OCZ, Marvell scale Kilimanjaro with PCIe SSD

While visiting OCZ's suite at the Consumer Electronics Show, we got a first-hand look at the Kilimanjaro platform poised to anchor a range of different solid-state drives. This scalable solution was jointly developed with Marvell, whose 88NV9145 controller serves as the foundation for Kilimanjaro's custom silicon. The Marvell chip features an ARM CPU core, quad memory channels, and support for both ONFI and Toggle DDR NAND. Rather than relying on Serial ATA, the 88NV9145 sports a native PCI Express 2.0 x1 interface. OCZ adds its own special sauce to the equation for Kilimanjaro, but neither it nor Marvell was willing to divulge specifics on that front. All we know is that some of OCZ's contributions stem from the Virtualized Controller Architecture used to manage multiple NAND controllers on its PCIe SSDs.

The base Kilimanjaro module is built on a Mini PCIe card. In addition to the custom controller, the module features a DRAM cache and up to four NAND chips. OCZ says the tiny card will reach up to 50,000 IOps with random I/O and push sequential transfers as fast as 500MB/s.

Those performance figures apply to a single Kilimanjaro module, but the real magic happens when you put a bunch of 'em on a larger card. OCZ has done just that with the Z-Drive R5, which uses a PLX PCIe switch to link multiple modules to a 16-lane PCI Express 3.0 interface. The Z-Drive doesn't use a RAID controller to distribute data across the modules, instead relying driver software to load-balance across its Kilimanjaro array. This driver is currently optimized for performance, but OCZ says it can also be tuned for redundancy. Since the driver only handles load balancing, it's not required in single-module configs.

OCZ says the R5 can reach 2.5 million IOps with random I/O and up to 7.2GB/s with sequential transfers. That's an extreme configuration, of course; Kilimanjaro's scalable nature should allow for products with a range of performance levels. A more restrained setup that fits inside the 2.5" form factor typical of modern SSDs can purportedly deliver 100,000 IOps and up to 1GB/s of sequential throughput. Those figures suggest a 2.5" implementation would use two modules.

The Z-Drive R5 is expected to start selling around the middle of this year. The individual modules could arrive a little bit sooner, but there's we don't yet know how soon Kilimanjaro might pop up in configurations more suitable to enthusiast desktops.

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