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Seagate launches PCIe SSDs, flash accelerator card

Seagate extends its PCIe Nytro flash product line with a new flash accelerator card, and 2.5-inch and M.2 NVMe-compliant PCIe SSDs, which target enterprise workloads.

One week after unveiling its latest Serial-Attached SCSI (SAS) solid-state drive (SSD), Seagate Technology LLC launched new 2.5-inch and M.2 enterprise PCI Express (PCIe) SSDs, as well as a flash accelerator card today at the Flash Memory Summit.

The nonvolatile memory express (NVMe)-compliant Nytro XF1440 2.5-inch and Nytro XM1440 M.2 SSDs, which are due in October and early 2016 respectively, are designed for read-intensive and mixed-workload enterprise applications. Nytro XP6500 Flash Accelerator Card, which is currently available, aims to boost the performance of write-latency-sensitive applications.

The Nytro product line is based on technology that Seagate acquired last year from Avago Technologies' LSI Accelerated Solutions Division and Flash Components Division. Seagate is demonstrating its new flash technologies this week at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California.

"They're certainly going in with guns blazing on the PCI business," said Jim Handy, chief analyst at Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, Calif. "They redesigned their controller and everything."

Seagate's Nytro 2.5-inch, 7-mm flash drive -- which fits in the 8639 PCIe connector -- and the smaller, gum-stick-shaped M.2 SSD -- which is designed for space- and power-constrained systems -- use the same controller. The M.2 and 8639 interfaces are new for Seagate, and the products can be used as direct-attached storage or in caching environments, noted Kent Smith, senior director of product marketing for Seagate's flash products.

One key advantage of the 2.5-inch Nytro PCIe SSD is its hot-plug capability, which enables users to remove the drive from the front chassis while the system is running.

One key advantage of the 2.5-inch Nytro PCIe SSD is its hot-plug capability, which enables users to remove the drive from the front chassis while the system is running. A RAID array could copy the data over when the drive is swapped out, Smith said.

The 2.5-inch Nytro XF1440 SSDs use eMLC flash. These SSDs are available at capacities of 400 GB, 800 GB and 1.6 TB in the endurance-optimized/mixed-workload models and 480 GB, 960 GB and 1.8 TB in the capacity-optimized/read-intensive options. The M.2 Nytro XM1440 uses MLC+ flash, and is available at capacities of 400 GB and 800 GB in endurance-optimized, mixed-workload models and 480 GB and 960 GB in capacity-optimized, read-intensive models.

"That 2.5-inch drive is really interesting because you get PCIe performance, but front access," said George Crump, founder and president of Storage Switzerland LLC. "Before you had to open up your server and pull the PCIe card out. Now it's a drive, so it's front-of-the-box serviceable, so to speak."

He said standard NVMe compliance would enable users to swap out SSDs with other NVMe-compliant drives and choose the one that delivers the best performance. Other vendors bringing out NVMe drives include Micron Technology Inc. and Toshiba's OCZ division, he said.

Additional enterprise features in Seagate's 2.5-inch and M.2 Nytro SSDs include power-loss data protection, secure erase and Trusted Computing Group (TCG) compliance.

With the new Nytro Flash Accelerator Card, Seagate touts 14-microsecond latency and the consistency of the latency, as performance increases. The controller can have up to 4 GB of dynamic RAM (DRAM) to help minimize latency.

"Virident was actually the first company to recognize the importance of the issue of consistent latency, and it seems like everybody else is falling into line," said Handy, commenting on the startup acquired by HGST Inc., which is now owned by Western Digital. "The market is becoming more sophisticated, and buyers who used to focus on IOPS now have shifted their focus over to just plain old latency. Now, it's shifting from plain old latency to the consistency of the latency."

Greg Wong, founder and principal analyst at Forward Insights in North York, Ontario, said the latency of Seagate's Nytro Flash Accelerator Card is lower than NAND device latency of 25 microseconds to 50 microseconds.

The Seagate card is available at capacities of 4 TB or 1.5 TB. Features include 8-lane PCIe 3.0, Remote Operations Controller (ROC) and supercapacitor options for data protection in the event of a power failure. Nytro Flash Accelerator Card can be used to hold data temporarily or for longer-term storage, according to Smith.

"Some would call it a caching controller, where it's just caching the data coming through," Smith said. "But in this case, we've actually designed it so that our customers can use it as primary storage, as well. When you do that, you have to ensure that all the writes through to the flash are hardened if you lose power."

Smith said the accelerator cards hook up directly to the CPU bus and provide up to about 500,000 IOPS, but the downside is they consume a lot of power -- in excess of the power requirements of the 2.5-inch and M.2 SSDs.

Seagate said Nytro Flash Accelerator Card and the Nytro 2.5-inch and M.2 SSDs are designed for enterprise applications, such as online transaction processing (OLTP), high-performance computing (HPC), data analytics and data warehousing, as well as mixed I/O sizes and multiple applications running simultaneously.

Other PCIe flash vendors include Intel, Micron, Samsung, SanDisk's Fusion-io, Toshiba's OCZ and Western Digital's HGST -- through its Virident acquisition, according to Handy.

PCIe SSDs are often used in servers, but Crump said he expects them to increasingly see use in storage systems, including all-flash arrays. He predicted the 2.5-inch PCIe SSDs will initially be more popular, but the smaller, denser M.2 SSDs will eventually overtake them once the storage box can accept those drives. He said the primary use case would be as boot drives.

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