Intel Enters the PCIe SSD Race

Posted on April 12, 2012 By Pedro Hernandez

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Add another entrant to the hot, flash storage-based application acceleration scene. Today, during IDF Beijing, Intel is launching its SSD 910 line of PCIe server add-on cards.

While Intel is better known for its computer processors, the world's leading chipmaker has big ambitions for its solid-state storage division. According to Alan Frost, marketing programs manager for Intel, it's his company's goal to see that "every hard drive in a data center environment is replaced by an SSD."

No small feat, but Intel isn't exactly starting from scratch.

For years, the company has been manufacturing solid-state drives (SSDs) that cater to consumers, enthusiasts and enterprise data centers. With the new SSD 910 series, the company is targeting a fast-growing caching and application acceleration market currently served by data storage specialists like Fusion-io.

SSDs a Motherboard Could Love

PCIe SSD cache add-on cards are packed with NAND flash storage chips and are installed into a server's PCIe slots, with nothing but the system's motherboard between them and the processor. The aim is to bridge the performance gap between today's powerful server processors and the time it takes for data to travel across disk-based storage arrays and network infrastructure. By placing frequently accessed information on PCIe SSDs, data has only a short, fast trip before enterprise applications can crunch it.

The combination of fast flash performance and compressed data paths allows businesses to speed up today's demanding workloads where fast read times are critical, like online transaction processing (OLTP) and CRM databases. No surprise, then, that recent months have seen an influx of PCIe SSDs from EMC and LSI.

Now it's Intel's turn with new half-height, half-length PCIe cards that feature multi-level cell (MLC) 25-nanometer NAND flash chips and ship with a 5-year warranty. According to the company, the cards are good for ten full writes a day for five years before data loss becomes a concern. This results in what is "essentially SLC-like endurance at the MLC price point," says Roger Peene, director of data center SSD marketing for Intel NSG.

Because Intel manufactures flash chips in collaboration with Micron, his company is confident in slapping a 5-year warranty on its enterprise-grade storage offerings. That's because Intel will take the best performing silicon and "reserve it for data center products, not unlike what we do for CPUs," Peene explains.

Intel's SSD 910 series ship in 400 GB and 800 GB capacities. They deliver up to 180,000 IOPS in random 4 KB reads and up to 75,000 IOPS in random 4 KB writes. Sequential read and write performance is rated at up to 2 GBps and 1 GBps, respectively.

During drive activity, the SSD 910 consumes 25 watts. While idle, that figure drops to 8 watts. Need more performance? Peene says IT administrators can squeeze a few more IOPS out of the 910s by digging into the server's configuration settings and increasing the average operating power delivered to the respective PCIe slot to up to 28 watts.

Intel SSD 910 will be generally available in mid-2012, according to the company. Prices start at $1,929 for the 400 GB version and $3,859 for 800 GB model. The cards will also appear as an option in systems from server partner Super Micro.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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