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Seagate's Pulsar enters solid-state drive market for servers

Beth Pariseau

Seagate Technology LLC made its long-anticipated entry into the solid-state drive (SSD) space today with its Pulsar

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enterprise SSD for direct attachment to servers.

The drive is the first release of several Seagate SSD releases, according to senior product marketing manager Teresa Worth, and will be targeting blade and general application servers. The single-level cell (SLC) Pulsar SSD comes in a 2.5-inch form factor, with a 7 mm "z-height," meaning two drives can be slotted into 15 mm-high blade server slots. Seagate claims the solid-state drives can perform up to 30,000 random read and up to 25,000 random write IOPS, or 240 MBps sequential reads and 210 MBps sequential writes with a 4K block size.

Unlike the ZeusIOPS SSDs from STEC Inc. with Fibre Channel (FC) interfaces that most leading storage-area network (SAN) array vendors use, Pulsar has a SATA interface. "External storage devices tend to use Fibre Channel or SAS interfaces," Worth said. "The SATA interface [for Pulsar] is better suited to direct-attached storage [DAS]." However, devices for delivery to OEMs for external storage devices are also in the works, she said.

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Pulsar -- which will be offered in 200 GB, 100 GB and 50 GB capacities -- has been designed with at least one technology partner (industry buzz says the SSD controller comes from LSI, but Worth and senior product line manager Rich Vignes declined to comment). It will begin shipping to OEMs over the next month, and should be available to end users inside OEMs' server products in the first half of 2010. Vignes said Seagate will not disclose pricing until the drives are available directly through Seagate's distribution channel in late 2010.

Seagate reps were cagey about the underlying technology supporting the claim of nearly equal read and write benchmarks, which hasn't been a typical characteristic of Flash drives. Vignes said the drive doesn't use cache, and instead relies on hardware accelerators built into the controller, "efficient algorithms for wear-leveling and garbage collection," and "write mitigation techniques to minimize write amplification." He declined to provide further details on the algorithms or write mitigation techniques.

"I wouldn't say it's a fantastic product, but it's a good first step," said Joe Unsworth, research director with Gartner's Technology and Service Provider Research Group. "They still need Fibre Channel, SAS 6 [Gbps] and PCIe interfaces, and they need a lot of OEMs."

That said, the presence of another supplier is good news for the enterprise SSD market, Unsworth said. "The big players are jumping into this market," he said, including big drive players like Hitachi, Western Digital and now Seagate. "Seagate brings [a track record in] service and support of enterprise hard drives."

Pricey Flash drives have received plenty of hype this year, but have yet to take over the market. Gartner estimates just 280,000 enterprise Flash drives have shipped in 2009. "The enterprise SSD market is still nascent," Unsworth said. "Users are interested in SSD as a concept, but they still don't have a very good handle on the costs and benefits – it has to be deployed correctly and you have to use the right SSD."

Automated tiered storage products, such as those offered by Avere Systems Inc., Compellent Technologies, EMC Corp. (as of today), Storspeed and 3PAR Inc. (as of yesterday), will help that somewhat, Unsworth said.

"Seagate is late, but they're not missing the boat, they're missing a canoe," Unsworth said.

 


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