March 2013 Archives

Forget MLC vs SLC; it's going to be TLC vs MLC soon

Antony Adshead | No Comments
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The NAND flash memory scene is already an alphabet soup, with SLC, MLC, eMLC and now TLC to contend with.

Flash is flavour of the month/year in enterprise storage, because of its ability to rapidly deliver the likes of virtual desktops and servers, as well as processing high-performance transactional databases.

You may have recently got to grips with the distinctions between MLC and SLC. In fact, we know that many of you have because our explainers on MLC vs SLC are among our most-read pages month after month.

That may be about to change, however, as the flash market evolves.

Namely, SLC seems to be all set to effectively fade from the flash acronym lexicon, while TLC enters it.

SLC - or single level cell - is the best-performing and most durable of the NAND flash types. It's also the most expensive per GB. And while many flash storage system vendors offer SLC, take-up seems to be far slower.

That is, admittedly, from the decidedly non-scientific viewpoint of a storage journalist to whom vendors are keen to trumpet customer wins. But what I see on a regular basis is the use of MLC/eMLC flash, which has had its shortcomings addressed by clever software error correction etc.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that TLC - triple level cell flash - is creeping up as an enterprise flash option.  What's the evidence?

Samsung Semiconductor launched TLC-based flash products late last year. And speaking to the CEO flash array maker Pure Storage, Scott Dietzen, last week, he indicated it was only a matter of time (or more precisely, cost) until TLC makes an impression on the enterprise storage market.

The read latency of TLC is now nearly as good as MLC. Samsung pitches its TLC products for heavily read-intensive use cases, such as streaming media, for example. Dietzen expects TLC and MLC to be used in a tiered fashion in enterprise storage when the price of the former reaches two thirds of the latter.

That might not be too long. A quick look at flash market analyst sites such as the Taiwanese inSpectrum show the contract price for 128GB of MLC at an average of $8.72 while the same capacity TLC is about 75% of that at $6.60.

As the proportion of TLC flash manufacturing increases that price will decrease. Perhaps we'll see that 66% hit this year and TLC-based storage products emerge.

I think it's time to get writing that TLC vs MLC article.

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Egnyte: 5G the tipping point for cloud storage

Antony Adshead | No Comments
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What are the limits of cloud storage right now? We've examined it elsewhere. And you wouldn't necessarily ask the CEO of a cloud storage service provider that question. They have too many reasons to come a little fast and loose with the facts, purely in their commercial interest, of course.

But this week I asked those questions of the CEO of Egnyte, a US-headquartered cloud storage provider that focuses on providing file sharing and synchronisation that is breaking into Europe.

Egnyte has two US datacentres and one in Amsterdam and holds about 12PB of customer data in a hyperscale storage environment; ie Super Micro server chassis with direct-attached storage on 4TB commodity drives. It's all held together by a home-grown object storage file system with redundancy at server level rather than that of the components within. Added to this is a dash of Fusion-io and Intel PCIe flash for rapid caching of customer data.

Egnyte offers cloud storage to its customers, with data kept in its datacentres plus access to Amazon, Google, Microsoft and NetApp clouds.

It also offers customers a hybrid of on-site storage alongside the cloud and herein is the recognition that for most types of production data the cloud is simply not yet ready. That's because network latency is still too great for access to data to be swift enough for the most business-critical applications.

So, when will the cloud really break through as an option for production data storage?

Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain sees a tipping point when 5G mobile networks are established.

Jain said: "Today 47% of our users access Egnyte by mobile, and currently we have 4G networks that have a maximum of 100Mbps bandwidth. That's nowhere near what's needed, but 5G is expected to be 1,000 times faster than that. Until then the cloud will be good for some things but it will be hybrid [ie, with disk storage at the customer site] until bandwidth is reliably available with no chokepoints."

Of course, reliable bandwidth isn't the only obstacle to cloud adoption. Security and compliance are the other key concerns, which, says Jain, could be overcome if businesses think realistically about what the cloud is good for.

"Like the mythical paperless office, there's been too much cloud hype," he says. "There will be an increasing amount of data put into the cloud, but we'll see it skewed towards that large proportion of data that businesses must keep but is infrequently accessed."

It's good to hear a realistic view of the cloud. And it'll be interesting to watch how cloud develops over coming years. Ultimately, the onset of usable could storage could shake up the entire storage industry as we know it, with the current incumbent vendors needing to adapt to survive as hyperscale storage-driven service providers offer increasingly usable remote storage services. But that's a musing for another blog sometime.

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