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SSDs are looking even more attractive to the enterprise market

The prices of Solid State Drives using Multi-Level Cell NAND flash have dropped a lot recently. This is mostly due to Intel incorporating flash memory using 34nm technology in its newest generation of X25-M SSDs. This process was first introduced late last year by IM Flash Tech, its joint venture with Micron Technologies, but IMFT was only recently able to overcome mass production problems in order to meet the quantities that Intel needed.

Although MLC flash is fine for most uses, the corporate enterprise market demands the faster speeds and higher reliability of Single-Level Cell NAND. SLC flash is capable of much faster write/erase speeds and cycle reliability than MLC flash, but costs more for the same amount of storage. This has limited its adoption to IT departments that require the highest long-term reliability and lowest down time possible, or tiered storage uses in small and medium businesses. The extremely low latency and fast access speeds have made incorporating SSDs a high priority for IT departments eager to improve performance at a low cost. SSDs are much more cost effective than traditional 15k RPM hard disk drives, especially in a tiered storage environment.

OCZ has been having a lot of success with its Vertex series of SSDs using the Barefoot flash controller. Made by Korean upstart Indilinx, the controller provides random read and write performance that surpasses most of the rest of the market. The Vertex EX series pairs the Barefoot controller with SLC flash to compete against Intel's X25-E in the enterprise market. Recently, OCZ began using MLC flash from second tier manufacturers along with the Barefoot controller to introduce slightly slower SSDs in its Agility series at a much lower price.

The company is now looking to extend the same concept to SLC SSDs. Instead of sourcing SLC NAND flash from market leader Samsung, OCZ is partnering with other firms to bring the price of enterprise level SSDs down. The current price of most 64GB SLC SSDs is $600 and up; the new Agility EX 60GB drive will be introduced at a MSRP of $399. At a price that is only two-thirds of the rest of the market, this is a drive that many Fortune 1000 firms will be sure to consider.

“Though SLC has traditionally been more expensive than MLC flash there are both performance and lifespan advantages to SLC based solid state drives.  It is for consumers that require the extended reliability of  single level cell flash that we are now introducing the Agility EX series of SSDs,” stated Eugene Chang, VP of Product Management at the OCZ technology Group.

“The Agility EX offers consumers the most cost effective SLC solid state storage solution on the market, and when customers take all the benefits of SLC into consideration the total cost of ownership of these drives truly shines through.”

The 60GB Agility EX offers speeds of up to 255MB/s read and 195MB/s write, 64MB of onboard cache, and unique performance optimized firmware to keep the drives at peak performance. It will come with OCZ's new 3-year standard warranty. Higher capacity models will be introduced by OCZ later this year.

Intel has already announced that it will extend its 34nm technology to SLC NAND flash chips at a later date. The second generation X25-E drives are expected to launch at a lower price point using Intel's proprietary flash controller. A 128GB X25-E model is also expected to be introduced alongside its 32GB and 64GB offerings. Intel is currently capacity constrained by IMFT and has had trouble meeting market demand for its new generation of SSDs. A 320GB X25-M model will be introduced once production ramps up enough.

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RE: Hybrid HDD
By MatthiasF on 8/28/2009 12:19:48 AM , Rating: 2
Modern magnetic hard drives are able to withstand over 200 G's of force in use, over 800 not in use. Not far from the 700-1500 advertised by SSD makers, and well within the normal range of usage. Most modern laptop hard drives can prepare for impacts as well, so I don't think the heads are an issue anymore.

Meanwhile, what happens if pathways on the NAND die? How are you going to get the data off the spot you can't access anymore? Or if a NAND chip does crack, even minutely?

If it were a magnetic disc, you'd have a mature recovery process available to you, but who's going to be able to recover data off NAND without an atomic microscope?

RE: Hybrid HDD
By semo on 8/28/2009 9:27:29 AM , Rating: 1
i think this point is moot. I have 2 hard drives i'm trying to recover data from.

One's platters don't spin up properly and the other has a crap load of unreadable sectors.

