Samsung, Sun Give NAND Devices 5 Lives

Samsung and Sun Microsystems have partnered to develop a single-level-cell (SLC) NAND flash memory device for use in solid state drives with significantly high endurance levels, the two companies said Wednesday.

The new device will provide much higher endurance levels than other flash memory devices currently available, according to the companies. Potential applications for the server-grade SLC flash technology include video streaming, high-transaction data processing, search engine operations and other high-speed server functions.

“For a combined Sun and Samsung in the flash space, this could be revolutionary,” Greg Schultz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO, told TechNewsWorld. “However, in the larger storage and related ecosystem, this is just part of the broader evolution of flash as well as other memory and magnetic-based storage technologies to store more data in a smaller footprint at a lower cost with better endurance.”

Go, Flash, Go!

Samsung and Sun’s device offers a fivefold increase in data write-and-erase cycles over standard SLC flash memory, the companies claim. They designed their new SLC NAND memory for usage in SSDs in order to greatly extend the life cycle of high-transaction data processing servers.

“Just as the HDD (hard disk drive) industry has historically found ways to advance disk drive technology, the SSD industry will find ways to overcome the hurdles and challenges with new innovations like this around NAND endurance,” Jeff Janukowicz, an IDC analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “There was not much detail around the specifics; however, the endurance of NAND memory is an important specification when evaluating SSDs.”

SLC NAND is generally specified at 100,000 write/erase cycles per block, while multi-level cell NAND is typically specified at 10,000 write/erase cycles per block. Although on the surface this may not seem like much, SSD original equipment manufacturers address these challenges by leveraging larger error correction, bad block management and wear-leveling schemes. These ensure that wear is evenly distributed over all the blocks within a NAND device, Janukowicz explained.

“This effectively improves the endurance of SSDs when compared to just NAND memory,” Janukowicz said.

Sun and Samsung said they expect the SLC NAND flash memory to deliver the highest endurance ever offered in 24/7, mission-critical computing.

The server-grade SLC memory, according to Samsung, will also provide a 100-fold increase over conventional hard drives in the number of data transfers — input/output per second — per watt, registering a substantial power savings in a sector of the market for which rising power bills are being watched with considerable concern.

“When utilizing this technology in an SSD, the result should increase the endurance. This will benefit any number of applications that write frequently to the drive,” Janukowicz noted. “In general, SSDs should also increase performance with no mechanical armature — as in an HDD — to move. SSDs offer fast data access due to their solid state technology. SDDs should also provide low power consumption. It is because of these benefits that IDC expects global demand for enterprise SSDs is expected to rise to 2.24 million units in 2012.”

If the Price Is Right?

It’s a great technology, Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, told TechNewsWorld. “But it’s not going to be cheap.”

The technology will most likely be used in high-end servers initially, he continued.

“But if they can bring the price down, there’ll be a lot of interest. Shorter duty cycle is one of the weaknesses of existing flash technology.” Otherwise, he said, the new technology is an incremental advance. “Flash already uses less power than hard drives and performs better.”

The real test for the two companies, StorageIO’s Schultz said, will come when it’s time to shift from the press release and slide decks to spec sheets and actual customer deployment comparison scenarios to see how the resulting solution stacks up.

“Certainly the potential benefits of reducing your power, cooling, floor space and green footprint are good, as are other economic considerations, assuming performance is there to boost productivity,” he concluded.

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