TORONTO—OCZ Storage Solutions wants enterprises to have more control over its solid state drives (SSDs) by allowing them to manage operations at the host level.
Last week the Toshiba-owned company introduced its Host Managed SSD (HMS) technology, which will be supported first by its Saber 1000 Series SSDs. In a telephone interview with EE Times, Grant Van Patten, product manager for Saber HMS, said HMS technology enables host controls over internal SSD background processing tasks that were previously not exposed to host-level software. System-level software control of background processing tasks, such as garbage collection, enable improving overall storage performance, and specifically enable obtaining consistent and predictable latency across a large pool of SSDs.
Van Patten said a lot of background operations in SSDs have been traditionally handled by firmware and were outside the view of the host. He said HMS exposes these operations to the host address two key requirements of an enterprise customer: consistent latency and performance. There are other things the company could have tackled, but these were seen as the priority.
One of the biggest taxes on SSD performance, said Van Patten, is garbage collection. HMS allows the host to have more control over this process, including the ability to make sure it doesn’t occur during I/O. “Performance levels out and even goes up,” he said. “What we wanted to show is consistency can achieved by using background control.” OCZ is looking at other forms of control to boost performance, such as dynamic power consumption.
Saber 1000 HMS SSDs are the first drives in OCZ’s lineup to support HMS controls.
Putting HMS in its Saber 1000 SSD first made the most sense, he said. The drive is targeted toward the hyper-scale market, where enterprises tend to deploy a larger number of SSDs at once. “We chose Saber right out of the gate because of its cost bracket.” Van Patten said it’s the same hardware, but the firmware has been modified to accommodate the HMS.
OCZ has also created a software package of APIs so a programming can be done by a systems administrator that will control background functions on the SSD, as well as giving away its source code to enable development and adoption. “APIs are meant to be very light and very friendly to whatever software stack the customer is already using,” said Van Patten. “We fully expect customers to take it and run with it.”
OCZ has seen many customers already trying to optimize SSD performance with propriety software, he added. “We prefer all of these controls get standardized in the specifications. We're trying to drive them as much as we can.”
Jim Handy, principal analyst with Objective Analysis, said what OCZ is doing with HMS is “kinda cool,” but it’s not the first vendor to raise the idea – Samsung, for example, talked about doing it through the various standard committees at the most recent Flash Memory Summit. “OCZ bounced it off some customers and just did it.”
In an interview with EE Times, Handy noted that Fusion-io’s technology involves a host managing SSDs, but unlike OCZ, is not open about how it does it, while, Chinese web services company Baidu has been using Huawei PCIe SSDs with the firmware taken out of the SSD and functionality put on the host to achieve same things that HMS does. “It’s not altogether a new idea.”
What OCZ is doing is a very small step in the right direction, Handy said, but there are potential problems. “If it completely opened the way the SSD worked it would end up with warranty returns because customers have done stupid things.” For example, wear levelling could be completely turned off without some limits in place, and a block could wear out more quickly, and potentially make warranty returns stickier for OCZ, he said. It has to have safeguards in place to prevent users from hurting themselves.
It does help users get more performance from their SSDs, said Handy. “I’m a loud advocate of using flash as flash and not trying to masquerade it as hard drives.”
He said OCZ struggled in the past procuring enough flash but always had a good reputation for its manufacturing. Now that it is owned by Toshiba, its flash supply problems have disappeared, and Toshiba’s backing also gives OCZ clout to HMS forward.
—Gary Hilson is a general contributing editor with a focus on memory and flash technologies for EE Times.