I'm not having much luck recovering the data and I don't have spare few $k to spend on sending them to professionals

RE: Hybrid HDD
By Flunk on 8/28/2009 11:42:08 AM , Rating: 1
Not to offend but the conversation was about important data. If you don't want to spend the money to get it professionally recovered it probably isn't important data. You know, data worth thousands of dollars.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By therealnickdanger on 8/28/2009 9:59:55 AM , Rating: 3
Nice straw man you built there. It's pretty simple:

If you want the best performance (HDDs aren't even CLOSE) and most rugged design, you buy an SSD. If you want to maintain data integrity, you BACK UP YOUR DATA. Professionally restoring data on a broken HDD costs much more than it costs to build and run a 3TB RAID-5 server. There's no excuse.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By FaaR on 8/28/2009 9:58:11 AM , Rating: 2
Who's going to send their magnetic harddrives off to recovery unless they're a corporation, hm?

Recovery firms charge not an arm and a leg, but six arms, eighteen legs and a couple pairs of balls for good measure. No private citizen can afford it unless they're independently wealthy, and even so that would be a waste of money if you'd just invested in a decent backup scheme.

And a corporation would run with mirrored/RAID5'd SSDs anyway, so if one unit craps out inbetween backup cycles, nothing is lost. You slot in another unit, the array rebuilds...and that's it.

There's really no advantage to HDDs anymore except for price, and capacity. Certainly not reliability.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By Flunk on 8/28/2009 11:42:46 AM , Rating: 2
Lifetime, you missed lifetime.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By FaaR on 8/28/2009 3:49:43 PM , Rating: 2

Intel's SLC flash drives are warrantied for 1 petabyte of writes... That's a LOT of writes (1 PB = 1 million GB = filling the drive to capacity more than 16000 times over). And that's what the warranty is set at, there's going to be some margin for sure.

I can guarantee you, by the time you've written 1 petabyte to any HDD you care to pick, it's not going to be looking too hot anymore either.

So lifetime... Don't really get your point, mate. Do you regularly keep and use HDDs for several decades? Dunno 'bout you, but I don't use that 100MB drive I bought back in 1989 anymore.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By MatthiasF on 8/29/2009 5:52:36 AM , Rating: 1
No warranty provides data recovery, and in the case of SSD, there is no way to recover the data if a serious issue occurs.

So, that warranty sounds pretty worthless in context of this discussion.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By Gholam on 8/29/2009 9:10:20 AM , Rating: 2
If you have to rely on data recovery for anything, you're doing it wrong to begin with. I deal with dead drives in my servers and storage arrays all the time; I've never lost any data to a drive crash.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By drycrust on 8/28/2009 2:45:14 PM , Rating: 2
Modern magnetic hard drives are able to withstand over 200 G's of force in use, over 800 not in use.

I'm not in a position to disagree with you, but my experience as a Customer Service Rep at a repair centre for Sony suggests otherwise. If a computer came in with a "clicking" hard drive, I would suspect the computer had been dropped. My job was mainly to contact the customers who had invalidated their warranty, but it was also to get permission to replace the hard drive, so I would have dealt with the majority (but not all) such cases. I can only recall one instance where a unit had been dropped and the HDD was replaced under warranty, although I think we were all suspicious that the customer should have been charged.
On the other hand, I dealt with many dropped cameras, but I don't recall a single instance where the customer complained the pictures had been lost or corrupted as a result of the drop. How often have you dropped an MP3 player? Did it affect the music? I suspect not.

By the way, did you know that during WW2 the Allies actually had artillery shells that had "radar" fuses, which used valves, that would cause the shell to explode above the target rather than on impact. The valves where designed to withstand being fired. Apparently they were used to good effect during the Battle of the Bulge.

RE: Hybrid HDD
By MatthiasF on 8/29/2009 6:07:22 AM , Rating: 2
I've had my fair share of desktop hard drives turn up "clicking" and most of the time it wasn't from physical damage (in two cases, was my own tower computer which I knew hadn't been abused). In nearly all cases, I've had the drives replaced as defective without complaint from the manufacturer.

Laptop hard drives are a different matter entirely. Seems like no manufacturer will replace a drive under warranty if it has head issues.

Meanwhile, I've seen quite a lot of SD, xD, USB, and Memory sticks go bad. In one case, photos taken for reference in a lawsuit were lost (camera attacked and nearly destroyed while taking them) and an attempt was made to recover but didn't go anywhere. I've had one of my own USB drives go bad and it never left my desk. I've also seen numerous instances of camera memory going bad quickly from airline travel which I'm guessing is caused by the security machines but someone else made a good argument for cosmic rays when I brought it up one time on another forum.

Anyway, my point was that we're better off with the devil we know. We can recover from magnetic discs easily, but can't recover from NAND chips if something goes wrong.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken

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