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Move to QLC storage: Learn why it’s better

Peter Krass's picture

by Peter Krass on 08/01/2019
Blog Category: cloud-and-data-centers

Sometimes, more is simply better.

That’s why tech providers should be excited by Intel’s QLC 3D NAND SSD series of PCIe drives. With your customers looking to cost-effectively unleash the value of their stored data, these read-optimized SSDs will enable them to store more, save more, and move beyond traditional legacy solutions.

It’s part of the industry’s move to QLC storage. So far, this technology is offered commercially by only Intel and one other supplier, Micron Technology. But other storage suppliers plan to offer QLC drives soon. And customers are already using it.

Intel now offers three devices in its QLC 3D NAND SSD series: the Intel SSD D5-P4320 Series, Intel SSD D5-4420 Series and Intel SSD D5-4326 Series. All three are available in the standard U.2 format, and the D5-4326 is also available in the E1.L “ruler” format.

Currently, the D5-P4320 and D5-P4420 drives are available storing just under 8TB. The high-end D5-P4326 currently stores 15TB, and a 30TB version is expected later this year.

Intel QLC 3D NAND drives

That’s a lot of initials, so let’s unpack things:

> SSD, of course, refers to solid state drive. These devices store data on a NAND flash memory, offering far faster speeds than the older hard disk drives (HDDs), which store data on a spinning magnetic disc.

> NAND is the flash architecture used in SSDs, as well as in USB drives, digital cameras and some smartphones.

> QLC is short for quad-level cell. It’s a storage technology that stores 4 bits of data on a single cell. Before QLC, we had TLC (3 bits/cell), MLC (2 bits/cell) and SLC (1 bit/cell). By comparison with those older formats, QLC delivers higher-density storage at a lower cost/GB. It does, however, sacrifice some speed relative to TLC.

> 3D in this context refers to the fact that Intel engineers, after hitting a scalability limit, realized they could store more data by stacking memory cells vertically. It’s similar to the way architects get more people into a building by stacking floors to create a skyscraper. Intel’s 3D approach — now reaching 64 layers — delivers a lot more density, while maintaining the important factor of data reliability.

Intel says this can consolidate storage footprints by up to 20x. With that kind of density, your customers can get lots more data on each rack. They may even consolidate so many drives, they can eliminate some racks altogether.

> PCIe: This is the bus standard for two-way, high-speed serial connections. From a storage perspective, the important thing to know is that a PCIe SSD can both read and write data a whole lot faster than can a SATA SSD.

Real-world benefits

What are the advantages of using all this new storage technology?

Intel is aiming for data-center managers who want to move “warm” data currently stored on SATA or SAS HDDs to the newer QLC SSD drives. (Warm data: information that’s frequently analyzed, but only rarely changed.)

With this move, your customers can enjoy quite a few powerful benefits. These include:

> Consolidate the storage footprint by up to 3x compared with 4TB HDDs with the D5-P4320 and D5-P4420 drives, and by up to 20x with the D5-P4326.

> Reduce power and cooling requirements

> Lower maintenance costs

> Enable data-reduction techniques to reduce the cost per effective GB

> Enjoy big performance gains at a lower total cost of ownership (TCO)

> Scale usable capacity

> Improve Flash Array performance

> Support a wider range of workloads

Put a number on it

How about quantifying these benefits with some numbers? Sure. Here’s an example, courtesy of Intel.

To test a baseline CEPH block storage application, Intel compared two setups. The first system was based on older gear: a 1st Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Gold 6152 processor and TLC NAND SSD drives. The second system was based on newer gear: a 2nd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Gold 6252 processor, Intel Optane DC SSD, and QLC 3D NAND SSD.

The second, newer system beat out the older system on three main points: overall bill of materials (BOM) cost, input/output operations per second (IOPS), and latency. It provided up to 1.9x the storage for 10% less money (roughly $28K vs. $32K). IOPS were 10% better. And P9999 latency was 67% better.

The upshot: QLC storage is capable of handling most workloads, while also offering a lower TCO. Intel’s technology is mature now, with high yields at high quality. And demand from your customers? That should be just as high.


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