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SanDisk mimics EMC's Lightning

PCIe flash card

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SanDisk has a PCIe server flash card called, as if to mimic EMC, Lightning, developed from its existing Lightning SSDs.

The card is available this month from SanDisk resellers with the suggested retail price for the 200GB product of $1,350, $2,350 for the 400GB version. Both have a five-year warranty.

EMC introduced its VFCache card earlier this year and the product was codenamed Lightning. SanDisk bought Pliant in 2011, acquiring that company's Lightning range of SAS interface solid state drives (SSDs) as well as Pliant's controller technology. It has expanded the Lightning family by adding a PCIe-connect card called a solid state accelerator.

PCIe Lightning comes in 200GB and e400GB versions, both using 24nm single level cell (SLC) flash. The 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch format Lightning SSDs come in both 150GB SLC and slower but cheaper 150GB - 800GB multi-level cell (MLC) versions.

It runs at up to 425MB/sec, 110,000 random read and 23,000 random read/write IOPS in a 70/30 mix. Also SanDisk can supply FlashSoft caching software.

SanDisk Lightning PCIe

SanDisk Lightning PCIe cardE

As an enterprise-class card how does it compare to industry-leader Fusion-io's ioDrive 2 card and also to STEC's Kronos product?

The ioDrive 2 card comes in 400 and 600GB SLC versions and runs at 3GB/sec, 350,000 random read IIOPS and 450,000 random write IIOPS with 512 byte blocks. Let's say that these IOPS numbers roughly equate to 250,000 read IOPS and 335,000 write IOPS with 4K blocks. It blows the PCIe Lightning away.

STEC's Kronos runs at 110,000 random read and 100,000 random write IOIPS with 4K blocks, and chugs through sequential I/O at up to 1GB/sec; similar to Lightning in the IOPS area and leaving it far behind in the bandwidth arena.

Lightning's sequential read latency is less than 50 microsecs, its maximum respinse time in a 70/30 read/write mix scenario is under 30ms, it draws less than 15 watts and can do 10 full drive writes a day for five years.

In a dig at Fusion-io, SanDisk emphasises that it uses no host server CPU or memory resources. It also says it is focused heavily on predictable and reliable performance with no drop-off once the fresh-out-of-the-box state is finished. This could be a dig at OCZ.

Even so, it better have good price/performance - otherwise it will lose out heavily to Fusion-io and STEC cards in the performance stakes, despite Pliant's success with OEM qualifications of its Lightning SSD products, with Dell EqualLogic, HP EVA, NetApp and others.

It could also find it hard going against OCZ, which has segmented the PCIe flash market four ways with different products: RevoDrive, Synapse, VeloDrive, and Z-Drive. There are many more competitors: EMC, Intel, LSI, Micron, OWC, SuperTalent, TMS and Virident.

SanDisk says PCIe Lightning has a simple, drop-in installation, and its boot drive capability enables fast system startup.

I think this will be a solid product but SanDisk needs to broaden its PCIe product range to be an effective competitor. I guess it will introduce an MLC version of Lightning for mixed read-write workloads, and think the company also probably working on a 3-bit level cell (TLC) product for read-intensive use cases. ®

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