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Intel

Intel, the world leader in silicon innovation, develops technologies, products and initiatives to continually advance how people work and live. Additional information about Intel is available at www.intel.com/pressroom.
.... click to see profile and editor's analysis for Intel

See also:- Intel - editor mentions on StorageSearch.com and Intel's SSD page

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Editor:- July 28, 2014 - Intel was ranked #22 in the Q2 2014 of the Top SSD Companies List which is researched and published by StorageSearch.com

In a a presentation (pdf) delivered to investors in November 2013 - Diane Bryant, Senior VP & GM Data Center Group, Intel said the company regards itself as the #1 supplier of SSDs to the datacenter - with "an SSD drive business worth around $1 billion."

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Who's who in SSD? - Intel

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor August 2013

Intel was ranked #20 in the top SSD companies (based on metrics in the 2nd quarter of 2013), and has never been listed in the fastest SSDs.

Intel is 1 of more than 100 companies in the 2.5" SSD market, and 1 of more than 50 companies in the PCIe SSD market.

Intel has used SSD controllers from a range of companies - including (in the past year) LSI.

Intel SSDs in the modern era

Intel entered the SSD market in 2007.

The company's products since then have mainly appealed to the consumer and embedded markets. Intel was dumped by some enterprise SSD arrays makers who used its early genereations of SSDs for reasons said to be related to design flaws and recalls which affected performance stability and reliability.

Part of Intel's SSD learning curve involved designing some really bad SSDs - which demonstrated the company's lack of knowledge about the fundamental building blocks needed to design a reliable storage drive.

In the summer of 2011 - after yet another SSD / firmware recall - this led me to comment - "If Intel's SSD design business was a horse - it would have been shot a long time ago and put out of its misery..." Intel's customers have painfully learned that there's a lot more to designing SSDs than soldering a bunch of memory chips to a controller and host interface. Intel's designers should have known that too.

Despite those earlier problems, however, one of Intel's more recent enterprise SSD oem customers - Cisco - has publicly endorsed Intel as a valued SSD supplier.

In the long term I expect Intel will buy an SSD company or continue leveraging 3rd party SSD controllers and IP.

Intel vs FIO?

Some readers have asked me what I think about Intel's PCIe SSDs compared to those from Fusion-io? But although those types of artificial comparisons are often seen in magazine benchmarks and investment sites they aren't naturally head to head competitors for most serious users in my view.

In some high transaction rate SSD environments Intel's SSDs have been reported by several readers to wear out more quickly than more expensive true enterprise SSDs. The results shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who reads the datasheets - but some end-users aren't savvy enough to recognize that there are different application silos within enterprise SSDs.

Put the wrong type of SSD in the wrong place and instead of being the cheap option - it can become the expensive option when it inevitably fails in service.

And last year (April 2012) Intel launched a PCIe SSDs which in my analysis looked like it could wear out in less than 6 months if used 24x7 at its full rated speed.

Intel also has also done many SSD firmware recalls and had products which were reported to suffer from power supply corruption vulnerabilities.

Is there a market for such products?

Sure - it's the consumer market - and some parts of the enterprise market where the performance stress levels are not so demanding.

There's no such thing as the perfect SSD which is a good competitive fit for all markets. And in that respect Intel is no different to any other SSD company. The only problem is that it's natural for users to expect more - given Intel's past successes in computing.

My view is that Intel isn't good enough yet at leading edge mission critical SSDs. And although it keeps trying to get better at SSD, and will no doubt greatly improve its core SSD competencies – my guess is it won't be one of the top thought leaders in this phase of the market where change is happening so fast - and the market change drivers appear to mystify companies - like Intel - which don't have true native SSD DNA.

You shouldn't be surprised by that. Intel has never been a customer responsive company. They're used to creating standards rather than adapting to them . That's why they failed in ASIC and phones.

Does it matter that Intel, while being a world leading semiconductor company, doesn't have true grit - in the SSD sense?

No and Yes.

No - because the SSD market is big enough and diverse enough to soak up millions of Intel SSDs even if the company isn't the best at the sharp end of the enterprise server space.

Yes - and why I'm sure that Intel will continue to engage in the SSD market is because:- it can't afford not to.

SSD-CPU equivalence means that processors and SSD storage will inevitably become more tightly coupled on motherboards. And if a dividing line is made - then the processor is the commodity and the SSD is the application specific value add - where the dollars and the profit lie.

And Intel's history shows it hates the idea of being a commodity chip supplier.
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Intel's SSD milestones in SSD market history

Intel was a pioneer in SSD market history. But then took a 20 year sabbatical.

