Fusion-io, the storage vendor that has Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as its chief scientist, has announced a new solid state disk drive product for businesses that will have the performance of higher-end SLC NAND flash memory, but with a cost closer to lower-end MLC memory.

The company is calling its technology single mode level cell (SMLC) memory. It will be available in products starting this quarter. The SMLC technology features bandwidth equal to SLC, with comparable endurance and write performance levels, at a cost that is substantially lower than traditional SLC flash memory products, according to Fusion-io.

Among the factors differentiating NAND memory quality is whether it is SLC or MLC memory. SLC stores one bit of data per memory cell while MLC stores two or more bits of data per cell, affording it greater density though slower data transfer speeds, higher power consumption and shorter lifespan. In general, SLC costs far more than MLC to manufacture and is sold for about twice as much as MLC memory. SLC also has on average 100,000 write cycles, compared to about 10,000 for MLC.

Fusion-io would not say what the read/write speeds of the new SSD technology are, but a spokesman said they are comparable to current SLC flash drive products, which average about 200MB/second to 250MB/second. He also said that while the number of write cycles are not "quite at 100,000," they are "comparable" to SLC.

"A viable MLC solution for enterprise organisations has been limited by technical barriers associated with the medium's write performance, endurance and reliability," said David Flynn, CTO of Fusion-io. "Our SMLC solution overcomes these roadblocks and provides organisations with another avenue for migrating to solid-state performance and reliability, while helping mitigate concerns over cost to deploy."

SMLC will be available in both the ioDrive and ioDrive Duo enterprise-class SSDs lines supporting 160GB and 320GB capacities respectively. Other SMLC-based products will follow and will be priced somewhere between SLC and MLC cost per gigabyte, a Fusion-io spokeswoman said.

The SMLC products have a PCI Express-based form factor, chip-level redundancy as well as RAID protection, wear leveling and error correction firmware.

"Whatever the underlying logic, the fact remains that the straightforward cost of solid-state storage is the number one impediment to its faster adoption," said Mark Peters, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group in Massachusetts, US. "This new SMLC solution from Fusion-io is aimed at attacking that impediment while leaving the many other benefits of solid state untouched, and it extends the company's out-of-the-box innovative approach to building a next generation of storage."

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