SSD Controllers for AI & Data Centers: JB Baker Talks Future of Storage

Welcome to this Q&A session hosted by CloudTweaks, where we delve deep into the world of Solid State Drive (SSD) controllers with a focus on data centers and AI infrastructures. Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with JB Baker, Vice President of Product at ScaleFlux. ScaleFlux stands at the forefront of computational storage solutions, leading a transformative journey in IT infrastructure. With a steadfast dedication to innovation, ScaleFlux merges advanced hardware with sophisticated software to foster unprecedented levels of performance, efficiency, and scalability. This approach is crucial for handling the surge of data expected to dominate the digital landscape.

As businesses and data centers around the globe face the challenge of managing and leveraging vast amounts of data, ScaleFlux offers not just solutions but a visionary pathway that transforms massive data flows into actionable insights and substantial value. Today’s discussion promises to provide invaluable insights into the cutting-edge technologies that drive the future of storage in data-intensive environments. Join us as we explore how ScaleFlux’s revolutionary technology is set to redefine the boundaries of what’s possible in data handling and analysis, heralding a new era for companies worldwide.

What are the primary advantages of integrating high-performance processors in enterprise Solid State Drive (SSD) controllers for data centers and AI infrastructures?

Enterprise SSD controllers need a combination of hardware accelerators and high-performance processor cores to deliver the millions of I/O operations per second (IOPS) and gigabytes per second of throughput (GB/s) demanded by today’s NVMe SSDs.  The term “controllers” is a vast understatement of what these chips do.  They are truly System-on-Chip (SoC) processors that manage multiple terabytes (TB) (trending to multiple hundreds of TBs soon) of NAND Flash and several gigabytes (GB) (trending to multiple tens of GBs soon) of DRAM to store and retrieve data at microsecond speeds. These SoCs are constantly tracking dozens of attributes about the NAND media, managing parity and erasure coding to protect against media failures, and identifying and correcting errors in the data that can be introduced in the NAND media or during transit. 

How can the adoption of 64-bit architectures in SSD controllers improve data processing capabilities in enterprise storage solutions?

64-bit processor architectures help the SSD SoC achieve consistently low latency while servicing millions of IOPs and concurrently extending to much higher capacity. These processor architectures also enable efficient access to larger capacities of DRAM and addressing space. Low-power 64-bit cores have the potential to be used for additional data-centric tasks (aka computational storage) to contribute to overall data center efficiency.

In what ways does support for the latest PCIe standards impact the efficiency and speed of data transfer in enterprise storage solutions?

Support for the latest PCIe standards enables drives and systems to exchange data at higher rates, typically doubling in total bandwidth at each iteration. The NVMe standards govern the commands and management of the devices.

What role does real-time processing capability play in enhancing SSD reliability, performance consistency, and error handling in data centers?

Real-time processors help in maintaining quality of service (QoS), which is a measure of latency consistency from IO to IO.  Enterprise, Data center, and Hyperscale users care as much (or more) about the consistency of performance as they do about maximum instantaneous performance. Outliers, IOs that take an exceptionally long time to complete, can cause significant impacts on overall system performance and the end-user experience.

How can advancements in SSD controller technology contribute to reducing overall energy consumption in data centers and promote a greener computing environment?

SSD SoC advances contribute to overall energy efficiency. At the component level, each new generation of SoC delivers more “work per watt” – that is, more IOPs and more GBs per watt of SoC power. As an example, ScaleFlux recently announced its new generation achieves nearly 3x the performance/watt of the prior generation. SSD SoC advances can also contribute to system-level efficiencies by completing data transfers faster, saving on the transfer energy as well as reducing the power wasted by CPUs waiting for data.

What are the challenges and benefits of scaling SSD controller architectures to accommodate future PCIe generations for high-bandwidth storage solutions?

Each generation of SSD SoC faces ever-increasing challenges in power efficiency, maximum performance, NAND management, and memory management. Over the past decade, the speed of the SSDs has increased 16x, and drive capacities have grown 1000x (from being measured in GB to TB already with PB in the foreseeable future) while NAND endurance has gotten an order of magnitude worse. The SSD SoCs have evolved to handle these challenges all while keeping the SSD within the same very tight power envelope!

How do advancements in enterprise SSD controller technology address the growing demand for processing and analyzing increasing volumes of data in AI and machine learning applications?

SSD SoC enhancements help provide consistently fast access to increasingly large volumes of data. The enhancements also enable greater storage density. All of this is critical to keeping the GPUs fed with the data needed for AI and ML applications.

What are the key considerations for enterprises when choosing SSD controllers with advanced processing capabilities for their data centers and AI infrastructures?

In choosing their SSD SoC with advanced processing for data center and AI infrastructure, enterprises need to consider how the drive-level features and capabilities can contribute to system performance, efficiency, and TCO. They also need to consider how the SoC will perform in their particular application environment – something that spec sheets can’t tell you.

How does the improvement in security, latency, and energy efficiency in the latest SSD controllers impact the ability of enterprises to extract value from their data more efficiently and securely?

Recent improvements in the SSD SoCs significantly reduce the energy consumption per IO and reduce both absolute latency and latency variation in real-world application workloads to help enterprise AI and analytics turn data into actionable insights faster and with less power. Innovations in the SoCs, such as the transparent compression/decompression function in the ScaleFlux SSD SoCs, further improve performance and power efficiency. SSD SoCs already integrate encryption and frequently support TCG Opal security management. New standards for security are emerging to further enhance the security of valid data as well as the means for securely destroying expired data. Secure destruction of the data, without having to physically destroy the drives, helps reduce electronic waste.

Considering the rise of AI and the increasing importance of data insights, what future developments in SSD controller technology are anticipated to further enhance data processing capabilities and efficiency across global data centers and AI infrastructures?

SSD SoCs will certainly continue to improve their performance and efficiency. In addition, advanced SSD SoCs that integrate high-performance processor cores and hardware accelerators will eventually help reduce data movement (further saving energy) by handling aspects of data preparation directly in the drive.

By Gary Bernstein