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technology

IBM Goes Modular And Flashy With X6 Systems – Timothy Prickett Morgan

The memory channel storage modules were developed by SanDisk in conjunction with Diablo Technologies, and are called UltraDIMM by SanDisk. The modules put flash memory created by SanDisk (which has a flash partnership with Toshiba) that has a SATA interface on a memory stick. Diablo has created a chipset that converts the SATA protocol to the DDR3 main memory protocol, and SanDisk has created a driver for a server BIOS that makes it look like a normal disk storage device to the system and its operating system. (Enterprise Tech – Timothy Prickett Morgan)
Image representing Diablo Technologies as depi...
Image by None via CrunchBase

Big news, big news coming to a server near you. A new form factor Flash Memory product has been secretly developed and is being sampled by folks out East in the High Frequency Stock Trading market (the top of the food chain in IT needs for latency speed of transactions). Timothy Prickett Morgan (formerly of The Register) has included details from IBM‘s big annoouncement of its Intel based X6 series servers. This new form factor is the result of a memory controller made by Diablo Technologies. SanDisk has engineered the actual final product that ties the memory into the Diablo designed memory controller. However this product is not available on the open market and has been going through sampling and testing with possible high end end users and customers who have need for such a large, high speed product in a DDR DRAM memory module. Sizes, and speeds are pretty large all around. The base modules come in 200GB or 400GB form factors and fit a typical DDR-3 DIMM module. IBM and SanDisk have done a number of special tweaks on the software/firmware to pull the most I/O with the lowest latency out of these modules when installed on an X6 server. The first-gen X6 will have roughly 12 DIMM slots available with some DRAM and Ultra-DIMMs populating those slots. However things get REALLY interesting when the second-gen X6 hits the market. IBM will be doubling the amount of DIMM slots to 24 and will be upping the core count available on the 4U top of the line x6 server. When that product hits the market the Ultra-DIMM will be able to populate the majority of the DIMM slots and really start to tear it up I think when it comes to I/O and analytics processing. SanDisk is the exclusive supplier, manufacturer and engineering outfit for this product for IBM with no indication yet of when/if they would ever sell it to another OEM server manufacturer.

Given the promise this technology has and that an outfit like Diablo Technologies is vaugely reminiscent of an upstart like SandForce who equally upset the Flash Memory market about 6 years ago, we’re likely to see a new trend. SATA SSDs are still slowly creeping into the consumer market, PCIe Flash memory products are being adopted by the top end consumer market (Apple’s laptops and the newest desktops). Now we’ve got yet another Flash memory product that could potentiall sweep the market the Ultra-DIMM. It will however take some time and some competing technology to help push this along (SandForce was the only game in town early on and early adopters help subsidize the late adopters with higher prices). Given how pared back and stripped down DIMM slots are generally in the consumer market it may be a while before we see any manufacturers attempt to push Ultra-DIMM as a consumer product. Same goes for the module sizes as they are shipped today. Example: the iMac 27″, Apple has gone from being easily upgraded (back in the Silver Tower, G4 CPU days) to nearly not upgradeable (MacBook Air) and the amount of space needed in their cases to allow for addition or customization through an Ultra-DIMM add-on would be severly constrained. It might be something that could be added as a premium option for the newest Mac Pro towers. And even then that’s very hopeful and wishful thinking on my part. But who knows how quickly this new form factor and memory controller design will infiltrate the computer market? It is seemingly a better moustrap in the sense of the boost one sees in performance on a more similar, more commoditized Intel infrastructure. Wait and see what happens.

