Supporting a Dynamic SATA Market

Just the four letters S, A, T, and ANobody seems to talk about SATA SSDs much anymore, even though there’s still a vibrant market.  NVMe is garnering all the attention.  Of course, that should come as no surprise.  While SATA is an extension of an interface designed around HDDs, NVMe was designed specifically for NAND flash.

Still, lots of SATA sockets are being created, particularly in enterprise servers, so there’s a big need for SATA SSDs for the data center.  About 22 million SATA SSDs should be consumed this year in data center applications alone.  To that end, Micron Technology has introduced a new family of data center SATA SSDs, the Micron 5400 series, based on the company’s leading-edge 176-layer NAND flash.  Micron tells The SSD Guy that this is the first use of such a high layer count in data center SATA SSDs, a fact that I am inclined to believe.  They also claim that it offers best-in-class performance under mixed-use workloads.

The company said that forecasters are not expecting data center SATA SSD shipments to shrink over the next few years, either.  They point out that Intel continues to show SATA support on its processor roadmap through 2025.  Micron wants to assure its customers that they will have supply of these SSDs for at least that long, if not longer.

Why is SATA still popular?  Well, the main reason might be that this interface has a very solid history.  SATA SSDs have been around for well over a decade, and have already been qualified by all leading OEMs and their customers.  A product in that position is very unlikely to be the cause of an unexpected disruption.  Micron is a big part of that history and boasts that the 5400 series is their eleventh generation of data center SATA SSD, so its design is based on the company’s deep SATA design experience.  They say that they have shipped almost 20 million SATA SSDs to date, all of them data center devices.

Since the products are aimed at a market that values safety and security, the 5400 series has been designed to provide 50% higher reliability and 50% more endurance than the leading competitor.

Four bar charts comparing Micron SSD 5400 to "Competitor A". For both Mixed use and Read-Only the MTTF for the 5400 is 3 million hours and Competitor A is only 2. For Read-Only endurance, it's 1.5 to 0.8 DWPD, and for mixed use it's 5 vs. 3 DWPD.Plus, it’s supported with a 5-year warranty.  Micron envisions its customers getting more years of service from their servers if they use these SSDs.  Between this and the product’s good performance they argue that customers will see a better return on investment and a lower TCO (total cost of ownership.)

What about NVMe vs. SATA performance?  Well, NVMe certainly out-performs SATA by a good margin, but Micron points out that the most common data center network today is 50GbE, and a simple storage array would use two 25Gb NICs to support that bandwidth.  It would take only a half-full 24-drive chassis of these SATA SSDs to saturate that bandwidth, so there’s not much reason to look for something faster in this kind of application.  But Micron doesn’t need to argue SATA’s case for it.  The interface continues to win designs in the data center, and Micron has committed to support these designs, and that’s what really matters.

This looks like a good combination of a quality design with a solid strategy of supporting a market that isn’t yet showing signs of slowing down.  The SSD Guy wishes them luck.

Disclaimer: Micron is an Objective Analysis client.

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