SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel Corp. and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies will partner in developing a line of solid state drives for PC servers and workstations using the Serial Attached SCSI and Fibre Channel interfaces. The duo expects to deliver early samples to select OEMs before the end of 2009.
The combination of Intel's prowess in flash and Hitachi's strength in drives is a potent one. But the two are playing catch up in a rapidly emerging market that some say is already well served by a rush of vendors.
In recognition of that fact, the partnership is clearly avoiding the cost sensitive mainstream markets that will be dominated by SSDs using the Serial ATA interface. Intel introduced in August a line of SATA-based SSDs sporting a novel system controller.
With flash chip densities rising and prices tumbling, SSDs have becoming an increasingly significant option for a variety of PCs. A broad array of existing competitors are already shipping SSDs including flash giants Samsung and SanDisk which announced a proprietary SSD format in early November.
Hard disk drive leader Seagate Technologies has announced plans to enter the SSD market in 2009, aiming at similar markets to the Intel/Hitachi duo. Seagate has not said where it will get its flash chips.
Indeed, dozens of companies are delivering SSDs today. That has spurred some analysts to predict a shakeout in the market.
"There are 70-80 SATA-based vendors out there now, but only a small handful developing Fibre Channel and SAS that really have the size to play in this space," said Brendan Collins, vice president of marketing for Hitachi GST.
The two companies will focus on SSDs for systems requiring high IOPS (I/O operations/second), initially targeting at least 50,000 IOPS in random reads. The duo will make 2.5- and 3.5-inch SAS drives and 3.5-inch Fibre Channel drives, targeting hard disk drive slots in storage arrays that use those form factors today.
The first-generation SSDs will use single-level cell flash chips to maintain high levels of endurance and reliability. It expects to deliver densities ranging from 70-500 Gbytes although exact specs have not been frozen yet.
"We will have concept reviews with OEMs in next month or two to lock down specifics," said Collins.
The drives target so-called tier 0 applications that demand the fastest throughput but not necessarily the highest density.
"I believe that this announcement validates that a sizable future opportunity exists for a high IOPS class of SSDs targeted at tier 0 applications, said Jeffrey Janukowicz, flash drive analyst with International Data Corp.
IDC estimates the market for SSDs in business systems could hit revenue of $800 million in 2012.
Under the collaboration Intel will make the drives and supply the flash chips and technology from its existing SATA controllers. Hitachi GST will sell and support the drives under its brand, provide the SAS and Fibre Channel interface technology and help Intel design the new controllers.
"The new solid-state drives for the enterprise include a number of architectural breakthroughs and improved performance and energy usage models that will change enterprise computing," said Randy Wilhelm, vice president and general manager of Intel's NAND flash group in a press statement.
Those breakthroughs will come from the IOPS performance of the drives and their wear-leveling algorithms to extend drive lifetimes, Collins said. "It's a continuation of our breakthroughs in SATA space," said Larry Leszczynski, a program manager for the collaboration and a business development manager in Intel's Flash group.
Intel's existing SATA server drives can deliver 35,000 IOPS on a 4 KByte read and 3,300 IOPS on a 4 KByte write.
"We are committed to delivering breakthrough products that increase data center performance and reduce total cost of ownership," said Shinjiro Iwata, executive vice president of strategic business operations at Hitachi GST, speaking in the press release.
Hitachi GST is considering a separate plan to offer SATA-based SSDs, but has made no announcements yet. "We have gotten some requests from OEMs for a full portfolio of SSDs including SATA drives," said Collins.
The move marks Intel's second partnership in flash. It currently makes NAND chips in collaboration with Micron.