Seagate has finally joined the ranks of other hard drive manufacturers in releasing a solid state drive of their own. What makes this drive so interesting is that in typical Seagate fashion, they did not release their first product for the consumer market, but rather for the enterprise space. This is due in part because the company likes to develop a solid product when they come to the market with something new and they always like to make sure that it passes the rigorous environments of the enterprise environment.
Enterprise SSD space according to Seagate: 5-10% of WW market
In a way, unlike many prosumer companies that started to develop enterprise-class testing for their consumer SSD products, Seagate is going the other way around; developing enterprise-class procedures for building and qualifying a product, and then deriving a part to cater the consumer market.
The reason that this announcement is so important is because many analysts and users alike have been criticizing Seagate for not getting their heads into the solid state game. The reason for this is because people have been seeing all of the benefits that come along with SSDs and they have simply been expecting companies like Seagate and Western Digital to be part of this storage trend. After all, Seagate and Western Digital are considered the global leaders in storage technologies. Many people warned that if the leading hard drive companies did not get their own SSD products going, that they would risk being beaten out in the future by those companies that did. This, of course, worried many of those in the management of both Western Digital and Seagate and over the past few years they both acquired companies that developed technologies in the solid state business. As a result, most people were simply waiting for Seagate‘s investments to come to fruition in the form of an SSD.
Pulsar brings in SLC technology with over 30% of storage space reserved for redundancy
As for the drives themselves, Seagate launched three models, all coming in the industry standard 2.5" form factor, ranging in sizes from 50GB to 200GB. While some users familiar with SSDs may wonder why Seagate went with such odd numbers, the answer is quite simple; redundancy and stability. In effect, these are actually higher capacity drives, such as 240GB physical storage for the 200GB model [packs no less than 15 Samsung 16GB chips]; 20% of capacity is reserved for redundancy purposes. Drives are designed to last longer in the enterprise space and provide for the best speed while not making them vulnerable to failure and data loss. Seeing a third of the storage space reserved for redundancy purposes serves as a stark reminder of limitations imposed by SSD technology. Given that Seagate focused on enterprise space, the company obviously expects that up to 20% of Single-Level Cells could die. Also, do bear in mind that Seagate expects these drives to last longer than most consumer SSDs on the market today.
These drives will also carry an industry leading five-year warranty, equal to their conventional HDDs. In addition to that, Seagate explained to us that the company went for the more reliable and trusted SLC technology which proves that Seagate spared almost no expense when building these drives as SLC is traditionally more expensive than MLC but also more reliable.
In our discussion with Rich Vignes, Senior Product Line Manager at Seagate, one of questions imposed was why the company went with SATA 2.0 [SATA-II or SATA 3Gbps] standard rather than SAS [Serial Attached SCSI] or SATA 3.0 and the answer was somewhat on the defensive line, but understandable - Seagate's own customers asked for SATA 2.0 standard in order to limit the expenses required for additional qualification of the parts at hand. When the consumer line-up arrives on the market, it will support "all the latest and greatest" standards such as SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 but for this initial product, Seagate listened to their customers first.
Now, some people would expect that with all of this reliability a drive would have to sacrifice speed. This is where Seagate’s approach came out to be beneficial. They may have taken a long time to make an SSD, but they’ve made a drive that is not only fast but it is also designed to satisfy the needs of large businesses who need the speed of SSDs but fear the repercussions of using a consumer class drive. So when Seagate achieved up to 30,000 read IOPS and 25,000 write IOPS, 240MB/s sequential read and 200 MB/s sequential write speeds we saw that their drives were in contention with some of the fastest consumer drives [on paper]. Naturally, in the enterprise environment nothing beats sustained speed and this is where you see the difference in performance. All models feature sustained read speed of 240MB/s, but due to the number of chips, write speeds differ. For example, the entry-level 50GB model features only 40MB/s sustained write speeds, in-line with the number of channels attached to the storage controller [each channel has a certain amount of chips attaching to it]. 100GB model offers double speed [80MB/s], while 200GB model quadruples the speed of 50GB model with 160MB/s of sustained write capability.
The drives themselves feature SLC memory chips on top side while bottom side features power-loss data-failure prevention circuitry and the memory controller that handles up to 15 SLC chips.
With Intel SLC and MLC drives still leading the performance charts, it will be quite interesting comparing Pulsar drives to the already existing SSDs on the market. One thing is certain, though: with Seagate and WD both in the ring, the SSD battle is becoming heavy-weight as well. Now only time will tell which of the smaller players will thrive and which will face failure in the market.
Note: Theo Valich contributed to reporting.
Updated by Sean Kalinich
We have a little more information for you about this as of this morning. We have learned that the new Pulsar drives will have up to 16 channels per drive. This exceeds the next highest out by 62% [Intel only has 10 channels per drive.]. Additionally Seagate is boasting a 0.44% [Annualized Failure Rate]; this roughly equals 2 million hours MTBF [mean time between failures] if you are into number this calculates out to about 228 Years before you can expect a failure [[2,000,000/24]/365]. Now that is what I call reliability. We also talked about verifying performance Seagate has told us that these new drives are drop-in compatible with current storage solutions. They have gone so far as to test them in “mix and match” configurations with other types of storage [SAS and SATA HDDs] to ensure a smooth transition.
We also did directly ask Seagate where they felt this drive would fit in and were told that the first Pulsar is going to be an OEM only product. It will be aimed at bulk general servers and DAS solutions. Later models will ship with high-end data storage and servers in mind. When the question about if the new Pulsar would penetrate into the Prosumer market came up Seagate told us that they are not directly looking at this, but that these drives will fit well in any system that needs high-sustained write speeds or high I/O performance. To me that reads that we will see these showing up in the Prosumer market in 3D Animation systems, Audio Visual Workstations and others along these lines. There is even the potential to see these adopted by Red Digital Cinema users as the near line storage for their Red One cameras.
So while we may not see OEMs dropping these onto the world soon [Seagate says that the first drives are OEM only so it is up to them to release them when ready] the future of high I/O and Write speed [Sustained] SSDs looks pretty bright to us.