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» VIEW ALL POSTS Feb 21 2008   11:13AM GMT

New SSDs are on their way



Posted by: Beth Pariseau
Tags:
storage technology research

Or so says Pliant Technology, a new company that just received $8 million in Series A funding. It’s comprised of former execs from storage companies including Maxtor, Quantum, Fujitsu and Seagate.

The cast of characters is as follows:

  • Jim McCoy, Chairman – Co-Founder of Maxtor and Quantum
  • Amyl Ahola, CEO – Former CEO of TeraStor, vice president at Seagate and Control Data
  • Mike Chenery, President/Founder – Former vice president of advanced product engineering at Fujitsu
  • Doug Prins, Founder/Chief Architect – Former consultant for Fujitsu, Emulex, and Q-Logic
  • Aaron Olbrich, Founder/CTO – Formerly at Fujitsu and IBM

And that’s just about all we know in detail right now about Pliant. I spoke with McCoy this week about the announcement of funding; he said the company has decided to come out of stealth now, but has been working on perfecting the solid-state drive for the last two years.

The new company is aiming to improve the solid-state drive with its products, which are due out by the end of this year, with alpha and beta testing scheduled beginning this summer. Pliant’s drives will perform better than current flash drives, “closer to what the DRAM people have,” McCoy claims. The drives have also been “designed for a 24×7 operating environment, with error rates equal to or better than hard drives.” Specifically, the drives are going to tackle an issue McCoy says has been a dirty secret in the solid-state game: read disturb, a phenomenon in which reading data from one portion of a flash drive causes degradation in nearby bits.

Existing solid-state vendors have tried to address this problem, as well as issues with write endurance, using error correction codes (ECCs). But according to McCoy, ECC is not enough. “ECCs are a minimal starting point,” he said. “By themselves, they are not sufficient.”

If that gets you all wound up about the state of solid state, though, you’re going to have to wait to find out how exactly Pliant plans to build a better mousetrap. The specifics of its technical approach are “confidential at this point,” said McCoy.

Will the new and improved Pliant drives be able to do anything about the acquisition costs that are keeping many users away from solid-state drives right now? “There won’t be much of a price penalty over other [SSD products],” McCoy said, which I’ll take as a no. McCoy did point out that long-term, solid state is more cost-effective than over-provisioning hard drives.

The problem is, users rarely start from scratch; many will have over-provisioned hard drives already, and would need to start by adding very expensive SSDs on top of already very expensive assets. “Customers are reaching the end of possible performance with hard drives,” McCoy countered. “And new systems [like EMC's Symmetrix] are going to start going out with a combination of drives.”

According to research from IDC, performance and mobility-related requirements will propel SSD revenues from $373 million in 2006 to $5.4 billion in 2011, a 71% CAGR. And I’ve heard many in the industry lament that while the capacity of spinning drives has been going up continually, the ability to get data off those drives faster is not keeping pace. Something will obviously need to change.

Meanwhile, the answer to the question of exactly how Pliant’s products propose to be a catalyst in that equation remains in stealth for now.

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