Hard drives and SSDs have always had logic chips. Spinning platters and moving heads in hard drives need some smarts to keep them from smashing together, and SSDs need some brains for encryption, wear leveling, and splitting data streams between several flash dies.
NGD Systems says the multi-core ARM processors embedded in its Catalina-2 U.2 SSDs give the drives a completely different level of computational smarts. AI and machine learning applications can have enormous data sets that might not even fit in terabytes of RAM, and the company thinks certain types of those tasks can benefit from being handled on one of its SSD directly with its ARM CPUs instead of occupying RAM and the PCIe bus. NGD calls this approach “In-Situ” processing.
The drives NGD is announcing fit into 2.5″ storage bays, use a U.2 interface, and are available in 4-TB, 8-TB, and 16-TB capacities. The Catalina-2 SSDs are already available in a PCIe 3.0 x4 card form factor in those same capacities, as well as a jumbo-sized 32 TB version. The company didn't provide any details about the nature of the ARM CPU cores inside the Catalina-2, but it does claim that technology works with 3D TLC NAND flash and is ready for future QLC chips. The drive's computational storage processor sits between the flash media controller and the NVMe protocol layer. For an idea of the octane rating of the company's processing power, the U.2 model is rated to draw up to 12 W.
The manufacturer has demonstrated its computational storage products running Facebook AI Similarity Search code at CloudFest in March. The company says its unique products excel at combing through enormous, ever-growing data sets while providing results in real time.
Intel might be after a similar trade-off of processing latency for data-set size with its Optane DC Persistent Memory products, but even those presumably speedy NVDIMMs can't hold data sets larger than 5 TB per socket with Xeon CPUs. It seems as though there's another tier of trade-offs between those variables that NGD believes its products can address.
NGD didn't talk about the price of the Catalina-2 family of In-Situ-capable SSDs, but we imagine the highly specialized application of such a device and the large capacities mean they are pricey. The company did say the types of customers with a need for this type of capability can buy the drives immediately. The manufacturer backs the drives with a three-year warranty.