Intel Intros Enterprise-Class SSDs For Hi-Performance Data

Intel is ratcheting up the pressure on the hard drive industry with the introduction of new enterprise-class solid-state drives.

Intel on Wednesday unveiled its new Intel X25-E Extreme SATA Solid-State Drive, aimed at the server, workstation, and storage system market.

The processor and memory manufacturer also offered a look at its SSD roadmap for late 2008 through 2009.

The new SSDs, which were unveiled at the Storage Networking World conference being held this week in Dallas, are a follow-on to the company's introduction last month of 80-Gbyte and 160-Gbyte SSDs for the mobile PC and ruggedized system markets.

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The X25-E has a capacity of 32 Gbytes, and features 35,000 I/Os per second random read, 3,300 IOs per second random writes, and a latency of 75 microseconds.

The enterprise-class X25-E offers higher performance and reliability than the more mainstream X18-M 1.8-inch SSD and the X25-M 2.5-inch SSD Intel introduced last month because of a key technological difference, said Kishore Rao, product line manager for SSDs at Intel.

The X25-E features single-level cell technology, in which one bit of data occupies one cell of the flash memory. The X18-M and X25-M feature multi-level cell technology, in which four bits of data occupy one cell of the flash memory. That makes the X25-E optimized for performance and reliability of the data, and the X18-M and X25-M optimized for capacity, Rao said.

Intel is targeting the server and workstation market with the new SSDs because spinning hard drive performance increases are not keeping up with increased dual-core and quad-core processor performance, Rao said. "Our mission is to remove the I/O bottleneck," he said.

The new X25-E can be used in four different scenarios, said Seth Bobroff, general manager of Intel's Storage group.

Because it features a standard 2.5-inch hard drive format, it can be used as a direct replacement for spinning drives for I/O-intensive applications.

It can be used as a "tier-zero" storage layer in storage systems, either as a cache for spinning drives or as primary storage for a customer's highest-performance data.

Customers can also use it as a high-speed boot drive, or as a memory expansion device filling the gap between high-performance DRAM and traditional hard drives, Bobroff said.

Despite a price of $695 for the 32-Gbyte SSDs, they can actually save customers money in certain conditions, Bobroff said.

He cited the example of customers who short stroke hard drives, which is a way of using only a fraction of a drive's capacity in order to increase storage performance. For someone who uses 10 of the new SSDs instead of short stroking 70, 15,000-rpm hard drives, the cost savings over four years would equal about $37,000 in energy and other savings, he said.

That savings is related to how many I/Os per second (IOPS) can be handled per Watt of power consumed by the two technologies, Bobroff said.

The X25-E performs 14,000 IOPS per Watt, compared to about 100 IOPS per Watt for a typical spinning hard drive, resulting in power saving per IOPS of up to 98 percent, he said.

Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder, said his company is already seeing customers asking about SSDs, especially for their ruggedized systems.

"They don't want too many moving parts in ruggedized systems," Swank said. "And they're willing to pay for the reliability."

For now, SSDs, especially the enterprise-class models, are targeted at a very limited niche market, Swank said.

And that is probably good news to traditional hard drive manufacturers like Seagate and Western Digital who will be facing competition from a whole range of non-disk drive vendors like Intel, Swank said.

"The entire business model of hard drive manufacturers is at stake," he said. "They're in denial. It's nice to see Intel come out with a product like this. When we see Intel come out with flash drives like this, Seagate and Western Digital will be freaking out."

Going forward, Intel expects to add a 64-Gbyte single-level cell SSD to its lineup by year end. By then, it also expects to have 1.8-inch and 2.5-inch SSDs in both 80-Gbyte and 160-Gbyte form factors.

Next year, Intel also plans to add higher-capacity versions, but at this point will not discuss the new capacity points.