In the early 1980s - Intel shipped an SSD based on magnetic bubble memory technology which emulated a 1Mb floppy drive. (I had one of the evaluation kits.) But this early foray into solid state storage didn't meet Intel's need for scalability either as a technology or as a business. So Intel spun off the magnetic division in 1987 to Memtech. Memtech ditched bubble memory but became a pioneer in the rugged and military flash SSD market (an example product was the 3.5" PATA compatible Wolverine). In August 2005 Memtech was acquired by STEC.

Intel's troubled past with memory products - (many of which it had invented - but abandoned to Asian competitors) was probably a factor in delaying its decision to re-enter the SSD market till 2007 - which was 2 years after Samsung had publicly declared this to be a strategic market. Within a few years of this re-entry, however, Intel was shipping 2.5" SSDs with performance specs superficially better than the leading products previously available from Asian companies (Mtron and Memoright).

Intel's troubled present with SSDs - In the rush to gate crash the frothing SSD market bubble, and lacking vital end-user storage industry experience - Intel has produced succeeding products (up to 4 SSD recalls, upgrade fixes or delayed shipments according to industry estimates) with undesirable halo effects or flaky operation - which have seriously dented its reputation among designers of enterprise class SSD arrays.

In October 2008 - Intel started shipping the X-25E - a fast 2.5" 32GB SATA SLC flash SSD. Read latency is 75 microseconds and a 10 parallel channel architecture enables it to sustain R/W throughputs of 250 / 170 MB/s. Random IOPS performance is impressive with a 10 to 1 R/W ratio which is inline with the best designed enterprise flash SSDs. Using 4kB blocks - random R/W IOPS are 35,000 and 3,300 respectively.

In his October 2008 blog, Linux creator Linus Torvalds wrote about his own experience with Intel's new SSD. Just as relevant are the many comments which followed about better (and worse) products.

In December 2008 - Hitachi and Intel announced they were jointly designing a new range of high IOPS flash SSDs with Fibre Channel and SAS interfaces for the server market. The new products, which will be exclusively marketed by Hitachi GST - are expected to ship in Q1 2010.

In January 2009 - Kingston Technology announced it will sell rebranded high speed SSDs supplied by Intel as Kingston's SSDNow E Series.

In February 2009 - Solid Data Systems published a Test of Intel's X25 Flash SSD Performance (pdf). The white paper reveals the degradation in performance in Intel's headlining SSD, due to weak garbage collection. This is something which had been known about in the industry - but not in this level of detail (except under NDA).

In April 2009 - a report on TGDaily.com said that Intel is EOLing its Z-P230 SSD module which was aimed at the netbook market. If you look at the 1.0" SSDs directory here on StorageSearch.com you'll see that 25 companies now make SSD chips, DOMs or modules designed to fit into very small footprints.

In July 2009 - Intel announced a process shrink for its X25-M - SATA 2.5" MLC flash SSD. The new 34nm devices deliver upto 8,800 (4KB) write IOPS and up to 35,000 read IOPS. R/W speeds are 250MB/s and 70MB/s respectively. R/W latenciy is 65µS and 85µS. The 160GB model is priced at $440 (1,000 unit price point).

In September 2009 - Pillar dumped Intel SSDs due to flaky operation and switched to STEC. Maybe they should have spent a bit more time qualifying the Intel product beforehand - or done a better job at it?

Also in September 2009 - Kevin T Crow, Strategy Specialist, NAND Solutions Group, -Intel shared his SSD Bookmarks with readers of StorageSearch.com.

In October 2009 - Intel joined the growing roster of SSD companies who have announced support for Trim functions. These benefit flash SSDs which don't have internal fast active garbage collection. The company recommends users install the firmware update and toolbox, and run the Trim function daily to ensure best performance.

In February 2010 - Intel and Micron announced they are sampling the world's 1st 25nm NAND flash memory. This gives 8GB MLC (classic 2 bit) flash memory in a stackable TSOP.

In July 2010 - the terrible tale of one enterprise customer hitting endurance limits with Intel's SSDs was mentioned in an interview with Fusion-io's CEO.

In September 2010 - Intel's SSD Bookmarks on StorageSearch.com were updated with new links to help prospective enterprise SSD users.

In November 2010 - Intel Capital led a $32 million funding round into Anobit (an SSD controller company).


In March 2011 - Intel published version 1.0 of a new proprietary standard for designers of PCI SSDs in systems which use Intel processors - the NVM Express Optimized PCI Express SSD Interface.

Intel launched a new 2.5" SSD aimed at legacy notebook designs which have 3Gbps SATA ports. The Intel SSD 320 (which includes 128 bit encryption) is available with MLC capacities from 40GB ($89 1k price) to 600GB ($1,069 1k). R/W speeds are 270MB/s and 220MB/s respectively. R/W IOPS are 39,500 and 23,000. In this new design , Intel has added redundancies that will help keep user data protected, even in the event of a power loss.

