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Seagate delivers enterprise solid-state drives with SLC and MLC flash

Seagate gets into enterprise solid-state drives (SSDs) space with its Pulsar family of single-layer cell (SLC) and multi-layer cell (MLC) NAND flash devices; also brings out SAS/FC performance and SAS/SATA capacity hard drives.

Seagate Technology LLC today launched its first home-built enterprise solid-state drives (SSDs) platform, delivering multi-level cell (MLC) and single-level cell (SLC) Pulsar SSDs as part of an enterprise drive rollout.

Seagate also added Savvio 2.5-inch 6 Gbps SAS and 4 Gbps Fibre Channel hard drives, as well as 3 TB 3.5-inch SAS and SATA Constellation capacity hard drives. Seagate characterizes the drive launch as including tier 0 (SSD) for the highest performance, tier 1 (Savvio) for a balanced load and tier 2 (Constellation) for capacity.

But the SSD platform is the most significant part of the launch. While it's the market share leader in enterprise drives, Seagate has been late with SSDs. Rival STEC Inc. already has OEM deals with EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM and others. Seagate rivals Hitachi GST, Toshiba and smaller companies are also shipping enterprise SSDs. Seagate's only previous enterprise SSDs were SATA drives using Sandforce controllers that had limited shipments to select OEMs.

However, Seagate representatives claim the enterprise solid-state drives market is still young and its Pulsar drives have greater reliability and endurance capabilities than those already on the market.

"We like SSDs, we embrace them. We think they're good for enterprise storage," said Teresa Worth, Seagate's senior marketing manager for enterprise products. "But there are still four inhibitors."

Worth said the inhibitors are cost, endurance concerns, performance variation and enterprise-class support, adding: "Customers need true enterprise-class MLCs to overcome these concerns."

MLCs cost less than SLCs, but until recently were considered good enough only for consumer devices, while SLC was the choice for enterprise SSDs.

The Pulsar 2.5-inch SSDs are built on Seagate controllers plus Samsung NAND chips as part of a partnership first announced last August. The Pulsar.2 is the MLC drive with 6 Gbps SAS and SATA interfaces, and the Pulsar XT.2 SLC drive has a 6 Gbps SAS interface.

The Pulsar .2 MLC drive is available in 100 GB, 200 GB, 400 GB and 800 GB capacities. Seagate claims the MLC drives can handle more than 10 full drive writes per day or more than 15 PB over its lifetime. Seagate bills the Pulsar .2 as "high-endurance MLCs."

The Pulsar XT.2 SLC drives come in 100 GB, 200 GB and 400 GB capacities. They handle random reads of 48,000 IOPS and random writes of 22,000 IOPS with sequential reads of 360 MBps and sequential writes of 300 MBps; they can complete more than 20,000 read and write I/Os at a typical response time of less than 10 milliseconds. The drives can handle more than 35 full drive writes per day for 25 PB over their lifetime.

"Enterprise-ready" MLCs have been trickling into the market in recent months. STEC said in December that IBM would ship its ZeusIOPS MLC drives with enterprise and midrange storage arrays. Anobit, Pliant, OCZ and Samsung are others with MLC enterprise SSDs.

Seagate claims its Pulsar.2 drives go beyond other MLCs in the market because its advanced media management features such as wear-leveling, garbage collection, bad block management, advanced error correction and data recovery techniques are enterprise grade.

"This is absolutely not a catch-up announcement," said Rich Vignes, Seagate's senior product line manager for SSDs. "We've been engaged with OEMs for two and a half years. They have a strong [influence] in what this platform looks like."

Joseph Unsworth, research director with Gartner's Technology and Service Provider Research Group, said Seagate is entering an already crowded field of SSD competitors, but it should have little problem getting its SSDs qualified by the leading enterprise storage and server vendors because of its long-standing hard drive partnerships.

"Seagate's in a position it's not used to as the challenger here," he said. "But they know how to make it through qualifications, and all the major storage vendors have been asking Seagate for SSDs for years now. Seagate just needed a product, it has all the [OEM] customers."

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, said having enterprise-class MLC and SLC drives will provide options for capacity and performance needs, just as Fibre Channel/SAS and SATA hard drives do now.

"The SSD is what is going to get attention about this announcement," he said. "With SSDs, it's about speed, low latency, endurance and durability. How quickly will that MLC wear out? How much capacity can you get for cost? We all want to belly up to the 'all I can consume' data buffet for the lowest cost possible, but another set of applications wants and needs more performance. That's where SLC comes into play."

The Savvio 15K.3 comes in capacities of 146 GB and 300 GB with a 6 Gbps SAS interface, and the Savvio 10K.5 is available up to 900 GB and has 6 Gbps SAS and 4 Gbps Fibre Channel options. The Constellation ES.2 is a 6 Gbps SAS or SATA drive. The Savvio 10K.5 will be available to the channel this quarter, with the other new hard drives and SSDs available by the end of June.


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