New Help for Flash in the Enterprise

Arthur Cole

Is one of the major limiting factors to widespread deployment of Flash storage in the enterprise starting to show some cracks?

It seems that way as both new system and software designs are taking a bead on the poor write durability of both single-level cell (SLC) and multi-level cell (MLC) technologies.

Micron made a major announcement this week touting a new memory structure that simultaneously drives up the density and write performance of current Flash memory. The company says its 34 nm lithography design offers a six-fold increase in write/erase cycles for MLC and a three-fold boost for SLC systems. When applied to the company's new Enterprise NAND, that translates into 30,000 write cycles for the MLC version and 300,000 for SLC.

As yet, there are no takers for the Micron system among SSD manufacturers. However, it's hard to imagine there would be much resistance considering current approaches typically involve tweaks to external memory controllers or over-provisioning techniques that reduce the level of available storage. These methods are effective to a point, but how much better for, say, Pliant Technology to merge the new ASIC design on its Enterprise Flash Drive with the higher density/improved durability approach that Micron offers?

There's also the potential, at least, that new software could vastly improve SSD performance in the enterprise. It's been noted that Windows 7 features a new Trim command that allows controllers to better direct data to individual cells, at least in NTFS file systems using the ATA protocol. Only a smattering of drive manufacturers are supporting the technology as yet, but that is bound to change as 7 hits the market.

Now, granted, Windows 7 is a client OS, so it really has no impact in centralized storage in the enterprise, but there is hope that something similar could wind up in the next Windows Server, especially if the take-up rate of Flash in the enterprise is as high as most market analysts expect.

Enterprise-level Flash has always been targeted mainly at high-transaction, high-I/O environments, and that's not likely to change even with these new technologies. But it is comforting to note that some of the limitations that looked formidable just a few months ago are now just a little bit more manageable.

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