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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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