In October 2011 - an article in VR-Zone discusses a "leaked" Intel SSD roadmap which indicates the company may enter the PCIe SSD market in 2012. It's hardly a revelation - because Intel is member of technical groups which are co-ordinating standards in this segment of the SSD market - and until standards for the Hybrid Memory Cube get established (which could take another 3 years) - the PCIe SSD market is the closest attachment that an SSD can make to an Intel server host processor bus. And it has the additional attraction of not needing 3rd party storage interface glue - unlike SATA, SAS, FC and IB - thereby giving more control to any chip company which does it right. Over 30 companies have already shipped PCIe SSDs in the past 3 years. This will be a multi-billion dollar market segment according to StorageSearch.com's long range enterprise SSD market model.

In January 2012 - Intel announced an agreement to acquire the InfiniBand related product lines, IP and business assets of QLogic.

In February 2012 - Intel announced it has used SandForce controllers for the first time in its new (and fastest) SATA 3 2.5" SSD - the Intel SSD 520 - which (with upto 80K R/W IOPS peak - 4KB) is aimed at gaming, CAD and graphics content creation markets.

In April 2012 - Intel launched a new fast-enough PCIe MLC SSD - the 910 Series has upto 800GB capacity ($3,859) and 180K / 75K R/W IOPS (4K blocks). UBER is 1 sector per 1016 bits read.

In July 2012 - Intel acquired NEVEX - (an SSD software company with products in the SSD caching market.

In February 2013 - Intel announced imminent shipment of a Linux version of SSD caching software called Intel CAS (Cache Acceleration Software) - based on the IP from its acquisition of NEVEX in August 2012.

In April 2013 - Intel - which was already using LSI's SandForce controllers in some SSDs - announced it will oem LSI's dual-core RAID-on-Chip flash caching technology. (LSI's caching technology can double the number of VDI sessions supported in the same sever and flash environment.)
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Intel's new 2.5" PCIe SSDs
Editor:- June 3, 2014 - Intel has announced details of new NVMe compatible 2.5" PCIe SSDs - the P3700 Series - which will offer upto 2TB (20nm) capacity in a 15mm high hot-swap form factor.
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LSI blog discusses customer driven technology changes in the hyperscale datacenter
Editor:- March 4, 2014 - "It's no longer enough to follow Intel's ticktock product roadmap" - says Rob Ober, Processor and System Architect LSI - in his new blog about Restructuring the datacenter ecosystem - in which he goes on to say...

"Development cycles for datacenter solutions used to be 3 to 5 years. But these cycles are becoming shorter."

And when talking about rack scale architectures - Rob says "Traditionally new architectures were driven by OEMs, but that's not so true anymore." ...read the article
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Fusion-io fast SSDs - click for more info
the standard for enterprise PCIe SSDs
by which all others are judged
ioDrives from Fusion-io
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Intel oems LSI's RAID caching SSD technology
Editor:- April 8, 2013 - Intel - which already uses LSI's SandForce controllers in some SSDs - will oem LSI's dual-core RAID-on-Chip flash caching technology it was announced today.

LSI says their caching technology can double the number of VDI sessions supported in the same sever and flash environment.

See also:- SSD caching news, RAID and SSDs, SSD controllers
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a new reason to reconsider Intel SSDs
Editor:- February 12, 2013 - Intel announced that in the next 30 days it will ship a Linux version of the SSD caching software - based on IP from its acquisition of NEVEX last August. The products have been rebranded as Intel® CAS (Cache Acceleration Software). ...more in SSD caching news

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Can you trust SSD market data?
Recent Strategic Transitions in SSD
the Survivor's Guide to Enterprise SSDs
the big market impact of SSD dark matter
Efficiency - making the same SSD - with less flash

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Intel paper - Data Integrity on 20nm flash SSDs
Editor:- August 22, 2012 - "Avoid skepticism and seek understanding" - is one of the calls to action in Intel's paper - Data Integrity on 20nm SSDs (pdf) - presented today at the Flash Memory Summit

In a bold move at the start, the author - Robert Frickey - brings to the fore the subject of flaky SSDs and firmware bugs and recalls - naming several SSD vendors in this context - including Intel.

He says "Despite datasheet metrics, it's not easy to predict behavior of SSDs in the field. Validation should be considered as part of data integrity."

Even if you've already read many other articles on SSD data integrity - this paper clearly communicates some fundamentals about flash cells and the variety of different types of disturb errors which makes it a useful educational document.

