The enterprise PCIe SSD market is primarily composed of established players, and enjoys steady growth. The winds of consolidation have blown several PCIe pioneers into larger corporations with direct access to NAND flash. This gives them direct access to fabrication, or at the very least, a guaranteed supply of the most costly component of any solid state device. Several of the NAND fabs also already have homegrown programs that have fielded a number of very competitive offerings. The ability to create their own NAND yields time-to-market and cost benefits, but also makes it difficult for emerging players to carve out a spot in the lucrative PCIe SSD market.
Memblaze has gained traction with their innovative products. Their PCIe 2.0 x8 PBlaze3L and PBlaze3H products offer impressive performance specifications that rival competing offerings, and a unique architecture allows their customers to design custom-capacity units. The Memblaze PBlaze3L we are covering today comes in the HHHL form factor, and the high-performance and capacity Blaze3H variant comes in the FHHL form factor. Both models offer up to 25 different capacity points, and are available with SLC or MLC NAND.
The PBlaze3L provides 615,000 random read IOPS, and 130,000 random write IOPS. Sequential performance is stout at 2.4 GB/s read, and 1.1 GB/s write. It is important to note that these performance specifications come at 80% of capacity utilization. The management utility allows easy configuration for various levels of overprovisioning, which boosts performance and endurance while reducing performance variability. We test the Pblaze3L in full capacity mode, and with the recommended 80% utilization high-performance mode.
One key weakness of PCIe SSDs can be inflexible capacity configurations. Spare capacity can lead to an underutilized and isolated pool of storage, which is far from ideal considering the price premium. Memblaze allows custom capacity configuration to maximize ROI, and tailor the SSD to specific requirements.
The key to the varying capacity points lies in Memblaze's Pianokey Technology. This unique design utilizes a modular design with four different modules of varying NAND capacity. Memblaze integrates modules into the final product according to customer requirements. This allows users to select up to 25 different capacity points for both MLC and SLC models, and capacity is adjustable in either 25GB or 50GB increments. The Pianokey architecture manages to keep performance specifications static, regardless of capacity, which is an advantage at smaller capacity points.
Both models offer plenty of capacity - up to 2.4TB on the PBlaze3L, and 4.8TB on the PBlaze3H. The PBlaze3L utilizes one FPGA controller, and the PBlaze3H is a dual-FPGA solution. Both cards utilize DRAM in varying capacities, and polymer capacitors protect against host power-loss events.
Memblaze also touts their device-based architecture as a key advantage over competing solutions. Many host-based architectures, such as Virident and Fusion-io products, utilize the host for FTL, wear leveling, garbage collection, and flash management tasks. This leads to computational overhead and RAM usage, but also expands functionality when utilizing software-based enhancements. Memblaze offloads all of these features onto Pblaze SSDs. Others, such as Micron and Intel, also favor this approach. Both approaches have their pros and cons, and Memblaze favors enabling full utilization all of the compute and memory capacity for application performance. This lowers system RAM usage to 1MB.
Memblaze also offers a suite of proprietary enhancements for internal management. MemWA minimizes Write Amplification through refined GC and static/dynamic data rotation. MemSmooth reduces latency variation through efficient wear leveling, and MemSecure provides full end-to-end data path protection, cross-die device-level RAID, power loss protection, and randomization for data protection. MemCare adaptively manages NAND settings to reduce wear and extend endurance, and all of these features combine to provide enhanced endurance, and a two-million hour MTBF. The PBlaze3L is covered by a three-year warranty.
The Memblaze Pblaze3L checks all of the boxes on enterprise features, and offers compelling differentiators. Let's take a closer look.
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