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Micron's RealSSD P400e: Affordable SSD Storage For The Enterprise?

RealSSD P400e: Aiming For Entry-Level Enterprise

Enterprise-oriented SSDs armed with premium NAND often sell for $5/GB and up. That's an expense many IT professionals gladly pay, if only for the reliability they afford, which translates to fewer failed drives, less downtime, and, ideally, a more cost-effective experience.

Increasingly, though, we're seeing this concept of "entry-level" enterprise solid-state storage that doesn't cost as much, doesn't need to offer the same unflagging endurance, and can be easily swapped out when it fails. Read caching, for example, is an excellent application for less expensive SSDs. Micron adds that its P400e is also well-suited to application loading and as an operating system boot device.

While the company's SLC NAND-based P300 tackles the high-end space, its P400e becomes the company's MLC NAND-based entry-level enterprise offering. We know they're not intended to do the same thing, nor did we expect the newer model to outmaneuver its predecessor. The P400e is best suited to workloads that push sequential reads, a fact that's made clear by its 450 MB/s performance numbers.

Random I/O is far less attractive. Once in a steady state, the P400e sheds so much performance that it becomes worryingly slow.

For what it does well, the P400e is a respectable choice. You simply need to know your workload and pick storage that's appropriate to it. Our main problem with the P400e is that its price tag doesn't necessarily reflect entry-level enterprise positioning. At launch, the company suggested that the 200 GB model we're reviewing would sell for around $330 (using disti pricing). Instead, it's going for more than $550 on two different online vendors. That's a big difference, and we have to imagine many businesses will choose more well-rounded "desktop" SSDs priced closer to $1/GB instead.

Intel's SSD 520, for example, can best or at the very least match the performance of Micron's P400e in decidedly enterprise workloads—even with a lower price and longer five-year warranty. We demonstrated the SSD 320 falling behind Micron's newer drive in sequential reads, but it excels in random I/O. Perhaps the more attractive option would be Intel's newer SSD 330, though, which centers on a SandForce controller and adds SATA 6Gb/s to the mix.

The P400e's niche is further constrained by its MLC NAND, which compels the same warning we'd give an IT pro about any other MLC-based drive. Basically, if you subject it to heavy writes (sequential writes, in the case of our endurance testing), it's going to wear out. And faster than an Intel SSD 320, if our numbers are accurate. This is an issue for the P400e because, although it sports a uniquely-tuned firmware and tons of over-provisioning, those don't necessarily appear to be competitive advantages.

With all of that said, Micron knows what it takes to succeed in the enterprise space. Its P300 dominates as the most cost-effective SLC-based drive, which is why SoftLayer, a company that reportedly hosts more than 81 000 servers, purchased a few thousand P300s when Intel phased out its X25-E. But in order to enjoy that same success in the fledgling entry-level enterprise space, it needs to find a way to either offset the lower endurance of its MLC NAND or come up with a way to bring the P400e's price tag down closer to its original distribution numbers.

Price-conscious IT professionals are already deploying Intel's desktop SSDs in applications that can tolerate them. ZT Systems, for example, has one client that uses more than 150 000 X25-Ms. Likewise, Micron is eager to build its customer base of businesses leaning on a tiered storage structure, and it's positioning the P400e to establish some cachet with the entry-level buyer. What Micron's RealSSD P400e needs more than anything is an entry-level price able to do battle with competing solid-state solutions.