Processor technology promises big boost to consumer SSDs

SandForce said its new SSD controller will offer 250MB/sec. sustained reads and writes

SandForce Inc. announced today a new family of solid-state disk (SSD) processors that the company claims will allow lower-cost, commodity NAND flash memory to be used in data center operations. The disks will also be faster and more reliable for use in mobile applications, the company said.

Saratoga, Calif.-based SandForce, which has been quietly working on the technology over the past three years, said its controller technology will allow multilayer cell (MLC) NAND flash memory to take the place of single-layer cell (SLC) memory in data centers, reducing the cost per gigabyte of capacity by three or four times.

SandForce said the SF-1000 SSD processor series, with its DuraClass firmware, will address the endurance, reliability and data retention issues associated with MLC NAND flash memory.

Jeff Janukowicz, an analyst at research firm IDC, said SandForce's new processor could be a major catalyst for increasing SSD adoption in the enterprise.

"These [kinds of] products should have a highly positive impact on efficiency and total cost of ownership when used in IT applications such as virtualization, transactional databases and automated financial trading -- applications which can immediately benefit from the dramatic increase in performance and performance-per-watt that SSDs provide over [hard disk drives]," he said.

SLC NAND flash memory stores one bit per cell, enabling it to natively offer much higher read/write speeds than MLC as well as up to 100,000 write cycles per solid-state disk drive, compared with 2,000 to 10,000 write cycles for MLC memory. MLC memory stores two or more bits per cell, which offers higher capacity, but requires more complicated firmware to automate the reallocation of data throughout the drive as it is stored and erased.

SSD is a recent phenomenon in enterprises that allows greater throughput for I/O intensive applications, such as relational databases. Corporations adopting SSD as a "tier zero" level of storage in their storage-area networks (SAN) above high-end Fibre Channel and serial-attached SCSI (SAS) hard disk drives, have only trusted SLC SSD. Because of its lower price and higher capacity, MLC SSD has been popular for consumer-type applications, such as mobile computing and USB flash drives.

Resellers such as IBM and EMC Corp. have been adding SSD to their high-end arrays in recent months.

Mike Desens, IBM's vice president for system design, said SandForce's SF-1000 SSD processor family promises to offer MLC SSD that can be reliably used in mission-critical storage environments.

"These innovations can be truly disruptive and will accelerate the adoption of solid-state technologies across the data center," Desens said.

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