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Adaptec bolts SSDs onto lightning RAIDs

Cache and hurry

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Adaptec is adding a NAND flash cache to its RAID controllers to speed up disk array read I/O.

The company's MaxIQ product uses an Intel X25-E single level cell flash module which, Adaptec says, offers 1.2GB/sec throughout and 20,000 I/Os per second (IOPS) with a 3Gbit/s SAS interface and a PCIe 1.1 connection. It can be used on Adaptec's RAID 5xxx and 2xxx controller cards and existing users can upgrade to flash-enabled cards.

Data coming to applications from the drives is stored in the card's cache. Next time that data is required it is served from the cache, saving time-consuming disk I/Os. The cards plus MaxIQ software can be used without changes to the server host, its operating system or applications. An Adaptec controller could have up to four of the 32GB Intel modules installed.

Adaptec says MaxIQ can provide five times as many IOPS as a set of twelve Seagate 15K SAS drives in a web server application. The improvement was eleven-fold in a random read test.

There are higher capacity SSD alternatives available, but Adaptec says MaxIQ offers a lower cost/GB and a lower cost per IOPS than these. For example, it cites a PCI-e MLC (Multi-Level Cell) competitor - Fusion-io possibly - offering 800,000 IOPS at $15/GB and $0.15 per I/O. MaxIQ does a seemingly paltry 20,000 IOPS but costs $0.31/GB and $0.14 per I/O.

If the MaxIQ IOPS number is sufficient to accelerate a server plus application then Adaptec's RAID controller cache looks neat and cost-effective. It will enable Adaptec's OEMs, system integrator and VAR partners to implement SSD-cached JBODs (arrays constituting Just a Bunch Of Disks) and offer an instant performance pickup for virtualised, multi-core servers.

The focussed app areas include SQL, MySQL, virtual environments and web servers. Adaptec says its controller strategy going forward revolves around data conditioning: doing things with data in the I/O path between a server host's memory and the disk drives which an Adaptec controller manages. The company talks of high-performance hybrid arrays, a mix of controller flash cache and SAS and SATA disk drives. This is the first MaxIQ module and others will follow.

Overall the MaxIQ idea is pretty compelling and other RAID controller manufacturers might follow suit. It's a good design win for Intel.

The flash modules will be available to Adaptec's channel by the end of September and will cost around $1295.00. ®

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