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LSI and Seagate take on Fusion-io with flash

Muscling in with PCIe flash product sampling

Intelligent flash storage arrays

LSI and Seagate are sampling an LSI-branded server bus flash card, taking on Fusion-io which has been running away with this kind of product.

LSI's SSS6200 has six Seagate Pulsar SSDs (solid state drives) with up to 300GB of capacity and uses the X8 PCIe 2.0 interface. PCIe and SAS connectivity have been provided by LSI.

Flash memory for enterprise IT use comes as gigantic flash arrays, such as Texas Memory Systems' RamSan, sold state drive (SSD) replacement for hard drives such as STEC's ZeusIOPS used by EMC, IBM and others, and flash cache for servers or storage array controllers.

The cache often comes in a PCIe card format and Fusion-io's ioDrive has been romping away in this market with IBM and HP signed up for OEM deals and Dell reselling the product. The cache provides an intermediate tier of storage between a server's main memory and its storage arrays and accelerates all read I/O that the server would otherwise have to make from disk. It can also accelerate write I/Os but to a lesser extent.

Target application areas are the data-intensive ones of web serving, data warehousing and mining, high-performance computing and transaction processing. The SSS6200 offers up to 200,000 4KB read IOPS and 150,000 4KB write IOPS with the average latency being under 50 microseconds.

Sustained bandwidth is 1.5GB/sec for reads and 1.2GB/sec for writes. What are the comparable Fusion-io numbers?

A 320MB ioDrive, one using 2-bit multi-level cell flash, offers 71,256 read IOPS, 700MB/sec sustained read and 490MB/sec sustained write bandwidth, meaning the LSI product wipes the floor with it performance-wise.

A 320GB IoDrive Duo uses SLC flash and offers 185,022 read IOPS, 1.5GB/sec read bandwidth and 1.4GB/sec write bandwidth, making it faster at sustained writes than the LSI card, equal in sustained reads but slower in read IOPS terms, not by that much though.

LSI is using up to six 50GB Pulsar SSDs, ones with single level cell (SLC) flash, which is faster than Fusion's Samsung-supplied MLC flash. Fusion uses SLC flash for its 80 and 160GB iODrive product.

The SSS6200 roadmap extends out to a terabyte capacity card. Seagate's Pulsar comes in 50, 100 and 200GB capacity points, LSI could pretty quickly deliver a 600GB card, using 100GB Pulsars, and then a 1.2TB product with the 200GB Pulsars.

Both STEC and Micron have said they will introduce PCI-e connected flash products. That means there will be four suppliers competing for the server vendor's OEM business and also for customers in the system integration channel and, possibly, the reseller channel if retrofitting product to existing servers is straightforward.

LSI is sampling the card with prospective OEM customers now, and product might be deliverable from its OEMs towards the end of the year. ®

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