In tone with what some other leading SSD companies are saying too - the author urges you to "Understand your usage model and endurance requirements. Innovate around application needs." ...read the article (pdf)

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How are fault tolerant PCIe SSD designs supported in chips?
PCIe in enterprise SSD designs - this video by PLX includes an introductory tutorial into PCIe and its performance and architectural capabilities for SSDs including automatic failover and multi-host capabilities.
PLX's switch chips also supports failover if the fault occurs in the PCIe switch fabric chips themselves. ... click to watch the PCIe in SSD video

extract - "...And in case one of the hosts fails and you want to connect the SSDs - or the devices connected to that host - to another host - that can be done automatically as well - and the surviving host can attach the devices that were attached to the failing host to itself and control it so that the system doesn't go down and the data stored in these devices doesn't get isolated from the main system."
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what's the life-time of Intel's new PCIe SSD?
Editor:- April 12, 2012 - Intel today launched a new fast-enough PCIe MLC SSD - the 910 Series has upto 800GB capacity ($3,859) and 180K / 75K R/W IOPS (4K blocks). UBER is 1 sector per 1016 bits read.

Editor's comments:- endurance is quoted as 14PB - which assuming a 1 in 3 write to read ration and maximum throughput rates (1GB/s writes and 2GB/s reads respectively) means the device could wear out in less than 3 months. That would require an artificially created scenario of R/W activity to achieve - but indicates that enterprise users still have to worry about the safety margins of various flash flavors in intense server apps.

Another way Intel quotes the same endurance is it "allows up to 10 full drive writes a day for 5 years." That's a perfectly valid way to describe enterprise SSDs - and other SSD vendors (STEC etc) use the same kind of formula - but a good enough figure for a SAS SSD may not be what you need in a PCIe SSD and it demonstrates the difference between general purpose and intensive caching roles.

I've heard many stories about enterprise SSD customers whose SSDs did wear out after 3 to 6 months.
click to read article - sugaring  MLC for the enterprise The answer is to buy the right kind of SSD for the particular apps environment - preceeded by measurement, analysis and modelling of what the SSD workload is likely to be.
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Intel's fastest SSD uses SandForce inside
Editor:- February 6, 2012 - Intel today announced it has used SandForce controllers for the first time in its new (and fastest) SATA 3 2.5" SSD - the Intel SSD 520 - which (with upto 80K R/W IOPS peak - 4KB) is aimed at gaming, CAD and graphics content creation markets. Price- based on 1,000-unit quantities is - 60GB for $149, 120GB at $229, 180GB at $369, 240GB at $509 and 480GB at $999.

SSD SoCs controllers "We worked closely with Intel to leverage their deep understanding of the NAND flash, ultimately providing a unique and optimized solution for client computing applications with the LSI SandForce Flash Storage Processor," said Michael Raam, VP and GM of LSI's Flash Components Division.
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Intel would like to be where Fusion-io's SSDs are now... snuggling up close to the CPU
Editor:- October 11, 2011 - an article in VR-Zone discusses a "leaked" Intel SSD roadmap which indicates the company may enter the PCIe SSD market in 2012.

It's hardly a revelation - because Intel is member of technical groups which are co-ordinating standards in this segment of the SSD market - and until standards for the Hybrid Memory Cube get established (which could take another 3 years) - the PCIe SSD market is the closest attachment that an SSD can make to an Intel server host processor bus.

And PCIe has the additional attraction of not needing 3rd party storage interface glue - unlike SATA, SAS, FC and IB - thereby giving more control to any chip company which does it right. Over 30 companies have already shipped PCIe SSDs in the past 3 years. This will be a multi-billion dollar market segment according to StorageSearch.com's long range enterprise SSD market model.
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SSD power down management
Why should you care what happens in an SSD when the power goes down?

This important design feature - which barely rates a mention in most SSD datasheets and press releases - has a strong impact on SSD data integrity and operational reliability.

This article will help you understand why some SSDs which (work perfectly well in one type of application) might fail in others... even when the changes in the operational environment appear to be negligible.
image shows Megabyte's hot air balloon - click to read the article SSD power down architectures and acharacteristics If you thought endurance was the end of the SSD reliability story - think again. ...read the article
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First you learned about SLC (good flash).
Then you learned about MLC (naughty flash when it played in the enterprise - but good enough for the short attention span of consumers).

Then MLC SSDs learned how to be good.

Now some MLC is much nicer than others. - When it's preceded by an "e" (extra-good). But it costs more.

But other people say you don't need the expensive "e" - because their controllers empathize better with naughty flash. (They really care about naughty flash being sent to bad block jail too soon.)

Is your head ready to explode yet?

It's going to get even more complicated.

......from sugaring MLC for the enterprise
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HA enterprise SSD arrays
high availabaility SSD arrays Due to the growing number of oems in the high availability rackmount SSD market StorageSearch.com recently published a new directory focusing on HA enterprise SSD arrays.
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