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Enterprise flash arrays pack in more storage with denser media

Stephen Lawson | Aug. 13, 2013
Sub-20nm flash can hold more data in the same space but challenges loom for next generations.

Skyera's skyEagle all-flash storage array.
Skyera's skyEagle all-flash storage array.

A new generation of faster, cheaper flash storage is hitting the enterprise market and will be in the spotlight this week at the Flash Memory Summit conference.

At least three makers of all-flash storage arrays plan to show off products based on the most dense NAND flash components yet, with cells smaller than 20 nanometers across. These will fit more data into the same space, reducing power consumption and per-gigabyte cost. The catch: Flash gets slower and more error-prone when it gets that dense, so the new products required even more advanced software to make up for this, the vendors say.

Because reliably writing data to flash gets harder as the cells get smaller, conventional flash technology may be nearing the end of the road. Cells less than 10nm across may be too small for the size of the electrons needed to charge them, said Jim Bagley, an analyst at Storage Strategies Now. As a result, major flash manufacturers may go straight to alternatives such as vertical NAND, which stacks multiple cell layers on top of each other, he said.

Still, the new flash products on show at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California, should offer higher performance along with cost, energy and space savings. Storage arrays populated entirely with flash are starting to compete on cost with the most expensive HDD (hard disk drive) systems with 15,000rpm drives, analysts say.

"We are seeing some very aggressive cost and price declines," said Gartner analyst Joe Unsworth. And when speed is of the essence, flash systems already win out.

"These are by far the best means of achieving higher performance and lower latency," Unsworth said. "You cannot get that, no matter what configuration, with a hard-drive-only approach."

Skyera, Violin Memory and Nimbus Data Systems each are introducing all-flash enterprise storage arrays that they say make flash more price-competitive with high-speed HDD (hard disk drive) systems while easily beating them on performance. All the new products are built around MLC (multilevel cell) flash, the least expensive commonly found form of NAND, which can store more than one bit on each cell.

Skyera says its technology for making consumer-grade flash do serious work is now advanced enough for general enterprises. At the conference, Skyera is demonstrating its skyEagle array, which is due to ship in the first half of next year.

The skyEagle will have more than 10 times the capacity of the skyHawk array that was introduced last year and will cost one-third less per gigabyte, according to Tony Barbagallo, vice president of marketing. It will be made with 16-nanometer flash, compared with 20nm in the skyHawk. The skyEagle, a 1U rack unit, will have a capacity of 500TB, or 2.5PB after compression and deduplication.


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