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Anobit breaks MLC flash barrier

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Israeli startup Anobit reckons it has the technology in its Genesis enterprise SSDs to make flash storage practicable for all tier one data.

Flash solid state drives (SSD) are being used for the storage of the most active tier one data in storage arrays as they provide the IOPS needed without the expense of having a large number of short-stroked hard disk drives (HDD), ones with lots of wasted space on their unused tracks.

MLC flash is much cheaper per GB than SLC flash but is slower and wears out quicker. Anobit - another bit - has controller technology using what it calls Memory Signal Processing (MSP) technology to increase 2-bit MLC endurance up to SLC levels, with controller technology bringing the performance level up too.

It provides a pricing example in which SLC flash costs $6.75 per GB and has an endurance of 50,000 program/erase (P/E) cycles, whereas MLC costs $1.58/GB but has only 3,000 P/E cycles. Anobit says MLC flash with MSP costs the same as the MLC flash and delivers 50,000 P/E cycles too.

The endurance cycle amount is calculated as ten times the capacity of the SSD being written 365 days a year for five years with a 2.7 write amplification factor. Anobit offers 200GB and 400GB versions of the Genesis and says the 200GB product has a five-year endurance at 2TB/day write data and the 400GB model a five-year endurance at 4TB/day. This is with random, non-compressible data.

The Genesis series 1 product is shipping with tier one OEMs evaluating the product; Anobit says thousands of qualification units are out in the field, in Genesis HDD form factor units, and in SD, microSD, and USB flash drive formats with the MSP technology. It is sampling a second generation MSP technology which supports sub-20nm flash process geometry, both 2 and 3-bit MLC technology and with a potential 100,000 P/E cycle endurance. The gen 1 MSP technology can support 3-bit MLC too but the current Genesis offering is 2-bit.

Genesis has a 3Gbit/s SATA interface and has a 30,000 random read IOPS rating (4KB blocks), and a 20,000 random write IOPS rating. It provides 180MB/s sustained write and 220MB/s sustained read bandwidth.

Anobit was founded as a fabless, semi-conductor company in 2006 in Israel, and pulled in $17m A-round funding in 2007. It has received a further $23m since then, taking total funding to over $40m. There are subsidiaries in Korea and the USA, with 120 employees in total. It says it has more than 60 patent applications relating to its MSP technology.

There are rumours that EMC is qualifying Anobit's Genesis drives. STEC is currently the sole supplier of enterprise-grade SLC flash to EMC with its ZeusIOPS drive. It has a Mach8IOPS MLC flash product and EMC is about to introduce FAST 2 technology which automatically moves data in an array between HDD and flash tiers of storage. For this to be taken up by customers in a significant way the flash has to be cheaper than the SLC premium product, faster than HDDs, and have a worthwhile endurance.

The Mach8IOPS product offers 10,000 random read IOPS and 1,500 random write IOPDS, 90MB/s sustained read and 70MB/s sustained write bandwidth, far behind Anobit's product. We understand STEC has a Mach16 product in the wings, with on-chip encryption, a 3Gb/sec SATA interface, sequential read speeds of up to 250MB/s and sequential writes up to 225MB/s. If this is a 2-bit MLC product then its bandwidth exceeds the Anobit product.

It must be almost certain that the Mach16 is undergoing evaluation by STEC's storage array OEMs, meaning virtually every vendor.

Micron has an enterprise-grade MLC flash product that Nimbus Data is using in a flash-only storage array. So far we have not had any reports about how this performs in customer installations or benchmarks. We don't know of any OEM evaluations of Micron's eMLC SSD, not that that means they aren't ongoing. Micron partner Intel also has its X28 and X25 SSD products targeting the HDD replacement market.

There are also relatively new suppliers such as Pliant, SandForce and Whiptail who all have hot flash products. Toshiba has its own flash interest. Seagate has its Pulsar flash line and is partnering with LSI in a PCIe flash product, and Western Digital is steadily expanding the market remit of its SSD operation.

There is the prospect, with Anobit's Genesis product, of STEC's virtual stranglehold on enterprise storage array flash being broken and Anobit and or other suppliers becoming second sources alongside STEC. However STEC still has the Fibre Channel interface SSD market to itself, with only Hitachi GST and Intel known to be developing a Fibre Channel interface SSD product to compete with STEC's ZeusIOPS directly.

ESG senior analyst Mark Peters said: "Anobit's approach is … enabling enterprise-grade endurance to be delivered from low-cost commercial NAND, something that could help to accelerate the adoption of SSDs in datacentres, and something that positions Anobit well in the market."

The proof of this is going to come with the IOPS and bandwidth performance, and endurance numbers, plus price of course. Lots of people now believe flash is poised to take over the storage of all active data, meaning primary data in storage arrays, and in virtually all network-edge client devices from tablets, netbooks, notebooks through to desktops. Competition is going to be intense and Anobit has a big hill to climb.

Its Genesis SSDs are now formally available for OEM qualification. ®

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