Hard drive maker Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and chip vendor Intel Inc. will jointly develop solid-state drive (SSD) products over the next year. The drives are expected to feature SAS and Fibre Channel interfaces to compete with those from Stec, which provides EMC with SSDs.
Development for the Hitachi GST-Intel drives is expected to last throughout 2009, with the first shipment of products through OEMs expected in early 2010. Hitachi GST will bring its expertise in host interface design to the table and collaborate with Intel on the design of chip hardware and compatible software for the new SSD controller. Most of the development time will be spent in extensive qualification tests with customers.
Hitachi GST decided to partner for the NAND flash hardware with Intel because of Intel's 34-nanometer lithography process for manufacturing chips, said Brendan Collins, Hitachi GST vice president of product marketing for Hitachi GST. The lithography is the result of a joint venture forged in June between Intel and memory maker Micron, called IM Flash Technologies. Chips manufactured using this technique are designed to boost the density of SSDs.
Hitachi GST and Intel are looking at developing a denser and more cost-effective SSD to create new competition in the enterprise SSD space. Stec's Zeus-IOPS SSDs with a Fibre Channel interface are used exclusively by EMC in its enterprise Symmetrix arrays, the only storage systems shipping with SSDs.
Stec also produces Zeus-IOPS SSDs with a SAS interface. Texas Memory Systems has SSD systems that are host-attached through Fibre Channel to DRAM-based arrays, but the majority of SSD products use a SATA interface.
According to Hitachi GST, its systems OEM customers prefer the Fibre Channel or SAS interfaces, which generally perform faster and are more reliable than SATA drives. "These interfaces can plug-and-play with existing high-end systems through familiar tools our OEM customers are used to using from Hitachi GST," Collins said.
While a 2010 release date would put Hitachi GST and Intel two years behind Stec, "the market is still in its very early stage, and it will grow tremendously over the next four to five years," said IDC analyst John Rydning. "There will be many opportunities for SSD adoption between 2010 and 2012."
Hitachi GST doesn't have pricing details yet, but Rydning said pricing pressure through increased competition with Stec will probably be a minor effect. "It's more about performance and reliability, than price alone," he said.
Along with the density promised by 34-nanometer lithography, Intel brings the reliability characteristics it designed into its recently released X-25 series of SSDs into the partnership with Hitachi GST. The X-25-E uses substantially fewer write I/O operations than most SSDs and that extends the life of the NAND flash.
Rydning said that there's another kind of reliability storage OEMs are looking for in the SSD market: reliability of supply. "OEMs make promises to their customers, and any interruption of supply is just not tolerated," he said. "These customers usually want to have a second source."