Coalition Formed To Drive PCIe SSD Specs, But Where's HP And NetApp?

A coalition of server and storage vendors on Thursday said they are working together to drive a broader adoption of solid state drives by developing standards for a PCIe implementation of the SSD technology.

Leading the SSD Form Factor Working Group are Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, IBM, and Intel. Other members of the Working Group include a variety of SSD and storage component makers.

Notably absent from the group, however, are Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest manufacturer of servers and mobile PCs, the two major products in which SSDs can be found. Also not a part of the group is Apple, which is trying to take the lead in portable computer flash-based technology with its new MacBook Air, and NetApp, the fastest-growing top-tier storage vendor.

Jim Pappas, director of technology initiatives at Intel, said in response to questions about the lack of representation in the Working Group from those major vendors -- who happen to be competitors with Dell and EMC -- that the Working Group is actually an open organization to which anyone is able to join.

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Pappas said that he is not aware of anyone in the Working Group specifically inviting companies like HP and NetApp to join. Instead, he said, the plan was to start with a group of vendors small enough to get started while keeping the door open to anyone to join. "We're just getting started," he said. "We expect a lot more companies to join."

Next: Why PCIe-based SSD Technology?

While there are already PCIe-based implementations of SSD technology, the Working Group aims to make the technology a standard that can be applied across all server and storage devices.

To that end, the Working Group is proposing a new type of connector which will work with SAS, SATA, and PCIe 3 so that customers will not need multiple connectors, said Gary Kotzur, technology strategist for Dell.

The coalition is also proposing that the drives use the standard 2.5-inch drive form factor for the new PCIe SSDs, and support hot plug capability to ensure customers get high-availability and servicing ease, Kotzur said.

The standardization of PCIe SSDs should result in an increase in storage performance because of the low latency provided by PCIe technology, Kotzur said. That low latency comes from the fact that PCIe allows direct connection to the storage, whereas other storage technologies require bridging chips.

In addition to lower latency, PCIe SSDs should also eventually feature lower costs and higher reliability than current SSDs because of the lower component count, he said.

Next: PCIe SSDs And The Server Ecosystem

In response to a reporter's question about whether customers will accept a new type of connector in their computers, Pappas said that the proposed PCIe SSD specification means customers will be able to use SATA, SAS, and PCIe drives with a single connector.

Pappas also said he expects customers will typically use only one type of drive at a time. "We support building a system that supports all types of drives," he said.

The Working Group is already finished with the concept work needed to get the PCIe SSD specification moving forward, Pappas said, and plans to release the first draft of the specification by the end of the year. It plans to get the specification ratified as a standard in 2011, after which drives based on the standard would start to become available, he said.