Enterprise SSDs Sneak Into CES

Micron, Other World Computing (OWC), and Plextor all announced solid-state disc (SSD) products at this week’s 2013 Consumer Electronics Show—renewing cutthroat competition over ever-lower prices and ever-higher capabilities.

All three companies announced products for the enterprise. On the pricing front, Micron said that its new 960-Gbyte enterprise SSD will cost less than $600 retail, with OEM pricing sure to be even better than that. And OWC, for its part, announced that its “Viper” drive, in a larger 3.5-inch form factor, would nearly top 2 terabytes of flash storage.

While SSDs won’t totally replace traditional rotating disk storage anytime soon, the segment’s consistent drop in dollars-per-gigabyte is sure to perk up the ears of companies stocking servers and storage arrays. Flash memory has helped redefine tiered storage, placing “hot,” frequently accessed data close to the compute infrastructure. The problem, of course, is the price premium that comes with the lower latency.

Micron’s new enterprise drive, the M500 SSD, uses 20nm multilayer cell NAND chips and a SATA 6Gb/s controller combined with Micron’s custom firmware to deliver up to 80,000 input/output operations per second (IOPS). The drive’s sequential read and write speeds reach up to 500 MB/s and 400 MB/s, respectively. (Data center operators with a zeal for gaming will be able to buy the same drive from Micron’s consumer arm, Crucial.) Both the Crucial and Micron versions of the M500 will ship later this quarter, backed by a three-year limited warranty.

The M500 SSD incorporates features that have been typically found in the thin drives used by ultrabooks, including device sleep, which kicks down the power draw to under 5 milliwatts. But the drive also includes enterprise features such as hardware encryption technology (TCG Opal 2.0 + IEEE 1667); improved thermal management for space-constrained systems; and expanded power-loss protection and error recovery. Micron said that the drive would maintain data integrity during an unexpected power outage, a critical feature for enterprise work.

OWC, meanwhile, typically supplies its drives to individual Mac users, although the company has branched out into professionals as well. While data-center makers have typically adopted 2.5-inch form factors for reasons of space and thermal thresholds, OWC is offering its 3.5 Mercury Viper in the 3.5-inch form factor, using the SATA 3.0 6Gb/s interface. Unfortunately, OWC didn’t rate its drive in terms of IOPS, although it did say that it would be capable of 600MB/s speeds. Pricing wasn’t publicly available, either.

Finally, Plextor, which began life as an optical disc provider, made a quiet appearance on the show floor with its first lineup of enterprise-class SSDs. Plextor didn’t offer many details; its drives are available for custom order, either using single-layer cell (SLC) NAND for stability or multi-layer cell (MLC), which Plextor added enhanced thermal protection and protection against power loss. Plextor also volunteered to write customized firmware packages for its new drives.

Time will tell if any of these companies will be able to deliver the sort of longevity, support, and firmware expertise that data-center providers require. But a wider supplier base means increased competition, and that can only benefit datacenter admins.


Image: Micron