A group of IT vendors, including Intel, Dell, EMC, IBM and Fujitsu, is working to standardise high-performance solid-state drives (SSDs) on a single form factor and a new interface based on PCI Express (PCIe).
The goal is to increase performance while offering backwards compatibility with existing SAS and Sata drive interfaces. The specifications are expected mid-2011, which is the earliest that products based on it could appear.
Known as the SSD Form Factor Working Group, the firms are looking to standardise on the familiar 2.5in form factor, but to add a new connector that will support multiple protocols, namely PCIe 3.0, SAS 3.0 and Sata 3.0.
"We're not looking to replace existing standards, but add an incremental improvement to the platform," said Jim Pappas, director of technology initiatives at Intel.
PCIe has become the "universal attach point" for high-bandwidth applications, Pappas said, and has "the proven highest performance in IOPS and lowest possible latency".
Additional benefits of the standard are expected to include multi-lane capability for higher bandwidth, and hot-plug support to easily add or remove a drive in a working system.
The drive form factor was chosen rather than a plug-in PCIe card because "IT guys know how to extend systems by adding drives", explained Pappas.
"Opening up a system to add a card is not an activity they have told us they care to do."
Gary Kotzur, technology strategist at Dell, added: "We needed a common form factor, and the 2.5in drive made the most sense."
Kotzur explained that the path latency of a PCIe solution can be much lower than with SAS, providing significant performance improvements in I/O-bound applications such as databases.
This is because SAS drives are typically connected via a PCIe adapter anyway , so making a direct PCIe connection effectively cuts out the middleman.
The Working Group is just beginning operations, Pappas said, and is open to all comers.
"We want to get the message across that all companies with an interest in this area can join and contribute," he said.
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