SAN JOSE, Calif. Startup Pliant Technology (Milpitas, Calif.) has released two flash drives that ride the serial-attached SCSI interconnect and use a proprietary controller to deliver what it claims is a new level of performance and reliability. The company will compete with Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, STEC and Toshiba who are all working on flash drives using the SAS interface for business servers.
Pliant is shipping a 300 Gbyte 3.5-inch flash drive it claims will deliver more than 180,000 I/O operations a second. The product—along with Pliant's companion 150 Gbyte flash drives--offer relatively high reliability and sustained throughput for both read and write operations.
The products are part of an increasing number of efforts to replace hard disk drives with NAND flash. Flash drives promise boosts in performance and lower power consumption, albeit at significantly higher costs per byte than hard disks.
The market for flash drives in servers is expected to see fast growth on a relatively small base of business users who can tolerate those costs to get the performance and power gains. International Data Corp. projects as many as 4.4 million flash drives will ship in enterprise systems in 2013, representing 154 percent compound annual growth over a five-year span.
Pliant chief executive Amyl Ahola said large data centers could save money overall using a mix of hard disk and flash drives. "End users are grappling for reducing the cost of computing infrastructure and we are one way to do that," he said.
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Pliant's secret sauce is embedded in its controller ASIC that uses 3 Gbit/second SAS technology from LSI Corp. The chip provides performance and reliability boosts in part due to use of about 48 parallel channels that can read or write data across one or two full duplex SAS ports.
The ASIC uses multiple embedded processors. The drives are based on Samsung's single-level cell NAND flash chips.
Ahola said he believes Pliant is among the first to ship SAS-based flash drives. Competitors, including top hard disk makers such as Seagate, planning to get into flash drives "may find it's a lot harder to do than it seems because how hard drives work is very different" from how flash drives operate, he said.
Pliant has taken in $27 million in venture financing to date, including a $15 million round that closed in March and is expected to feed the company through mid-2010. The company has about 35 employees including founders from Fujitsu's hard drive group.