The PCIe SSD category is growing rapidly as NAND continues its rapid explosion into the datacenter. The P320h represents a huge step forward for Micron as they continue their push into the datacenter with their enterprise storage flash products. Micron entering into the PCIe SSD market is certainly turning heads of several of the 'old guards' in this space.
Micron's entrance into this market is big news simply because Micron has their own NAND fabrication capabilities, giving them a tremendous advantage over the smaller players in this niche. Owning their own fab allows them to maintain higher profit margins while undercutting competitors on price. The P320h serves a market previously dominated by players such as Fusion-IO, OCZ, SanDisk, Texas Memory Systems, LSI and STEC.
Other companies with fabrication abilities have recently made inroads into this market as well, with the Intel 910 and SanDisk Lightning both hailing from companies with NAND foundries. The Micron P320h features a different architecture and feature set that differentiates them from these other foundry competitors, but Micron is looking to further means of product differentiation.
The P320h provides a springboard for Micron to expand even further into the NAND acceleration market by implementing a shared flash system. Micron's acquisition of Virtensys' assets in January supplies the IP to pursue development of a PCIe virtualization technology platform. This virtualization platform will enable the sharing of a pool of PCIe SSDs between multiple servers. This enables the performance and latency of a PCIe SSD with the flexibility of a shared storage device. Sharing storage across multiple servers enables high-performance computing clusters to leverage PCIe bandwidth and latency.
There are versions of this type of technology available or in development from several of Micron's key competitors. EMC has the Thunder initiative underway, Violin Memory touts their networked flash arrays and Fusion-IO delivers their ION data acceleration technology. Even OCZ has made inroads into this promising market with their acquisition of SANRAD. Expect Micron to invest heavily in this area as they look to provide their customers with a PCI sharing technology that boasts much higher speed and lower latency performance than competitors can offer.
RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent NAND)
Micron leverages several advanced approaches for verifying user data and correcting errors. Typical background routines such as hardware based ECC algorithms and firmware-based static and dynamic wear-leveling algorithms run on the Micron ASIC. Micron has taken error correction and avoidance to the next level with their proprietary RAIN Technology (Redundant Array of Independent NAND) implementation. At its most basic level, this is very similar to RAID 5 functionality.
RAIN Technology groups and logically stripes page and/or block data across NAND channels, then generates and stores parity data along with the user data. RAIN creates one page of parity for every seven pages of user data. This data plus parity structure provides data recovery due to a storage element failure. This corrects errors due to a channel, page or block failure. The transparent process takes place without any degradation of the SSDs performance.
There is a capacity trade-off for the enhanced data protection scheme (in graphic above). This is a worthwhile investment to protect user data, especially in mission-critical applications.