SanDisk Lightning Strikes Flash PCIe Server Card Market

By Pedro Hernandez

SanDisk is wading into the hot flash PCIe server card market with its newly announced Lightning PCIe Solid State Accelerator line. The cards made their debut Monday during the Computex trade show in Taipei.

According to Eric Shiroke, vice president of sales for SanDisk Enterprise Storage Solutions, the add-on storage acceleration boards are meant to shift the pricing and performance dynamics in favor of flash for organizations looking to speed up their business apps without breaking the bank.

"It's very difficult to justify a $20,000 card in a $3,000 server," said Shiroke.

As such, prices start at under $1,400 for 200 GB Lightning flash acceleration card. At these prices, CIOs may look beyond servers and consider them for workstations that handle video and image rendering.

Predictable Lightning

Performance-wise, SanDisk promises predictable, sustained IOPS throughout the life of the card, unlike competitors that trumpet their best achievable speeds, said Shiroke. "After you take the drive out of the box and run it for 10 minutes, that's the performance you can expect at the end of life," he assures.

Both the 200 GB LP 206M and 400 GB LP 406M models provide sustained read throughput of 425 MB per second and 4 KB random 70 percent read, 30 percent write performance of 23,000 IOPS. Random 8 KB performance drops to 17,000 IOPS -- lower than some high-end models, but a cost effective way of speeding workloads without spending five figures.

Maximum response time for random 4K read/write processes never exceeds 30 milliseconds, according to the company. An LSI Falcon "bridging" chip provides widespread, driverless compatibility.

The cards also help keep servers spry since they handle "a lot of the flash management," according to Shiroke. Diverging from other add-on cards that "utilize the CPU to perform some of that functionality," Lightning boards manage their onboard storage natively, letting a server's processor devote all of its resources to processing data.

Lightning cards carry a five-year warranty, alleviating flash chip endurance fears that have plagued SSDs for years. Shiroke said that although the cards were made using single level cell (SLC) technology -- SLC is generally hardier than their multi-level cell (MLC) counterpart -- the company as a rule has stopped differentiating between SLC and MLC in its outreach because of the shrinking longevity gap between the two flash storage technologies.

Shiroke credits Lightning's performance, price and durability benefits from SSD innovations hailing from Pliant, which SanDisk acquired last year, combined with "the tremendous amount of IP we have around flash technology" derived from SanDisk.

SanDisk Adds Flash to Enterprise Storage

Lightning cards are the latest move by the company as it strives to make itself as synonymous with enterprise storage after having already made a name for itself in the consumer market. Last month, it snapped up FlashSoft, an SSD-caching software specialist. Today, SanDisk follows up with caching hardware of its own.

Good timing, too. Because the PCIe server add-on market is booming.

In February, EMC followed Fusion-io's lead on flash-based server acceleration cards by launching its own take on the technology called VFCache, formerly "Project Lightning." During the company's first-quarter earning call, EMC's CFO David Goulden hinted that VFCache was off to a very healthy start.

Since then, LSI debuted Nytro app acceleration flash-based PCIe hardware. Intel also got in the game with its new SSD 910 line.

SanDisk's Lightning LP 206M (200 GB) costs $1,350 USD and the LP 406 (400 GB) model costs $2,350 USD. The cards go on sale in this month.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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This article was originally published on June 05, 2012