Intel launches NVMe PCIe flash cards up to 2 TB

Intel brings out its first PCIe flash cards based on the NVMe specification, with a range of capacity and performance options.

Intel Corp. today unveiled its first non-volatile memory express (NVMe) PCIe cards, offering three series of products ranging from 400 GB to 2 terabytes (TB) and promising significantly more performance at a lower cost than SATA-based PCIe.

The NVMe spec allows solid-state drives (SSDs) to use a PCIe bus more efficiently. NVMe directly connects storage to CPUs via a PCIe link, reducing latency and power consumption while eliminating the need for a host bus adapter (HBA).

Intel officially launched its new DC P3700, P3600 and P3500 cards today during the Computex trade show in Taipei.

Intel said the drives target three common storage challenges: limited budgets, SAN hardware latency and randomized workloads that require high input/output operations per second (IOPS).

The P3700 series is designed for write-intensive application storage and is available in 400 GB, 800 GB, 1.6 TB and 2 TB capacities. It is the highest performing series of the three, rated at up to 2,800 megabytes per second (MBps) sequential read performance, 1,900 MBps sequential write performance, 460,000 random read IOPS and 180,000 random write IOPS. Its list price starts at $1,207 for 400 GB.

The P3600 has a 2,600 MBps sequential read performance, 1,700 sequential write performance, 450,000 random read IOPS and 70,000 IOPS for random writes. It is available in 400 GB, 800 GB, 1.2 TB, 1.6 TB and 2 TB capacities. Pricing starts at $783 for 400 GB.

The 3500 series is rated for 2,500 MBps on sequential reads, 1,500 MBps on sequential writes, 450,000 random read IOPS and 35,000 random write IOPS. It comes in 400 GB, 1.2 TB and 2 TB capacities. Pricing starts at $500 for 400 GB.

"Most companies bring out PCIe (drives) with certain performance levels and then offer capacity upgrades," said Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, California. "What Intel is doing is offering multiple capacities and multiple performance metrics" out of the gate.

Alan Frost, Intel's marketing and communications director, said production on the cards will begin in July with shipments scheduled to start by the end of October.

Intel's product release closely follows the Dell PowerEdge 920 that launched in March with a Samsung 1.6 TB NVMe drive. Intel said it validated the P3700 against the PowerEdge 920 and "dozens" of platforms, including Windows 2012 R2 and Linux RedHat.

"People are finally starting to understand that you can get a whole lot more IOPS out of PCI than you could ever get out of a disk interface. Intel is one of many companies that are showing they believe that PCI is an important thing," Handy said.

Cost, throughput issues addressed

The new series of SSDs builds on Intel's 910 series for PCIe flash with a SATA interface, which it began shipping in 2012. The P3700 includes an NVMe host controller featuring additional processing pins, coupled with a set of four 16-inch-wide PCIe interface lines. It is geared to multi-drive environments that do a lot of RAID striping.

Steven Neebe, a product line manager in Intel's non-volatile memory solutions group, said one P3700 drive delivers performance that is equivalent to between six and eight SATA SSDs.

Storage architects might get sticker shock from the $1,200 price for a single card, but Frost said the new SSDs deliver higher performance with reduced power consumption that will help lower total cost of ownership. And $3 per GB measures up well with many SSDs that go inside of enterprise storage arrays.

"When you compare it to the [savings] from displacing a whole rack of servers, there's a dramatic savings," Frost said. "You also have a brand new software stack, so several elements of your whole system are improved," such as faster SLAs.

Intel developed the firmware and the NVMe-based controller and said it will guarantee storage performance and scalability as drives are added within a system. Intel's controller will be compatible with SFF 8639 controllers used with legacy SATA and SAS drives. It will be available on existing Intel Xeon processor platforms with a PCI adapter, and also natively on next-generation Xeon platforms.

Each of the new PCIe cards comes with a five-year limited warranty, average latency of 20 seconds, power-loss protection and data integrity to protect in-flight data.

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