So, what have we learned here today? First, there is little question that RAID 0 performance with Intel's X25-M SSD is ever-more impressive than a single drive installation, as we expected. That said, at least from a cost/performance ratio perspective, the sweet spot seems to be a two drive RAID 0 setup, which offers about 80% if the performance of a four drive array in terms of read performance, but perhaps not as much in terms of write intensive operations. Then of course there is the practicality of a four drive RAID 0 setup, which invokes four points of possible failure in the event an SSD should go bad. Obviously this isn't the sort of setup you should store critical files on, though the reliability of Intel's X25-M SSD has been solid and as an OS and application volume, its not quite as risky as it appears on the surface. Alternatively, we'd advise a strong hardware RAID controller solution behind it and a RAID 5 setup, if a quad-SSD array is your goal.
For Fusion-io's ioDrive, our enthusiasm for its ridiculously fast technology is only tempered by its price point. What's most impressive about the ioDrive is that it is capable of delivering seemingly red-lined performance in both read and write intensive workloads and as you pile on concurrent IO requests, the little half-height PCIe card just sucks them up and spits them back at you faster. Not only does Fusion-io's SSD technology circumvent the looming SATA bottleneck, but it also accommodates for some of the intrinsic limitations of the current generation of NAND Flash technology, which in our humble opinion, is without question a game changer.
When we embarked on our initial benchmarking efforts with the products and test system setups in this article, we were going in with the thought process of showing you what Fusion-io's ioDrive can do and also an alternative SSD setup with Intel's SSD, that costs a lot less than Fusion-io's enterprise-class technology. However, as we ripped through each pass of our various test suites, it became apparent that in reality here, we were comparing apples and oranges (though we hate to use that cliche'). Currently the 160GB ioDrive we tested lists for $7200. Obviously this is not a product targeted for even the highest enthusiast desktop end user but rather an enterprise-level SAN (Storage Area Network) box, database or file server. That said, as we also eluded to the notion that what Fusion-io has here with their io-Drive technology capitalizes so well on the disruptive nature of NAND Flash, that it could very well become a disruptive technology in and of itself.
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. Though SATA SSDs have enormous momentum and an ever-increasing adoption rate in the market right now, it's hard not to wonder how a direct-attach NAND Flash technology like the ioDrive might impact the market and future generation computing architectures.
I'll go out on limb here a bit and say that a couple of years from now, things might look very different for SSD technology and that the SATA interface itself might very well be approaching its twilight years. When you consider the design wins Fusion-io has already reeled in from big names like HP, IBM and Samsung and the fact that other industry juggernauts are rumored to have some skin in the game (Dell), there is little question they've got traction and that this technology is compelling across many markets and applications.
Conversely, especially in the consumer space, there is obviously still plenty of life left in SATA and today we've shown you RAID configurations that offer a ton of bandwidth and performance that, though not in-line with what the ioDrive has to offer, cost several thousand dollars less and are certainly more practical cost-wise for the average end user and even most workstation professionals. Again, however, these are two very different technologies and the ioDrive is in a class by itself currently. Though looking at the benchmark numbers and comparing the two technologies was a fun and interesting ride to be sure. We've historically given the Intel X25-M SSD a product rating here at HotHardware, so we won't re-hash that outcome again in this article. The X25-M is clearly one of the best SATA SSDs on the market today. Fusion-io's ioDrive thoroughly impressed us out of the gate as well, however, and we can't wait to look at their more end user-targeted ioXtreme follow-up product that is coming to market very soon. Stay tuned and we'll be sure to fill you in with explicit detail.
Fusion-io 160GB ioDrive
Fusion-io 160GB ioDrive