This week, I reported on a new high-end, high-performance 44Tbyte SSD for data centers and server farms from Skyera. (See “44Tbyte Skyera Skyhawk SSD employs Everspin MRAM as write cache” and “How Skyera developed the 44Tbyte, enterprise-class Skyhawk SSD from the ground up. A System Realization story.”) Yesterday, Skyera’s CEO Rado Danilak gave a keynote speech at the Flash Memory Summit titled “Can Flash Be Mainstream Enterprise Storage – Now?” Of course, you know the answer to that question if it’s the title of a keynote speech at an event like the Flash Memory Summit. The answer, of course, is “yes,” Flash-based SSDs can be mainstream in enterprise storage, now. Danilak’s keynote essentially revealed his master plan for taking over the entire world of enterprise storage.
Who is this guy and where did Skyera come from? Rado Danilak was a founder and CTO of SandForce, the SSD controller IC vendor that’s now owned by LSI. These days, Danilak is Skyera’s CEO and his band of SSD experts is attacking a somewhat different problem—an enterprise-class problem. Here’s the problem statement in an easily digested slide from Danilak’s keynote presentation:
SSDs currently represent 0.3% of enterprise storage sales, taking only the topmost high-end position because of the cost per Gbyte for enterprise-class SSD storage. SSD performance is terrific relative to HDD storage but the SSDs’ cost is a barrier to widespread, mainstream enterprise adoption.
Build an enterprise-class SSD with SLC (single-level cell) NAND Flash memory to get good Flash endurance and system-level data reliability and you’ll charge $20 to $25 per Gbyte. There’s no mainstream goodness at that price point. So you need to drive the cost per Gbyte down if you want a mainstream storage product, down by about an order of magnitude according to Danilak. How? Well, you can use eMLC (enterprise multi-level cell) NAND Flash which delivers more capacity per dollar at the expense of some endurance. But that’s not going to get you all the way.
To get to the price levels Danilak thinks you’ll need to attain to go mainstream with an enterprise-class SSD product, you need to use commercial MLC NAND Flash memory. But that kind of NAND Flash memory cannot deliver enterprise-class endurance on its own. You need to add system-level magic including better Flash-specific RAID algorithms that can compensate for the loss of an entire NAND Flash device, better ECC algorithms, compression algorithms, and deduplication algorithms. Build a box that does all of this, and you can address mainstream enterprise-class storage needs.
That’s what this chart is supposed to show:
And that is what the Skyera Skyhawk SSD does.
Then what? Well, in a private conversation at the Flash Media Summit with Danilak and Alessandro Fin, Skyera’s VP of Product Management, I learned that the SSD controller in the Skyera Skyhawk is implemented in an FPGA to get the required performance from the RAID, ECC, and compression algorithms. This stuff can’t be implemented in software. Too slow.
The next logical step is to jump from FPGA to SoC. To do that, you need two things: a product that’s truly mainstream (to get the required sales volume) and a controller design that’s tested enough to be canned in silicon. Wanna bet on how soon that will be?