Storage

Intel and Micron's new quad-level cell SSD brings extra density, but at a cost

The higher densities of the new QLC SSD result in reduced write endurance, and storage admins should take note.

Intel and Micron have unveiled the first commercially available QLC SSD in the 5210 ION series of devices, as noted in a Monday press release. QLC, or quad-level cell, NAND memory is capable of storing four bits per cell, allowing for substantially higher capacity per drive at a lower cost than TLC- or MLC-based SSDs. However, the increased capacity comes at the expense of reduced endurance—the drives are intended for read-centric use cases, which Micron defines as "90%+ read."

The 5210 ION series is available in three capacities: 1920 GB, 3840 GB, and 7680 GB, with what Micron is claiming is a lower power consumption than their 5200 series of drives. Micron's technical brief indicates read and write speeds of 540 MB/s and 360 MB/s, with IOPS figured at 90,000 and 5,000 respectively. MTTF is estimated at 2 million hours, with max power figured at 6.3 watts. (Micron notes that "these figures are based on early internal test results" and are subject to change.)

Micron is not forthcoming about pricing or availability—the company concedes that "QLC-based SSDs do not eliminate the cost-per-gigabyte advantage of HDDs," though insists that the technology is a good fit for organizations looking to adopt all-flash arrays. Similarly, these drives are presently only available to select customers, though wider availability is expected this fall.

Micron's technical briefs on QLC characterize the technology as only being able to endure 1,000 P/E (program and erase) cycles. Certainly, these are more flexible than so-called WORM (write once, read many) media, though deploying these in a data center will obviously require some mindfulness about the limitations of QLC.

SEE: Storage spotlight: SAN, NAS, tape, and all-flash arrays (Tech Pro Research)

That said, Micron touts the drives as being an efficient solution for specific workloads, such as Apache Hadoop distributed file system, as well as machine learning and NoSQL use cases that require the analysis of large data sets. In particular, Micron focuses on content delivery/video streaming use cases, which the company noted in its brief that "once the drive is filled with video files, it could be considered a 100% read workload from that point forward," for which QLC storage would provide higher densities and longer lifespans.

The other major factors for which Micron is emphasizing the benefit of QLC SSDs are density and power consumption. By Micron's math, it should be possible to fit 76.8 TB of storage (10 drives) in a 1U system, though compared to 10K 2.5" drives—which the 5210 ION series ostensibly competes against, as a nearline storage option—it takes 24 drives in a 2U system to reach 57.6 TB, as the largest capacity 10K 2.5" drive appears to be 2.4 TB.

In terms of power consumption, 6.3W per drive is a decent savings from comparable SATA drives. Micron estimates max power of a enterprise 8 TB, 7200 RPM, 3.5-inch SATA drive as 8.6W, while this look at a Toshiba product list puts their 2.4 TB, 10K, 2.5" drives at 8.7W. Micron is estimating 32 times more write I/Os per watt "than competitively situated SATA HDDs."

Overall, as QLC SSDs become more widely available, the value of 10K and 15K drives is likely to continue to diminish. Higher capacities, faster read performance, and more modest power consumption will make it possible to do more in a relatively smaller space.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • The 5210 ION series is available in three capacities: 1920 GB, 3840 GB, and 7680 GB, with read and write speeds of 540 MB/s and 360 MB/s, respectively.
  • Micron's technical briefs on QLC characterize the technology as only being able to endure 1,000 P/E (program and erase) cycles

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/spainter_vfx

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Writer for TechRepublic. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.

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