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SSD & Storage news - November 2010 - week 2

Peeking inside the loop of ioMemory

Editor:- November 12, 2010 - Fusion-io has said it will ship a web based control panel - called ioSphere - for monitoring, analyzing real-time performance and controlling its SSDs sometime in Q1, 2011.

Editor's comments:- Usually when you retrofit software based analysis and control functions to storage networks there's an impact on performance. As spinning hard disk media is very slow compared to spinning electrons - this doesn't matter - especially when using fast multi-core CPUs.

But when you're talking about PCIe and Infiniband SSDs those precious micro-seconds that a new software agent spends fooling around with your data-flows can interfere with smooth running. Although SSD companies have many times in the past announced such functionality for legacy SAN based SSDs (for example in May 2003 - Imperial Technology launched the WhatsHot SSD analysis tool) real-time SAN SSD analyzers have mostly stayed out of the customer's mission critical cabinets and remained locked in the developer's labs.

Will ioSphere be any different? - Knowing a bit about the thinking behind Fusion-io's SSD controller architecture - which I discussed in an interview with their CEO in the summer - I anticipated that Fusion-io's ioSphere would be different. Why? - Because the host server processor is inside the SSD controller loop and all the critical control state diagrams are already in the software stack. So I asked for confirmation about this guess.

Fusion-io's VP of product and technical marketing, Gary Ornstein, told me - "Your assumption is correct. There is no overhead. The ioSphere software is providing insight to information that is already collected within our ioMemory modules"

If you look at the philosophy of the Fusion-io designs - one view you can take is that the SSD makes the host CPU work faster - because it speeds up access to the data. Another view - equally valid - is that because the host CPU is doing work for the flash memory - the faster the user's CPU - the faster the SSD. And the converse is true - which is it that the SSD operates slower when it's used in tandem with a slower host. Yet another way of seeing these roles is that both the CPU and the SSD are responsible for the speed of running the apps together - and you can trade CPUs for SSDs - something I used to call SSD CPU equivalence. It may be that fusion of function - which led to the company's founders choosing the name Fusion-io. Next time we talk I'll remember to ask about that.

SSDs as computer medicine?

Editor:- November 11, 2010 - In a new blog today on I reflect on how concerns about flash SSD endurance have popped up to the top of readers' interests.

"For SSD users - the risk of flash SSD wear-out due to ineffective endurance control is like that of influenza. Just because you've already had it before - or been inoculated against the previous strain doesn't mean you are invulnerable to what may happen in the next flu / flash pandemic." to read the article

How many disks - and why?

Editor:- November 10, 2010 - - today published a new article called - How many disks does it take to store a disk-full of data?

Sometimes you can learn something very useful by asking silly questions which initially seem to have trivial and obvious answers. ...And where do the SSDs creep in? They always seem to pop up in my articles somewhere... You don't need a calculator or spreadsheet for this one. the article

QLogic reports new InfiniBand switch record

Editor:- November 9, 2010 - QLogic announced that its InfiniBand adapters and switches have achieved cluster message rate performance of over 86 million messages per second - a new record.

The system configuration was a 14 node cluster with 2 switches.

RunCore launches world's 1st CF card SSD with fast purge

Editor:- November 9, 2010 - RunCore has launched the world's first CF card compatible SSDs with fast (typically 30 seconds) on-board sanitization functions.

The fast erase - which is designed to protect confidential data leaks and thwart any attempts at data recovery - is achieved by pressing a button or activating erase pins while the device is powered. It can be once again used by formatting after the data destruction process.

Editor's comments:- due to the popularity of the CF form factor in consumer products many equipment designers have adopted it as a convenient way of incorporating solid state storage into products in the industrial, medical and prosumer markets. Without an on-board fast purge feature - achieving effective disk sanitization as a software process in an SSD can take upto 24 hours (depending on disk capacity). RunCore's industrial CF cards are true SSDs with wear-leveling, vibration tolerance and low power consumption.

Greenliant samples SATA BGA SSDs

Editor:- November 8, 2010 - Greenliant Systems has begun sampling SATA compatible variants of its NANDrive GLS85LS (miniature SSDs).

The new SSDs have upto 64GB capacity in a 14mm x 24mm x 1.85mm 145 BGA. Active-mode power consumption as low as 500mW and a deep power-down mode can reduce this to 10mW. The SSDs have content protection zones and designers can select areas of the storage to protect with fast erase.

"OEMs have recognized the benefits of Greenliant's NANDrive in providing superior reliability, and the addition of SATA-based NANDrive devices provides our customers with more options to choose a compatible SSD that best suits their needs for various market segments and applications," said Bing Yeh, CEO of Greenliant Systems. "While we are currently sampling our new commercial-grade SATA NANDrive products, an industrial-grade version is under development."

flash SSDs vs RAM SSDs in ZIL (ZFS) environments

Editor:- November 8, 2010 - DDRdrive has published a white paper which compares flash SSDs vs RAM SSDs (pdf) as accelerators in ZFS environments.

The paper (presented at the OpenStorage Summit a few weeks ago) says that for high integrity operation in the event of power loss and reboot - SSDs must guarantee correct and consistent implementation of cache flushes (SCSI SYNCHRONIZE_CACHE command). It lists some popular flash SSDs which don't.

A number of benchmark test graphs in the paper illustrate how write IOPS performance in some popular 2.5" flash SSDs is non deterministic and degrades after as little as 10 minutes use - whereas in RAM SSDs the performance is constant.

Editor's comments:- although there's nothing conceptually new in this white paper - (the RAM vs flash SSD debate was covered in a classic article in 2007 - while the issue of halo effects in flash SSDs was revealed in an article in 2008) - nevertheless it shows why some types of flash SSDs are unsuitable for some types of enterprise apps (even before you get to the question of MLC).

Idealstor says - USB3 better than eSATA for SMB disk backup

Editor:- November 8, 2010 - Idealstor announced today the release of a new rugged USB 3 removable HDD based backup product called the Bantam.

At time of launch capacity options are 320GB ($199), 500GB, 750GB and 1TB. Bantam cartridges are made from a rugged aluminum design and come with shock proofing which the company says will survive more than a 3 foot drop to a tile over concrete floor. They ship with with Idealstor's Windows compatible iBac Lite software - which includes dedupe options.

"For years we've offered businesses an enterprise class removable disk backup solution designed to completely replace tape based backup," said Nandan Arora, CTO for Idealstor. "As much as our solutions were an affordable alternative to tape, there was a large segment of the market that needed a solution like ours but didn't have the amount of data or the budget to afford even our entry level products. We finally have a solution designed specifically for the SMB with the Bantam."

Editor's comments:- I asked marketing manager Ben Ginster about performance - and where the name of the product came from.

Re performance:- he said - "Speed depends on lots of factors and anyone that gives you a "real world" speed is blowing smoke. I've seen speeds up to 2.5GB/minute on some backups and less than 1GB on others. When we originally were testing the unit we were planning on having eSATA and USB3 on this drive but we found that USB3 speeds were faster than eSATA so we decided to just go with USB3. We have controllers for (customers with) systems that don't have USB3."

Re the Bantam (which for me having kept chickens - I had latched onto as a opportunity to add yet another inmate to my storage animal metaphors zoo / article) - I was wrong. Ben Ginster told me " We came up with name after the Bantam Weight in boxing/wrestling. Small but powerful. If you pull up Wikipedia the Bantam weight in boxing was named after a small chicken called the Bantam so I guess you could say we're named after an animal – indirectly of course."

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