Stay-at-Home Orders are Overburdening Data Centers. Micron’s New NAND Tech May Help

April 09, 2020 by Gary Elinoff

With classes and work moving online, people are spending more time at home gobbling up bandwidth—pushing data centers to their brink.

Micron has announced new capabilities and features for its signature 5210 ION enterprise SATA SSD. Based on the company’s quad-level cell (QLC) NAND technology, the device is the world’s first QLC solid-state drive (SSD).



The 5210 SATA SSD. Image used courtesy of Micron


SSDs are increasingly relegating hard disk drives (HDD) to the computer museum. Micron says the 5210 delivers 30 times faster random reads and 175 times faster random writes than even the largest HDDs. And it does so with three times the energy efficiency.


How COVID-19 Has Overburdened Data Centers

Micron's announcement comes at a timely moment. COVID-19 has sent many people to work from home and as a result, data centers are overburdened. In a Forbes article, Tom Coughlin explained that broadband data consumption was up by 41% during business hours in February and March’s consumption was on track to beat that. During the 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. time period, usage per subscriber was up 17.2%.

Due largely to the enforced human-to-human barriers necessary to contain the pandemic, January’s 361 GB per subscriber total will surge up to 460 GB going forward. Pundits cited in Coughlin's article have described the cyberinfrastructure as up to the task, but 460 GB is a more than 27% increase over 361 GB, and that must be alarming to data center operators, no matter how well prepared they might be.


Data Center

Broadband data consumption has spiked during the COVID-19 epidemic. 

As stay-at-home orders continue, data centers face new challenges that stretch processing, data storage, power, and memory to the limits. 


What is Quad Level Cell (QLC) NAND Technology?

Unlike classical NAND, QLC (link is a downloadable PDF) stores four bits of data in each cell. This is an enormous advantage for data centers with limited physical space. There are, however, two major downsides.

One is encountered in writing data to QLC NANDs. The devices can only go through a limited number of program/erase (P/E) cycles before they degrade, and they are somewhat slower than HDDs. Both problems can be ameliorated by well-thought-out caching regimes. 


Diagram of how some applications access storage

Diagram of how some applications access storage, with more write-intensive applications of the left and more read-intensive applications on the right. Image used courtesy of Micron (PDF)

And in any case, many of today’s most challenging applications involve mostly reading, and reading doesn’t degrade QLC NAND. As Micron points out in a video on the 5210 ION enterprise SATA SSD, many AI applications involve about 5,000 reads to one write. That said, working with archives and databases involves mostly reading and streaming.


Micron’s 5210 ION Enterprise SATA QLC SSD

Micron’s 5210 ION Enterprise SATA QLC SSD can be ordered with four different capacities: 0.96, 1.92, 3.84, and 7.68 TB and feature sequential write rates of 130, 260, 350, and 360 MB/sec respectively. All units are capable of sequential read rates of 540 MB/sec. All 5210’s offer AES 256-bit encryption with TCG enterprise options.

The units are sized at 100.45 x 69.85 x 7.00 mm in what is described as a 2.5-inch format. They all weigh less than 70 grams. When power consumption is on idle, sequential read and sequential write is 1.5, 2.8, and 6.3 watts, respectively. For more complete data on the units, check out Micron’s technical brief on the 5210 ION enterprise SATA QLC SSD.


What Are Your Thoughts on SSDs? 

As a telecom engineer, what professional challenges have you encountered because of the pandemic? Have you found SSDs to be a solution to power strains and limited floor space? Do you feel that SSDs will completely replace HDDs, or is there still a place for those valiant old warhorses? Share your thoughts in the comments below.