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flash memory SSD technology

OCZ sells out to Toshiba (it’s been good to know yuh’)

OCZ Technology
OCZ Technology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/12/03/toshiba_buys_ocz/

Seems like it was only two years ago when OCZ bought out memory controller and intellectual property (IP) holder Indilinx for it’s own branded SSD products. At the time everyone was buying SandForce memory controllers to keep up with the Joneses. Speed-wise and performance-wise SandForce was king. But with so many competitors about using the same memory controller there was no way to make a profit with a commodity technology. The thought was generally performance isn’t always the prime directive regarding SSDs. Going forward, price would be much more important. Anyone owning their own Intellectual Property wouldn’t have to pay license fees to companies like SandForce to stay in the business. So OCZ being on a wild profitable tear, bought out Indilinx a designer of NAND/Flash memory controllers. The die was cast and OCZ was in the drivers seat, creating the the Consumer market for high performance lower cost SSD drives. Market value went up and up, whispers were reported of a possible buy out of OCZ from larger hard drive manufacturers. The price of $1Billion was also mentioned in connection with this.

Two years later, much has changed. There’s been some amount of shift in the market from 2.5″ SATA drives to smaller and more custome designs. Apple jumped from SATA to PCIe with its MacBook Air just this past Fall 2013. The m2 form factor is really well liked in the tablet and lightweight laptop sector. So who knew OCZ was losing it’s glamor to such a degree that they would sell? And not just at the level of 10x cheaper than their hightest profile price from 2 years ago. No, not 10x, but more likely 100x cheaper that what they would have asked for 2 years ago. Two whole orders of magnitude less, very roughly, exactly 35Million dollars along with a large number of negotiated guarantees to keep the support/warranty system in place and not tarnish the OCZ brand (for now). This story is told over and over again to entrpreneurs and magnate wannabees. Sell, sell, sell. No harm in that. But just make sure you’re selling too early rather than too late.

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computers flash memory SSD technology

Anandtech – New LSI series of Flash Memory Controllers

English: FPU LSI R3010
English: FPU LSI R3010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May the SandForce be with you

Nice writeup from Anandtech regarding the press release from LSI about it’s new 3rd generation flash memory controllers. The 3000 series takes over from the 2200 and 1200 series that preceded it as the era of SSDs was just beginning to dawn (remember those heady days of 32GB SSD drives?). Like the Frontier days of old, things are starting to consolidate and find an equilibrium of price vs. performance. Commidity pricing rules the day, but SSDs much less PCIe Flash interfaces are just creeping into the high end of the market of Apple laptops and soon Apple desktops (apologies to the iMac which has already adopted the PCIe interface for its flash drives, but the Mac Pro is still waiting in the wings).

Things continue to improve in terms of future-proofing the interfaces. From SATA to PCIe there was little done to force a migration to one or the other interface as each market had its own peculiarities. SSDs were for the price conscious consumer level market, and PCIe was pretty much only for the enterprise. You had pick and choose your controller very wisely in order to maximize the return on a new device design. LSI did some heavy lifting according to Anandtech by refactoring, redesigning the whole controller thus allowing a manufacturer to buy one controller and use it either way as a SATA SSD controller or as an PCIe flash memory controller. Speeds of each interface indicate this is true at the theoretical throughput end of the scale. LSI reports the PCIe throughput it not too far off the theoretical MAX, (~1.45GB/sec range). Not bad for a chip that can also be use as an SSD controller at 500MB/sec throughput as well. This is going to make designers and hopefully consumers happy as well.

On a more technical note as written about in earlier articles mentioning the great Peak Flash memory density/price limit, LSI is fully aware of the memory architectures and the faillure rates, error rates they accumulate over time.

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flash memory SSD technology

AnandTech – Some Thoughts on SandForces 3rd Generation SSD Controller

Finally theres talk about looking at other interfaces in addition to SATA. Its possible that we may see a PCIe version of SandForces 3rd generation controller.

via AnandTech – Some Thoughts on SandForces 3rd Generation SSD Controller.

