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back to article Intel slobbers over flash-based server storage

Intel plans to shakeup the storage market in 2008 with the introduction of solid-state disks designed for data center hardware. SVP Pat Gelsinger revealed Intel's ambitions during a speech today here at the Intel Developer Forum. Ever excitable, Gelsinger gushed over the possibility of planting NAND flash memory-based drives in …

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Flash for all.

We have seen a few Flash replacement HDD stories recently. Let's hope the technology filters down to mainstream desktops & laptops as soon as possible.

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Old Tech?

Around a year ago I remember reading how a well known MMORPG (eve-online) was in the process of switching to RAMSAN solid state storage for its servers.

How is intel tech any different to what is already available and out there?

See: http://www.superssd.com/products/ramsan-500/indexb.htm for what I mean. 2TB of nand flash storage, in a 4u rack chassis. Surely intel are behind the game right now?

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Prediction

I would guess that within 10 years, all conventional hard disk, CD/DVD Rom/HD/BluRay technology will be phased out and replaced with Flash RAM/ROM based devices. But who knows... by then maybe we'll have Petabyte desktop HD arrays for about the price of a 1TB drive now. And we'll probably need it to run Windows 2017.

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Sooner the better

@Richard Hicks

I have a feeling Intel will somehow squeeze the price down somewhat through mass production and offer it at consumer prices rather than enterprise prices. (Or both!)

The promise of extra stablity whilst increasing performance will probably mean a lot less middle of the night call outs for Dead Raid disks - and probably a fair few happier marriages!

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Steady On

Before you get too carried away, just remember Flash cannot directly replace RAM or disc. It can only be written to a finite number of times. OK that might be a million writes, but that can happen quite quickly if you're close to the operating system. Maybe OK for storing emails but other things might change more rapidly. Adding and moving items might only occur on a daily basis but what happens if you have an index? How many writes are there to that bit of the 'disc' per year?.

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Drive Wear

Mr. Stephens,

You misunderstand how Flash drives write and how they wear out. A flash drive rated at 100,000 write/erase cycles can have an "erase block" updated 100,000 times. This erase block is usually 1 megabyte or larger in size. So on "bare" flash chips, you could kill the erase block by writing to it 100K times.

This is where the flash controller steps in. First, the controller keeps spare erase blocks (usually around 2%) and will use these if an erase block fails. Second, the controller will watch for erase blocks that are heavily hit with writes and then move them around. This is called wear leveling. With good wear leveling in place, you have to write the entire drive 100,000 times, not just one location 100,000 times.

Thus to estimate drive wear out, you are better off to use the write speed of the drive and see how long it will take to kill it. With a 32G drive, 100,000 write cycles, and 40 MB/sec write speed, the result is:

32,000,000,000 x 100,000 / 40,000,000 = 80,000,000 seconds

This is 2.5 years of continuous writing. In anything other than a saturated data logging application, this drive will outlive the server.

Now drives did used to wear out. The difference now is that the drives are a lot larger and also last longer. A 64 MB drive with 10,000 write cycles and a 10 MB/sec write rate can be killed off in in 17 hours.

Some vendors quote 5,000,000 write cycles. With these the wear out times really start to get silly.

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Wow

Thanks Doug Dumitru, I actually learned something on El Reg today.

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Anonymous Coward

"close to operating system"

Yes if the Flash drive is "close" to certain operating systems the write cycles will be used up fairly quickly - or, you could mount 80% of the O/S as read-only and use "old-fashioned" 3Gb/s hard drives for logs and swap? Or even - if you can avoid swapping - use NAS for the rest (then again, how does Flash speed compare with booting from network over 10G Ethernet - anyone?)

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Silver badge

An old idea done again.

Yes, this has been done before. I remember seeing an HP solid state unit once before, many years ago, I think it was the only one I ever saw. It provided what was considered then to be ultra-fast response time to a needy billing system. As I remember, as soon as 1Gb fibre channel took off (courtesy of EMC), these type of units were largely binned due to their expense. There was a Gigabyte PCI card that came out recently, it used PC100 RAM for a similar approach for use as a PC flash-drive, and (if I remember correctly) it could be RAIDed under Windows and then advertised as a shared drive to other Windows systems (can't remember if it worked with Linux). So the tech is not new, I suppose we've just been waiting for cheap enough and dense enough memory to make it viable again.

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Silver badge

Found it!

They were HP 536MB solid state drives in an HVD10 SCSI-attached rack, and they were straight disk replacements, they just plugged in instead of the SCSI disk drives. I saw them in 2001 down in London, long after EMC had started their market rampage, so I must just have been lucky to see them before they went the way of the dodo!

Ah, when I'm old and grey(er), I'll be able to go to those tech events and when the oldtimers start on about 12-inch DEC drives, etc, I'll be able to say "I once saw an original solid state disk in use!" :)

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@ Matt Bryant

Now that you mention it, I remember reading about such a thing in what must have been "PCW" or MicroMart back when... crikey... when they were punting HyperDrive (the software that would load your entire operating system into RAM) in the back of every magazine.

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