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Sun reveals SSD partner, claims better durability

Sun yesterday identfied Samsung as its SSD supplier, solving at least part of the mystery around the source for its Flash drives. But Sun’s systems group senior director Graham Lovell says that Samsung will be one of several partners, not a sole source. The other partners remain unnamed.

Sun and Samsung also claim that the Flash devices they’ve collaborated on will have five times the durability of other single-level cell (SLC) enterprise Flash drives, such as the ones manufactured by STEC for EMC. Like other SSDs, the NAND devices still have a finite number of write-erase cycles, and single-layered memory cells exacerbate that problem. Lovell said that wear-leveling algorithms will be built into the Flash memory controller on the Samsung SSDs. A certain proportion of memory cells will also be kept in reserve by the drives for wear leveling.

According to Samsung, these developments mean that the lifespan of its SSDs will up to five times longer than that of other SLC Flash devices. Unfortunately, Lovell was not able to provide details about what testing Samsung has done to substantiate that claim. He also says that Sun won’t “preannounce” the availability of the drives from Samsung. Samsung’s PR rep told me he’d have to forward those questions to Samsung headquarters in Korea. . .which means the drives might be available before I hear the answers.

There’s been a lot of talk about SSDs lately. It seems this past month has started an inevitable “trough of disillusionment” with the technology, as excitement over its advantages has been balanced by industry observers pointing out the disadvantages of first-generation products (such as their durability).

IDC’s Jeff Janukowicz doesn’t see a problem with that. “This is the kind of improvement and innovations IDC predicts you’ll be seeing as this technology comes of age,” he said. Those predictions were written up in a recent report based on lab testing of SSD performance in PCs.

Storage managers for the most part are holding back on deploying SSDs, which to me is understandable. If I’d rushed out and bought a drive from EMC only to hear that another vendor had a much-improved model, I might be kicking myself. And I’d certainly be wondering what was coming next.

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I'm not sure I understand why you immediately assume that the "new" Samsung flash is "better" than the flash that STEC is using. Although 500,000 writes is more than the rated 100,000 on todays SLC NAND, these chips may only be "better" for the application that Sun requires. I don't think Samsung has said, but these new "better" chips could well cost more - or have lower performance than - their current 100,000 SLC NAND devices. Drive vendors may not need to pay extra for these "better" chips, nor might they want to suffer the performance penalty (I'm not saying either is the case, just making an example). This is especially true for enterprise-class flash drives like the STEC drives EMC is offering - their technology effectively ensures sufficient life of their drives (>5 years) and performance already. Until we see the actual pricing and specifications for these "better" chips, they are "better" only according to Sun's intended use - which they have stated is NOT as an external storage device, but as internal "L3 cache" next to their processors. On a processor board, it simply may not be possible to implement all of the availability and wear-levelling logic that STEC packs into the 3.5" disk form factor, thus Sun might be willing to pay more so that they save space (and power) on their motherboards. (I do't know this - just hypothesizing). Given this apples-vs-oranges use of flash chips between server and storage vendors, you might reconsider your last paragraph as perhaps unwarranted and unjustified, if not alarmist. Perhaps you could give Samsung a call and ask about pricing, packaging and performance specs as compared to the enterprise SLX NAND they currently offer? Hopefully Samsung PR can answer without having to call to Korea :*)
Wow - a post with no actual content (but a lot of FUD) from an EMC enthusiast (or perhaps employee: I don't follow his blog): what a shock! But why stop there? What if Samsung's new flash emits lethal fumes, or occasionally explodes? (I don't know - just making an example.) I don't think Samsung said, but if it only returns valid data on Thursdays - buyer beware! My advice to anyone (such as thestorageanarchist) who actually suspects that these (or other) issues *might* exist is not to ask other people (who apparently have no such concerns) to contact Samsung but to do so himself - after which he would actually have something substantive to contribute here. But perhaps that's not 'the EMC way'. - bill
Bill - I assure you that I'm not slinging FUD here, but you'll see it as you will. And I am an employee of EMC - I've never hidden that fact. As such, were I to contact Samsung directly, I couldn't publicly disclose what I know about their chips without their approval. Therefore I have suggested that Beth might want to go back to the Samsung PR contacts she already has spoken with to ask some more questions for added perspective to this story. As it stands today, this article might well be considered Sun and/or Samsung FUD, implying that the only "good" Flash is this "better" flash, and that everything else is not yet "of age". A detailed comparison of the 100,000 vs the 500,000 cycle flash devices would help everyone have a more complete (and hopefully more accurate) understanding of what's actually been announced here.
Ah, the EMC mind-set is truly a wonder to behold. To claim that you're not slinging FUD when you raise up multiple suggestions about potentially undesirable aspects of a competing product *while cheerfully admitting that you don't know whether they're true* but that Sun/Samsung *are* guilty of FUD *for providing a quantitative comparison between a specific aspect of their product and the public specifications of yours* is worthy of marketeering at its sleaziest. But since my impression of the EMC blogs that I've encountered is that they are in fact effectively (nominally) informal extensions of its marketing this does not surprise me overmuch - and this is why I don't bother to follow them more closely (since I'm not interested in wading through the spin to dredge up whatever nuggets of actual technical worth might exist). As long as you and your cohorts confine your FUD to your own venues I couldn't care less how outrageous it may be. But if I happen upon it elsewhere I'll likely call you on it: I have a fair amount of respect for some of EMC's products, but very little for some of its corporate behavior. - bill