SandForce
Image via Wikipedia

Some interesting notes about future directions SandForce might take especially now that SandForce has been bought out by LSI. They are hard at work attempting to optimize other parts of their current memory controller technology (speeding up small random reads and writes). There might be another 2X performance gain to be had at least on the SSD front, but more importantly is the PCI Express market. Fusion-io has been the team to beat when it comes to integrating components and moving data across the PCIe interface. Now SandForce is looking to come out with a bona fide PCIe-SSD controller which up until now has been a roll-your own type affair. The engineering and design expertise of companies like Fusion-io were absolutely necessary to get a PCIe SSD card to market. Now that playing field too will be leveled somewhat and possibly now competitors will enter the market with equally good performance numbers

But even more interesting than this wrinkle in the parts design for PCIe SSDs is the announcement earlier this month of Fusion-io’s new software interface for getting around the limits of File I/O on modern day OSes. Auto Commit Memory: “ACM is a software layer which allows developers to send and receive data stored on Fusion-io’s ioDrive cards directly to and from the CPU, rather than relying upon the operating system”(Link to The Verge article listed in my Fusion-io article). SandForce is up against a moving target if they hope to compete more directly with Fusion-io who is now investing in hardware AND software engineering at the same time. 1 Billion IOPS is nothing to sneeze at given the pace of change since SATA SSDs and PCIe SSDs hit the market in quantity.

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computers flash memory SSD technology

OCZ samples twin-core ARM SSD controller • The Register

OCZ Technology
Image via Wikipedia

OCZ says it is available for evaluation now by OEMs and, we presume, OCZ will be using it in its own flash products. Were looking at 1TB SSDs using TLC flash, shipping sequential data out at 500MB/sec which boot quickly, and could be combined to provide multi-TB flash data stores. Parallelising data access would provide multi-GB/sec I/O. The flash future looks bright.

via OCZ samples twin-core ARM SSD controller • The Register.

Who knew pairing an ARM core with the drive electronics for a Flash based SSD could be so successful. Not only are the ARM chips helping to drive the cpus on our handheld devices, they are now becoming the SSD Drive controllers too! If OCZ is able to create these drive controllers with good yields (say 70% on the first run) then they are going to hopefully give themselves a pricing advantage and get a higher profit margin per device sold. This is assuming they don’t have to pay royalties for the SandForce drive controller on every device they ship.

If OCZ was able to draw up their own drive controller, I would be surprised. However, since they have acquired Indilinx it seems like they are making good on the promise held by Indilinx’s current crop of drive controllers. Let’s just hope they are able to match the performance of SandForce at the same price points as well. Otherwise it’s nothing more than a kind of patent machine that will allow OCZ to wage lawsuits against competitors for Intellectual Property they acquired through the acquisition of Indilinx. And we have seen too much of that recently with Apple’s secret bid for Nortel’s patent pool and Google’s acquisition of Motorola.

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entertainment flash memory SSD

AnandTech – OCZ Agility 3 240GB Review

OCZ Technology
Image via Wikipedia

Theres another issue holding users back from the Vertex 3: capacity. The Vertex 3 is available in 120, 240 and 480GB versions, there is no 60GB model. If you’re on a budget or like to plan frequent but rational upgrades, the Vertex 3 can be a tough sell.

via AnandTech – OCZ Agility 3 240GB Review.

OCZ apart from having the fastest SSD on the market now is attempting to branch out and down market simultaneously. And by down market I don’t mean anything other than the almighty PRICE. It’s all about the upgrade market for the PC Fan boys that want to trade up to get the next higher performing part for their gaming computer (If people still do that, play games on their PeeCees). Performance-wise it is designed to be less expensive and this SSD shows that it is not the highest speed part. So if you demand to own an OCZ branded SSD and won’t settle for anything less, but you don’t want to pay $499 to get it, the Agility 3 is just for you. Also if you read the full review the charts will show how all the current generation SATA 6 drives are shaping up (Intel included) versus the previous generation SATA 2.0 drives (3Gbytes/sec). OCZ Vertex 3 is still the king of the mountain at the 240GB size, but is still very much at a price premium.

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cloud computers data center flash memory SSD technology

EMC’s all-flash benediction: Turbulence ahead • The Register

msystems
Image via Wikipedia

A flash array controller needs: “An architecture built from the ground up around SSD technology that sizes cache, bandwidth, and processing power to match the IOPS that SSDs provide while extending their endurance. It requires an architecture designed to take advantage of SSDs unique properties in a way that makes a scalable all-SSD storage solution cost-effective today.”

via EMC’s all-flash benediction: Turbulence ahead • The Register.

