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Intel forms flash gang of five

Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, IBM posse pushes for SSD standard

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Intel, Dell, EMC, Fujitsu and IBM are forming a working group to standardise PCIe-based solid state drives (SSD), and have a webcast coming out today to discuss it.

By connecting to a server's PCIe bus, SSDs can pour out their contents faster to the server than by using Fibre Channel or SAS connectivity. The flash is used as a tier of memory below DRAM and cuts out drive array latency when reading and writing data.

The five friends aim to develop a standardised connector and form factor specification to promote PCIe as an electrical interface to SSDs. They are looking at three technology areas which include a connector specification, a form factor building on the current 2.5-inch one, and hot-plug capability.

The leading PCIe SSD supplier, Fusion-io, is not, so far, represented in this group and neither is STEC, another leading SSD supplier with a PCIe interest.

Fujitsu presumably has an interest in wanting to use PCIe flash in its servers, but one has to wonder why it is bothering to talk to Intel which doesn't have a PCIe flash offering, unless Intel is going to have a PCIe flash product.

Intel is a partner with Micron in the flash foundry area with the IMFT business, and Intel sells a range of SSDs such as the X25-E. It does not have a PCIe-based server SSD offering, although its flash-based Turbo Memory, aimed at PCs, comes as a flash card.

Participation in the working group is a seemingly clear indication that Intel intends to make one, and that it may hope to use a standardisation process to level the PCIe SSD playing field.

Why EMC is interested in the working group is an interesting question. It does not supply storage products to be used inside a server's PCEe environment, so far only supplying STEC and Samsung SSDs to be used as disk drive replacements in its storage arrays. There is maybe a whiff here of an idea that EMC could be thinking of having flash caches in its X86-based array controllers, a way of using flash that NetApp has pioneered with its Flash Cache.

IBM and Dell may well help persuade both Fusion-io and STEC to join in. ®

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