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Pliant claims up to 180,000 IOPS per drive with new Lightning Enterprise Flash Drive

Pliant's Lightning EFD family is welcomed into an SSD market that needs more competition, analysts say, but the firm has yet to announce channel or OEM partnerships for products.

Pliant Technology Inc., which first came out of stealth with plans for a new line of solid-state drives (SSDs) 18 months ago, is making its Pliant Lightning Enterprise Flash Drive (EFD) family available for the first time today.

The Lightning EFD family consists of 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch SSD offerings, both with SAS connections. The LS 3.5-inch model comes in 300 GB and 150 GB sizes, and is capable of reading up to180,000 IOPS sustained, according to Pliant officials. The 2.5-inch LB model holds 150 GB of data and can sustain up to 160,000 IOPS.

Pliant claims its drives are higher-performing under different workloads than current offerings on the market from STEC Inc. and Intel Corp. With a read/write ratio of 70% to 30% in 4K blocks, the LS drives are rated for 80,000 IOPS, and the LB drives for 45,000 IOPS. By comparison, STEC's 3.5-inch ZeusIOPS drive is rated at up to 80,000 read or up to 40,000 write peak IOPS.

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Unlike the STEC and Intel SSD drives, Pliant doesn't use a write cache. Instead, it relies on parallelization (the Pliant drives have up to 48 I/O channels vs. Intel's 10) and a proprietary ASIC that does garbage collection in the background. This ensure a free block is always available for new writes and eliminates the need for a RAM-based write cache, according to Greg Goelz, Pliant's vice president of marketing.

"I usually have to say that a few times—even storage OEMs find it difficult to believe you can have an SSD without write cache," Goelz said. He concedes that the garbage collection processing does add some write amplification to the process, but "that's just a fact with NAND Flash." He points out that optimizing the underlying Flash for appending new data causes less write amplification than reading all of the data on the drive into cache, then rewriting it all with the new data added. Goelz said Pliant also believes write cache leads to lower reliability if there's a power failure during a write to the drive.

Pliant said it has plans to sell to storage OEMs and indirectly to end users through the channel. No OEM or VAR partners have been announced.

Pliant's entry into solid-state drive market welcomed by analysts

Analysts said Pliant's entry into the market is welcome news. "It would be nice to see OEMs sign up anyone besides STEC and Intel," said Henry Baltazar, a storage analyst at The 451 Group. "It would be good to have someone in the middle."

While the specifications provided by Pliant look good, Baltazar said, "the key is how they get to market and how they go after the incumbent." SAS is projected by many in the industry to be the wave of the future when it comes to disk drives, but for now OEMs seem to prefer Fibre Channel-attached drives from STEC. Pliant will also have to compete with lower-cost multi-level cell (MLC) drives being optimized for enterprise use by STEC and SandForce Inc.

"A lot of people are talking about SSDs, but not many outside of STEC are able to deliver SSDs suitable for the enterprise," said Jeff Janukowicz, research manager, hard disk drive components and solid-state disk drives at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. He also pointed out that other drive makers, like Hitachi GST/Intel and Samsung, have yet to ship high-capacity enterprise SSDs they have previewed in volume. "We're also just seeing SSDs making inroads. The design process is a long one, so it doesn't surprise me" that Pliant hasn't announced partners yet, Janukowicz said.


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