I think that Storage Controllers are the point of differentiation now for the SSDs coming on the market today. Similarly the device that ties those SSDs into the comptuer and its OS are equally, nay more important. I’m thinking specifically about a product like the SandForce 2000 series SSD controllers. They more or less provide a SATA or SAS interface into a small array of flash memory chips that are made to look and act like a spinning hard drive. However, time is coming soon now where all those transitional conventions can just go away and a clean slate design can go forward. That’s why I’m such a big fan of the PCIe based flash storage products. I would love to see SandForce create a disk controller with one interface that speaks PCIe 2.0/3.0 and the other is just open to whatever technology Flash memory manufacturers are using today. Ideally then the Host Bus would always be a high speed PCI Express interface which could be licensed or designed from the ground up to speed I/O in and out of the Flash memory array. On the memory facing side it could be almost like an FPGA made to order according to the features, idiosyncrasies of any random Flash Memory architecture that is shipping at the time of manufacture. Same would apply for any type of error correction and over-provisioning for failed memory cells as the SSD ages through multiple read/write cycles.

In this article I quoted at the top from The Register, the big storage array vendors are attempting to market new products by adding Flash memory to either one component of the whole array product or in the case off EMC the whole product uses Flash memory based SSDs throughout. That more aggressive approach has seemed to be overly cost prohibitive given the manufacturing cost of large capacity commodity hard drives. But they problem is, in the market where these vendors compete, everyone pays an enormous price premium for the hard drives, storage controllers, cabling and software that makes it all work. Though the hard drive might be cheaper to manufacture, the storage array is not and that margin is what makes Storage Vendors a very profitable business to be in. As stated last week in the benchmark comparisons of High Throughput storage arrays, Flash based arrays are ‘faster’ per dollar than a well designed, engineered top-of-the-line hard drive based storage array from IBM. So for the segment of the industry that needs the throughput more than the total space, EMC will likely win out. But Texas Memory Systems (TMS) is out there too attempting to sign up OEM contracts with folks attempting to sell into the Storage Array market. The Register does a very good job surveying the current field of vendors and manufacturers trying to look at which companies might buy a smaller company like TMS. But the more important trend being spotted throughout the survey is the decidedly strong move towards native Flash memory in the storage arrays being sold into the Enterprise market. EMC has a lead, that most will be following real soon now.

Categories
flash memory SSD technology

OCZ Acquires Indilinx SSD Controller Maker

OCZ Technology
Image via Wikipedia

Prior to SandForce‘s arrival, Indilinx was regarded as the leading makers of controllers for solid-state drives. The company gained both consumer and media favoritism when it demonstrated that drives based on its own controllers were competitive with lead drives made by Intel. Indilinx’s controllers allowed many SSD manufacturers to bring SSD prices down to a level where a large number of mainstream consumers started to take notice.

via OCZ Acquires Indilinx SSD Controller Maker.

This is surprising news especially following the announcement and benchmark testing of OCZ’s most recent SSD drives. They are the highest performing SATA based SSDs on the market and the boost in speed is derived primarily from their drive controller chip supplied by SandForce not Indilinx. Buying a competing manufacturer no doubt is going to disappoint their suppliers at SandForce. And I worry a bit that SandForce’s technical lead is something that even a good competitor like Indilinx won’t be able to overcome. I’m sticking with any drive that has the SandForce disk controller inside due to their track record of increasing performance and reliability with each new generation of product.

So I am of two minds, I guess it’s cool OCZ has enough power and money to provide its own drive controllers for its SSDs. But at the same time, the second place drive controller is a much slower, lower performance part than the top competitor. In future I hope OCZ is either able to introduce price variation by offering up SandForce vs. Indilinx based SSDs and charge less for Indilinx. If not, I don’t know how they will technologically achieve superiority now that SandForce has such a lead.

