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Marvell's New SSD Strategy: One Size Can Fit All

Silicon developer Marvell is taking its first steps into the PCI Express (PCIe) SSD controller market with several new products built on the strategy that choice scalability will be the winning formula. The new controllers provide a core building block creating PCIe SSDs in flexible configurations that incrementally scale in cost, capacity and performance. This will enable SSD OEMs and system integrators to create flexible PCIe SSD configurations that eliminate SAS or SATA conversion for better I/O performance required by different market segments.

Marvell is already active in the HDD controller and SSD technologies, and expects the PCIe market to heat up as the industry looks to the next level of performance after SAS and SATA. Representatives from Marvell claim that no other vendor has stepped up with an ASIC approach, which should give the company the first-to-market mind share. The new line of controllers will scale, in increments, to more than 1 million IOPs.

"The scalability of the product is indeed valuable as, frankly, we live in a world of scalable needs," says Mark Peters, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group. "In Marvell's announcement, it's both rare and gratifying to see a component supplier eschew the standard 'shout the top numbers from the rooftops' approach and understand that what they are really selling, once their product is integrated into an overall system, is suitability and business value ... that can only be achieved with a flexible product."

As part of the announcements, Marvell has partnered with SSD-maker OCZ Technology Group on what they're calling the industry's fastest and most versatile PCIe storage system. The Z-Drive R5 is based on a jointly developed native PCIe-to-NAND flash controller platform that allows for scalable performance and redundancy while eliminating the need for a separate storage controller. Its features include capacities up to 12 Tbytes, compatibility with VMware ESXi and ESX, Linux, Windows Server 2008, and OS X, power fail protection option, and MLC, eMLC, and SLC NAND flash options.

Marvell's 88NV9145 supports a PCIe 2.0 x1 interface, ARM-based processor, external Double Data Rate (DDR) interface and four NAND flash channels with up to four Chip Selects (CSs) per channel. In addition, it can support up to 128 Gbytes NAND capacity and has been tested to achieve up to 93,000 4K random read IOPS and 70,000 4K random write IOPS.

Peters says the fully native PCIe-to-NAND controller should be significant for both enterprise and cloud storage markets for some time. Especially for scalability, the mass production of the Marvell 88NV9145 means systems vendors will have a cost-effective way to deliver popular high-performance PCIe SSDs in an easy and flexible fashion, he states. Based on the initial specifications, the product is parlaying Marvell's successful storage heritage to catalyze another key technology step.

The 88SE9230 6 Gbps SATA controller is designed to deliver twice the performance, capacity and scalability of its predecessor. Powered by HyperDuo embedded processor technology that enables SSD-like performance while allowing all data to be stored on traditional SATA hard disk drives (HDDs), it doubles in capacity with four ports for SSD or HDD connectivity, while two PCIe 2.0 lanes are now equipped to deliver double the PCIe bus bandwidth to accommodate multiple SATA SSDs. Its algorithms automatically pin hot data files and directories to up to three SATA SSDs while enabling all data to be safely stored on larger capacity SATA HDDs, and its security features include 128/256-bit on-the-fly AES encryption.

Marvell also announced it has finalized the acquisition of Sweden-based Xelerated, a developer of network processing and programmable Ethernet switching products for the design of carrier Ethernet, Unified Fiber Access, Mobile Backhaul and Transport platforms. Marvell says it will continue to work with EZChip on NP-4 and NP-5 processors.

The company says customers and prospects have been sampling the new chips since the last quarter, and they are available in volume now.

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