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STEC launches 2 TB SSD, PCIe card for bulk storage

STEC launches 2 TB SSD and PCIe card; will people pay solid-state prices for bulk storage?

STEC Inc. today became the first enterprise storage system provider to offer 2-terabyte enterprise solid-state storage devices today, with the introduction of its s1120 PCI Express card and s840 SAS solid-state drive.

The s1120 is a half-height, half-length PCI Express card (PCIe card) based on STEC's proprietary ASIC controller. The company claims its CellCare flash management technology uses advanced digital signal processing, or DSP, and media management techniques to improve flash endurance by up to 13 times. STEC's on-card data protection features include RAID-like Secure Array of Flash Element (SAFE) technology and full power backup.

The s840 2.5-inch SAS solid-state drive (SSD) also has built-in CellCare flash management and SAFE data protection features, and it provides 526 Mbps throughput.

Jim Bagley, senior analyst with Storage Strategies Now, said STEC achieved 2 TB capacity in the new devices because the company uses 19-nanometer flash memory. Partners Intel and Micron, as well as SanDisk and Toshiba, have the ability to make 20-nanometer or 19-nanometer components, but they haven't integrated them into enterprise solid-state storage devices, he said. He expects STEC's major competitors will be out with similar-capacity drives soon. Foremay Inc., a smaller SSD manufacturer, has already launched a 2 TB SATA 2.5-inch SSD.

"[STEC has] achieved the highest density per area by going to the 20- or 19-nanomenter lithography size, whereas everybody else in the industry is either at 24 nanometer or larger," Bagley said.

The s1120 and the s840 include unlimited data writes to flash as part of their five-year warranties. According to Swapna Yasarapu, STEC's director of SSD product marketing, most application specifications for SSDs include terabyte or petabyte write limits, or daily write limits, to increase flash endurance. The s1120 and s840 have no such limitations.

Bagley said the no-limitation write feature can be a big deal to an enterprise buyer who doesn't want to have to characterize a workload as read-intensive or write-intensive every time he adds a new solid-state device into an array.

Will 2 TB SSDs sell?

Flash is considered a performance technology, however, and STEC is gambling that customers will pay a premium for 2 TB SSDs intended for bulk storage. The 2 TB s1120 and s840 solid-state devices will be available in February. The s1120 PCIe card has a $9,425 manufacturer suggested retail price, and the MSRP of the s840 is $7,995.

Customers still have to pick their spots with SSDs, Yasarapu said. "The industry is not going to replace all of the hard drives with SSDs," he said. "That's really not the point that we are at today. But the industry is more seriously looking at using flash [for] bulk storage. The footprint is starting to find more areas to grow in."

Bagley said STEC's biggest challenge in the near future won't be convincing buyers of its products' quality. "They've always had great products," he explained. "STEC's biggest challenge is that they are transitioning from basically [a] 100% OEM [business model], and basically one customer, EMC, to a broader channel model."

STEC now competes with such storage drive stalwarts as Intel Corp., Micron Technology Inc., and SanDisk Corp. Lesser-known SSD manufacturers include Mushkin Inc. and Foremay.

STEC also announced version 1.2 of its EnhanceIO flash cache management software, which was first launched in August 2011 with support for Linux, Microsoft's Windows and VMware Inc.'s xSphere virtualized environments.

Version 1.2 adds write-back caching capabilities and support for Microsoft's Windows 2012 and Hyper-V, and Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer virtualized environments.

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