WhipTail: Software solves MLC SSD issues

July 29, 2009 – One of the more promising developments in the solid-state disk (SSD) drive space is the potential use of low-cost multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash memory in enterprise applications and arrays, vs. the high-cost – but more reliable and durable – single-level cell (SLC) technology, as I mentioned in my previous post (see “Intel slashes SSD prices” ). This can basically be accomplished in two ways: via software or via controller enhancements.

Relative newcomer WhipTail Technologies is an example of a vendor that’s using software techniques to overcome some of the inherent limitations of MLC flash memory; namely, write amplification issues that limit the ability of NAND to perform random writes in an effective manner (a performance issue), and wear-out issues (a reliability, or durability, or endurance problem).

To address the performance part of the equation, WhipTail uses buffering (not caching) techniques, in which writes are aggregated into a buffer that’s sized to the erase block of the NAND, according to WhipTail CTO James Candelaria, who claims that this technique enables performance close to the performance specs of the NAND media.

Specifically, the company claims performance of more than 100,000 I/Os per second (IOPS) of sustained, random I/O with 4KB block sizes and a 70/30 read/write split. Other performance specs include a latency of 0.1 milliseconds, and bandwidth of 1.7GBps (internal to the chassis).

The other major problem with MLC flash is wear-out. For example, SLC is rated at about 100,000 cycles per cell, while MLC is rated at only 10,000 cycles/cell before the cell becomes unreliable (and that may go down to 2,000 to 4,000 writes/cell with smaller die sizes).

To address the wear-out issue, WhipTail uses a technique called linearization, which essentially entails writing forward across the disk and not revisiting blocks until the entire array has been utilized. This not only decreases wear on the media, but also increases performance. Working in conjunction with linearization, a defrag process ensures that there is always a minimum amount of free space. This technique also works in conjunction with the drive’s wear-leveling algorithms.

The company’s internal tests indicate that if you rewrite an entire array once a day, the device will last seven years (or longer than most other components in the storage hierarchy).

You can get the details on these two techniques on WhipTail’s web site, as well as details on their products, but what about pricing?

Candelaria contends that WhipTail “provides tier-0 [SSD] performance at the price of tier-1 arrays.”

Well, a 1.5TB WhipTail SSD array is priced at $46,000 retail; a 3TB version at $75,600; and the new 6TB configuration, introduced this month, at $122,500.

Summit NJ-based WhipTail was spun out of TheAdmins, a reseller, early this year and has been working on its SSD technology since late 2007. Its first product went GA in February. The company sells through resellers, with eight VARs signed up so far.

For more information on SSDs, see InfoStor’s SSD Topic Center.

And if you’re really interested in solid-state technology, consider attending the Flash Memory Summit, August 11—13 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

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posted by: Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson, Editor-in-Chief
by Dave Simpson
Editor-in-Chief

Dave Simpson has been the Editor-in-Chief of InfoStor since its inception in 1997. He previously held editorial positions at publications such as Datamation, Systems Integration, and Digital News and Review. He can be contacted at dsimpson@quinstreet.com

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