Samsung, Western Digital partner on zoned storage – Blocks and Files

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Samsung and Western Digital are joining forces to standardize and drive wide adoption of next-generation zoned SSD data storage, processing, and array (D2PF) technologies.

The pair will initially focus on co-creating a vigorous ecosystem for zoned storage solutions. They want to encourage a range of collaborations around D2PF technology standardization and software development. The intent is that end users can be confident that zoned technologies will be supported by multiple device vendors and by vertically integrated hardware and software companies.

Robert Soderbery

Rob Soderbery, executive vice president and general manager of Western Digital’s Flash business unit, said in a statement, “For years, Western Digital has laid the foundation for the zoned storage ecosystem by contributing to the Linux kernel and to the open source software community. We are excited to make these contributions to this joint initiative with Samsung to facilitate wider adoption of zoned storage for users and app developers.

Jinman Han, Head of Memory Sales and Marketing at Samsung Electronics, added, “Our collaborative efforts will span hardware and software ecosystems to ensure that as many customers as possible can enjoy the benefits of this very important technology.” He said the collaboration will “actively evolve into a broader base of engagement for zonal storage standardization.”

Zoned storage in SSDs
Zoning scheme with traditional SSD data placement on the left and zoned placement on the right. This instance uses drive-managed zoning as indicated by the SSD firmware layer

A zoned SSD has its capacity divided into zones or separate areas which are used for data with different I/O types and characteristics – read-intensive, write-intensive, mixed, JPEG, video, etc. The traditional Flash Translation Layer (FTL), which normally handles the placement of data on disk, is not used. Data can only be appended to existing data in an area, being written sequentially. Typically, small writes are bundled (bundled) by zone management software into a 4 KB block and written in a single operation to the drive. An area must be erased for its cells to be overwritten.

Zone management and data placement software can be located on a host server and acts as the SSD front-end software instead of a drive-resident FTL. WD zoned storage website contains more information.

Samsung PM1731a Zoned SSD
Samsung PM1731a Zoned SSD

Samsung announced its PM1731a zoned namespace SSD in June last year, its first such device. Western Digital was earlier in the zoned SSD game with its ZN540 in November 2020.

WD sees zoned namespaces applying to its shingled magnetic recording (SMR) drives as well as SSDs, a technology sector in which Samsung does not participate.

Western Digital ZN540 Solid State Drive

Samsung and Western Digital say they will define high-level models and frameworks for next-generation zoned storage technologies through organizations such as the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and the Linux Foundation. Within SNIA, they have already founded the Zoned Storage Technical Working Group, which was approved in December 2021. This group, which also counts NetApp and Microsoft as members, defines and specifies common use cases for zoned storage devices, as well as host/device architecture and programming models.

Samsung and WD want to extend zone-based device interfaces (eg, ZNS, SMR) to next-generation high-capacity storage devices with improved data placement and processing technologies. They also see opportunities for expanding computing storage and storage fabrics, including NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF), which they call emerging D2PF technologies.

Comment

Samsung has no interest in D2PF applying to SMR disk drives; it does not make hard drives. This part of the Samsung-WD initiative will require the cooperation of Seagate and Toshiba to bring SMR D2PF (host-managed) hard drives to a standardized interface between vendors.

For the Samsung-WD D2PF initiative to be used in the SSD industry, it will take other SSD and controller vendors, such as Phison, to join. This basically means getting Kioxia – which might be likely as it’s a WD NAND manufacturing partner – Micron and SK hynix on board as well. If these join SNIA’s Zoned Storage Task Force, zoning could become an SSD industry standard. A hyperscaler vendor or two would also help, as they buy thousands of SSDs per year and would need to modify their software to use zoned SSDs.

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