Following its foundry partner, Micron, in the foundry-owner PCIe space, the new Intel product uses high endurance technology (HET) 25-nm, two-bit-per-cell, multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash, which Intel produces specifically to provide extended use-life in Intel products. The 910 series represents Storage Strategy NOW analysts' long-stated prediction that foundry owners will continue to develop end products that have a significantly higher gross margin than individual memory chips.
Designed for enterprise applications, the 910 series is available in a half-length, half-height PCIe format. Capacities of 400 GB and 800 GB are available, net of over-provisioning. The 400-GB model consists of two stacked boards, one with control and interface logic and another with two 200-GB flash modules (actual raw capacity of 292 GB each). The 800-GB model adds a second flash board, for a total of three boards. Each flash module has a dedicated application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), which in turn integrates with a PCIe-to-SAS (serial attached SCSI) bridge. Because each module can communicate with the SAS bridge in a full-duplex mode, the 800-GB capacity version has double the bandwidth, in terms of bytes per second, than the 400-GB model.
[ Vendors must stop treating solid-state storage as if it were just a faster hard drive. See Is Legacy Storage Dead? ]
The 910 features enterprise-class endurance, supporting up to 10 full-capacity writes per day for five years. The 800-GB drive supports 2-GBps sustained sequential reads, 1-GBps sequential writes, up to 180,000 4-KB random read input-output per second (I/Ops), and 75,000 4-K random write I/Ops.
Intel enters an increasingly crowded field that is competing for the mindshare of data center operators. With its ability to package the 910 with Intel processor products, the server market will take notice, as evidenced by Supermicro's recent announcement to provide server versions using the 910.
But most significant is Intel's extremely aggressive pricing, which is less than $5 per GB, about half the price of other enterprise-class PCIe products. This pricing will certainly affect gross margins of existing PCIe products from Fusion-io, STEC, and others. Storage Strategy NOW expects an announcement of a PCIe product from foundry owner SanDisk in the near term, and it will get interesting if its price point challenges Intel's.
Samples are now available for data center customers to begin quality and validation cycles. General production availability is scheduled for mid 2012. Pricing for the Intel SSD 910 Series is $1,929 for the 400-GB capacity and $3,859 for the 800-GB model. Both come with a five-year limited warranty.
Deni Connor is founding analyst for Storage Strategies NOW, an industry analyst firm that focuses on storage, virtualization, and servers.
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