Pillar kicks Intel's SSD to the curb, upgrades storage array

It blames the solid-state drive for operations time-outs

Pillar Data Systems Inc. said this week that it's replacing Intel's X25-E solid state disk (SSD) drive as an option for its storage arrays with a drive from STEC Inc. because of firmware problems with the Intel's drive that lead to performance slowdowns.

The SSD change was one of several upgrades to Pillar's modular storage array, the Axiom. The company also said it is now doubling the available cache on the array to 192GB , shipping boxes with 2TB hard drives -- double the capacity of previous drives -- and replacing the current dual-core processor controller blade with a quad-core AMD Opteron 2354 chip.

The new hard disk drives push the Axiom's overall usable capacity to more than 1.6 petabytes per system, while cutting overall power consumption by 50 per cent and reducing the space required for the array. The change-over to STEC's SSD also means the company will be able to offer higher capacity 256GB flash drives, since Intel's X25-E tops out at a maximum capacity of 64GB.

Bob Maness, Pillar's vice president of worldwide marketing and channel sales, said the company decided to go with STEC's Mach8 SATA SSD because it proved to have better performance in the array. Intel's X25-E, which has had firmware problems in the past, causes operational timeouts, Maness said.

Pillar is continuing to test its arrays with the X25-E and said Intel is working closely with it to solve the issue. Intel has admitted to firmware problems with the X25-E SSD in the past, but said it resolved them with an upgrade.

Intel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pillar's decision.

Based on commodity hardware, the Pillar Axiom acts as an application-aware storage-area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) server all controlled by a single management interface. The company's claim to fame is the software used to manage the array by automatically allocating CPU, cache and storage capacity separately to applications as they need more resources.

In June, Pillar announced it would begin shipping the Axiom storage system with Intel's X25-E solid state drive as one option. STEC's Mach8 SSD is a consumer-rated drive not normally used in high-performance storage arrays. STEC's Zeus-series SSDs have a Fibre Channel interface normally used for enterprise-class data center operations. Maness said Pillar's Axiom achieves the maximum performance capable with the Mach8 SSDs, which use a serial-ATA interface and are less costly than the Zeus SSD.

"I'd like to get back to Intel's SSD, but I think STEC has a corner on the market," Maness said. "STEC is just a little further along in terms of their drive."

The Pillar Axiom enables users to use any number of drive types, from serial-ATA hard disks to SSD in order to tier storage and utilize the level appropriate to the application being supported. Maness said a single tray that houses SSD drives for the Axiom will retail for $US49,000, roughly the same cost as six trays of Fibre Channel hard disk drives.

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Lucas Mearian

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