Hitachi, Intel To Jointly Develop Enterprise SSDs

The two are collaborating to develop drives featuring SAS and Fibre Channel interfaces aimed at the enterprise data center market, said Brendan Collins, vice president of marketing at Hitachi GST.

The drives, which are expected to be available for OEM qualifications during the first quarter of 2010, will be branded with the Hitachi name, and will be sold and supported by Hitachi, Collins said.

Hitachi brings to the joint development its system-level expertise and support of large OEMs, while Intel brings its flash memory expertise, Collins said. "When you bring the two of us together, it's a compelling solution that neither of us could do on [our] own," he said.

There has been a flurry of activity in the past year as storage vendors started looking seriously at the potential of solid-state drives in the enterprise market.

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Intel in October introduced a line of solid-state drives based on the SATA interface for the server, workstation and storage system market. Those 32-GB drives followed the introduction earlier this year of solid-state drives for the PC and notebook market.

Other vendors, including Seagate, Samsung, Toshiba and SanDisk, are also offering solid-state hard drives.

On the OEM side, Sun Microsystems last month said it would begin to offer solid-state drives in its new Storage 7000 Unified Storage Systems, part of Sun's Open Storage platform, under which it aims to help customers build high-performance storage products using commodity components.

Sun follows EMC which early this year introduced solid-state drives as part of its Symmetrix array line.

The primary difference between the Hitachi GST-Intel design and those of other offerings, including Intel's current products, is the interface, Collins said.

"For the enterprise, the large OEMs aren't considering the other products because they don't offer SAS or Fibre Channel married to flash," he said.

Intel, in the meantime, will continue to offer its line of SATA-based solid-state drives, Collins said.

"But 90 percent of the enterprise market is SAS and Fibre Channel," he said. "Intel will sell some SATA-based drives into the enterprise market, such as one or two drives for a blade server. But the vast majority of the market is for SAS and Fibre Channel."

Hitachi GST's first generation of solid-state drives will feature single-level cell technology, in which one bit of data occupies one cell of the flash memory, Collins said. The second or third generation may feature multilevel cell technology, in which four bits of data occupy one cell of the flash memory, he said.

Single-level cell technology is more suitable for performance and data reliability, while multilevel cell technology is more suitable for capacity.