Categories
computers flash memory SSD technology

OCZ Vertex 3 Preview – AnandTech

UEFI Logo
Image via Wikipedia

The main categories here are SF-2100, SF-2200, SF-2500 and SF-2600. The 2500/2600 parts are focused on the enterprise. They’re put through more aggressive testing, their firmware supports enterprise specific features and they support the use of a supercap to minimize dataloss in the event of a power failure. The difference between the SF-2582 and the SF-2682 boils down to one feature: support for non-512B sectors. Whether or not you need support for this really depends on the type of system it’s going into. Some SANs demand non-512B sectors in which case the SF-2682 is the right choice.

via OCZ Vertex 3 Preview: Faster and Cheaper than the Vertex 3 Pro – AnandTech :: Your Source for Hardware Analysis and News.

The cat is out of the bag, OCZ has not one but two SandForce SF-2000 series based SSDs out on the market now. And performance-wise the consumer level product is even slightly better performing than the enterprise level product at less cost. These indeed are interesting times. The speeds are so fast with the newer SandForce drive controllers that with a SATA 6GB/s drive interface you get speeds close to what could only be purchased on a PCIe based SSD drive array for $1200 or so. The economics of this is getting topsy-turvy, new generations of single drives outdistancing previous top-end products (I’m talking about you Fusion-io and you Violin Memory). SandForce has become the drive controller for the rest of us and with speeds like this 500MB/sec. read and write what more could you possibly ask for? I would say the final bottleneck on the desktop/laptop computer is quickly vanishing and we’ll have to wait and see just how much faster the SSD drives become. My suspicion is now a computer motherboard’s BIOS will slowly creep up to be the last link in the chain of noticeable computer speed. Once we get a full range of UEFI motherboards and fully optimized embedded software to configure them we will have theoretically the fastest personal computers one could possibly design.

Categories
computers data center flash memory technology

Next-Gen SandForce Controller Seen on OCZ SSD

Image representing SandForce as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

Last week during CES 2011, The Tech Report spotted OCZ’s Vertex 3 Pro SSD–running in a demo system–using a next-generation SandForce SF-2582 controller and a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface. OCZ demonstrated its read and write speeds by running the ATTO Disk Benchmark which clearly showed the disk hitting sustained read speeds of 550 MB/s and sustained write speeds of 525 MB/s.

via Next-Gen SandForce Controller Seen on OCZ SSD.

Big news, test samples of the SandForce SF-2000 series flash memory controllers are being shown in products demoed at the Consumer Electronics Shows. And SSDs with SATA interfaces are testing through the roof. The numbers quoted for a 6GB/sec. SATA SSD are in the 500+GB/sec. range. Previously you would need to choose a PCIe based SSD drive from OCZ or Fusion-io to get anywhere near that high of  speed sustained. Combine this with the future possibility of SF-2000 being installed on future PCIe based SSDs and there’s no telling how much the throughput will scale. If four of the Vertex drives were bound together as a RAID 0 set with SF-2000 drive controllers managing it, is it possible to see a linear scaling of throughput. Could we see 2,000 MB/sec. on PCIe 8x SSD cards? And what would be the price on such a card fully configured with 1.2 TB of SSD drives? Hard to say what things may come, but just the thought of being able to buy retail versions of these makes me think a paradigm shift is in the works that neither Intel nor Microsoft are really thinking about right now.

One comment on this article as posted on the original website, Tom’s Hardware, included the observation that the speeds quoted for this SATA 6GBps drive are approaching the memory bandwidth of several generations old PC-133 DRAM memory chips. And as I have said previously, I still have an old first generation Titanium Powerbook from Apple that uses that same memory chip standard PC-133. So given that SSD hard drives are fast approaching the speed of somewhat older main memory chips I can only say we are fast approaching a paradigm shift in desktop and enterprise computing. I dub thee, the All Solid State (ASS) era where no magnetic or rotating mechanical media enter into the equation. We run on silicon semiconductors from top to bottom, no Giant Magneto-Resistive technology necessary. Even our removable media are flash memory based USB drives we put in our pockets and walk around with on key chains.