Wozniak's storage start-up adds reliability to consumer-grade flash

Fusion-io can offer less expensive disks to customers while sacrificing little in terms of performance and endurance

Fusion-io, the flash storage start-up with Steve Wozniak as its chief scientist, says it can now manage commercial-grade flash memory in a way that ensures enterprise-class reliability.

This means Fusion-io can offer less expensive disks to customers while sacrificing little in terms of performance and endurance, the company said Tuesday.

The announcement focuses on the differences between multi-level cell (MLC) flash chips, used primarily for consumer devices; and single-level cell (SLC), primarily used in enterprise applications.

MLC, the less expensive version, fits twice as much storage capacity into the same amount of silicon as SLC, but is less reliable with more misreads and errors, says CTO David Flynn.

"The single-level cell is a niche product targeting only enterprise SSDs, not even consumer SSDs," Flynn says. "Because it's a niche it costs four times as much per bit."

Fusion-io announced Tuesday that it is releasing new products that take MLC chips and cut the usable storage capacity in half, while eliminating most of the potential for errors. This allows the use of a less expensive type of flash for enterprise-grade applications.

"We're taking off-the-shelf MLC and using it in a way where it acts as if it were SLC," Flynn says.

Earlier this year, Fusion-io landed $47 million in venture funding, and announced that Apple co-founder Wozniak had taken a full-time position as the company's chief scientist.

Fusion-io's ioDrive products are PCI Express (PCIe) cards that are loaded with flash memory and inserted directly into servers. The company already offered both SLC and MLC products and is dubbing its new line of tools "SMLC."

The SMLC devices "closely approximate" the performance and endurance of SLC, but are not 100% accurate, Flynn says. Therefore, some enterprises will still prefer to use SLC for write-intensive workloads.

SMLC will be available later this month in 160GB and 320GB ioDrive cards. Fusion-io did not release specific pricing but said it would be about halfway between the price of SLC and MLC. A typical Fusion-io MLC product costs about $15 per gibabyte while the company's SLC costs about $30 to $40 a gigabyte.

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