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Start-up releases uber-fast, efficient enterprise-class SSDs

Pliant claims that its solid state drives offer twice the performance of competitors

September 14, 2009 12:01 AM ET

Computerworld - Pliant Technology Inc. today released its first series of enterprise-class solid state disk (SSD) drives based on a proprietary ASIC design that the company claims can handle -- without using any cache -- more than twice the input/output operations per second (IOPS) as the top competitive drives.

The first two two enterprise flash drive (EFDs), the EFD LS and EFD LB models, are 3.5-in. and 2.5-in. drives that can produce up to 180,000 IOPS and 140,000 IOPS respectively. The 3.5-in. drive can produce up to to 500MB/sec sustained read or 320MB/sec write rates and the 2.5-in. up to 420MB/sec read and 220MB/sec write rates, Pliant said.

"Put it on a log application and write to it as hard as you want for five years -- it will run 24/7 for at least that long," said Greg Goelz, vice president of marketing at the three-year-old startup.

Pliant's new EFD LS and EFD LB models, 3.5-in. and 2.5-in. SSD drives
Pliant's new EFD LS and EFD LB models, 3.5-in. and 2.5-in. SSD drives

Pliant also claims there is no limit to the number of writes that can be performed to the drive and that it will work without slowdown for at least five years. The drives are aimed at equipment manufacturers such as EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Hitachi Data Systems and Sun Microsystems Inc., the company said.

"They're able to claim some pretty solid performance numbers on read and writes and they're also able to claim unlimited program and erase [write/erase] cycles," said Joseph Unsworth, research director for NAND flash semi-conductors at Gartner Inc. "That's big. In an enterprise environment, that's one of the major concerns: The wear out of the SSD."

Most enterprise-class SSD companies today use Fibre Channel connectivity. Pliant's first products use serial-attached SCSI (SAS), which most industry observers believe is the interconnect of the future for servers and storage arrays. "You don't want to saturate your [server] CPU cores and then find out we have this great SSD but the bottleneck is now the interface," Unsworth said. "It's all about speed."

SAS currently supports 6Gbit/sec data transfer speeds and its roadmap indicates 12Gbit/sec rate by by 2012. Fibre Channel drives are currently capable of 4Gbit/sec data transfer speeds, and while Fibre Channel switches and interface cards are now emerging with 8Gbit/sec speeds. SAS is eclipsing those speeds at the device level.

"Six gigabit SAS in terms of data throughput is going to be the performance leader," said Jeff Janukowicz, a flash memory analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass. STEC Inc., the top provider today of enterprise-class SSDs, recently announced its own SAS model. But even that next-generation product produces a maximum of 80,000 IOPS compared with Pliant's 180,000 IOPS.

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