Fusion-io: This Ain't Your Father's SSD Hardware

Think your new SATA solid-state hard drive is hot stuff? There's a new kid on the block that will make it look like a relic from the storage Stone Age.
Think your new SATA solid-state hard drive is hot stuff? There's a new kid on the block that will make it look like a relic from the storage Stone Age.Last summer, the gadget geeks at got their hands on a storage product from Fusion-io. The company's ioDrive marries SSD storage to a PCI Express card.

You have to see the resulting performance numbers to believe them.

A head-to-head contest between the Fusion-io and a single Intel X25-M SSD drive using a 3Gbps SATA interface wasn't really much of a contest at all. Running four of the Intel drives in RAID 0 didn't help much, at least in relative terms.

That performance, however, came at a price. The 160GB ioDrive cost a little over $7,000.

Now, HotHardware is reviewing the company's latest offering. The ioXtreme has a 80GB capacity and uses a less expensive form of NAND flash than its bleeding-edge predecessor. It also retails for just $900, making it a legitimate option for very high-end desktop PCs.

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In the long run, it will be intriguing to see how falling production costs might allow PCI Express-based SSDs to nibble away at the high end of the mainstream market. Even today, however, the July HotHardware review points out some ways that this technology already offers a cost-effective choice in some situations: The folks at Fusion-io like to refer to their ioDrive technology as "another memory tier" versus a new storage medium. They don't claim to be interested in displacing bulk disk storage and there is little question, at these price points, they will anytime soon. However, they speak of a system architecture that more cleanly fills the performance hole between local system memory (DRAM) that operates at nanosecond access times, and current spinning disk technology that operates at millisecond access times. That makes sense to us and directly attaching to the architecture via PCI Express, versus bridging from SATA to PCI Express, is the really right/best way to do it. In fact, Fusion-io has more to deal with than just price points compared to traditional bulk storage. As of yet, there is no way to use a PCI Express direct-attached storage to boot a PC.

Yet that "performance hole" that Fusion-io wants to fill clearly represents a significant market opportunity. At $7,000, the ioDrive was a practical choice only for enterprise SANs and mission-critical applications such as databases. At $800, I can think of any number of business applications, including those running in SMB environments, that might benefit from this technology.

This looks like a case where Fusion-io isn't out to ravage the market for existing storage hardware. It's more interested in carving out a completely new market niche that, at least for the time being, it gets to keep all to itself.