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Intel Corp. recently announced a lineup of solid-state drives that the company said is intended to move data centers to an all-SSD storage model, and claims the drives will offer performance improvements for cloud computing environments, data center virtualization, Web hosting and read-intensive applications.

The Intel S3500 Series uses NAND flash and SATA 6 Gbps interfaces with read speeds of up to 500 Mbps and sequential writes of up to 450 Mbps, and will be available in capacities ranging from 80 GB to 800 GB in either the 1.8-inch or 2.5-inch form factors.

The solid-state drives (SSDs) will apparently be priced slightly higher than $1 per gigabyte. According to Intel, the 1.5-inch 80 GB drive will retail for $115, while the 2.5-inch 800 GB unit will sell for $979.

Intel said its S3500 Series will also offer special built-in capacitors to provide a short period of battery power to finish operations in case of power loss; plus the drives have 256-bit data encryption protection.

A line of Intel SSDs designed for enterprise use -- as opposed to consumer-focused models -- "should be more applicable and interesting to both enterprises as well as cloud or hosting services providers," according to Greg Schulz of Stillwater Minn.-based StorageIO.

Schulz noted that cloud and hosting providers look for value, but "not at the expense for resiliency, durability, performance or capacity."

Analyst Marc Staimer of Beaverton, Ore.-based Dragon Slayer Consulting said he needs to see the Intel S3500 drives in action before determining whether they are ready for enterprise.

"Intel claims that they have developed a better algorithm for MLC [multi-level cell] that makes it enterprise. Does it? I don't know. [I] would have to see real-world testing," Staimer said.

He noted that SSDs for enterprise use would need to be good at protecting data. "'Enterprise' also means that the ECC [error detection and correction code] is really, really good because MLC has much higher error rates than, say, SLC [single-level cell], and the smaller the die size [in this case 20nm], the higher the error rate," Staimer said.

The NAND and NOR flash market in 2012 has grown to more than $20 billion in revenue, driven in part by smartphones and other consumer devices that rely on flash, according to market researcher IHS iSuppli.

But enterprise adoption of flash hasn't caught up with hard disk drives (HDD) just yet. In units shipped, HDDs have a huge numerical advantage over SSDs: iSuppli reported 475 million HDD units shipped last year, versus about 31 million SSDs. While SSDs are generally faster and more energy efficient than HDDs, spinning disk beats flash with "pennies-per-gigabyte" pricing.

The Intel S3500 is intended as a replacement for existing HDDs, but the move is part of a larger trend of vendors beginning to push SSD products at the enterprise.

All-flash arrays in particular are seeing a lot of attention, as HP's 3PAR StoreServ, IBM's FlashSystem platform, EMC's XtremIO and NetApp's FlashRay and E5400 flash arrays have hit or will soon hit the market, along with Dell's Compellent SAN all-flash array variant.

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