The potentially game-changing ioDrive from Fusion-io is a flash memory PCI Express card with up to 6340GB of capacity and bandwidth equivalent to 1,000 disk drives.

Such are the claims of Rick White and David Flynn, founders, CEO and CTO respectively of start-up Fusion-io. The card was demonstrated at the DemoFall 07 show in San Diego in September.

The founders claim it collapses an enterprise SAN or network-attached storage (NAS) to a PCI Express card. On the contrary, however, the card functions as a server's direct-attach storage device and is neither shared nor networked.

The ioDrive is unlike a traditional solid state disk (SSD) in that the controller and NAND memory chips are integrated on a single card which is plugged into an X86 server's PCI Express bus and doesn't use a serial-attached SCSI (SAS) or Fibre Channel interface.

Data is moved using direct memory access (DMA) and the card is said to have up to 160 separate and parallel I/O pipelines which aggregate to delivering over 100,000 4KB data transfers a second. Flynn says the device can transfer eight full length DVD movies at one every five seconds.

The ioDrive can be used as a tremendously fast disk or set up as swap space for a server's RAM. Fusion-io says that ioDrives can be aggregated together in boxes which can then be integrated in a RAID system to provide greater capacity, performance and reliability.

Target applications are transaction processing, other I/O-intensive tasks and enabling a greater virtual machine capacity per server.

Mike Fisch, a Clipper Group storage analyst, said: "Forget what you thought you knew about enterprise data storage. The vastly superior performance and simplicity of high density, NAND storage architectures will push aside the old guard of disk and tape. Fusion-io is leading the way with its ioMemory architecture and the ioDrive - a high performance, high-density PCIe card that leverages NAND flash to close the mile-wide performance gap between CPUs and storage. The ioDrive delivers performance to a server equivalent to an enterprise SAN with power, thermal and physical footprint that makes the ioDrive both cost-effective and green."

It will be delivered by the end of 2007 or in the first quarter of 2008. The first OS to be supported is Linux, with Windows server and then Windows client (Vista and XP) operating systems following in the first quarter on 2008.

Fusion-io says that the driver code has to be tuned to the operating system. It has released sustained data rate performance comparisons showing that the ioDrive's 800MB/sec read I/O rating is more than 200 times faster than a Samsung 32GB SSD at 57MB/sec, and both a 146GB SAS disk and a 146GB 2Gbit/s Fibre Channel disk each rated at 96MB/sec. The card's sustained write I/O rate is 600MB/sec.

There is no data sheet information about the number of read/write cycles supported by the ioDrive. Flash memory typically has a shorter working life than disk because of finite read/write cycle support.

Texas Memory Systems, supplier of RAM-based SSDs, recently introduced its first flash-based product, the RamSan-500. It has a RAM cache in front of its 1- or 2-TB of flash memory and delivers up to 100,000 read IOPS. Pricing has not been announced.

Samsung has plans to double the capacity of its flash-based 32GB SSD to 64GB.

Fusion-io is an HP partner for its BladeSystems. It is largely funded by an unidentified 'angel' investor. There is a manufacturing agreement with Micron.

Capacities of 80, 160, 320 and 640GB are planned with pricing around $30/GB. A 160GB card would cost around $4,800 (about £2,400 at ordinary exchange rates). Flash prices are halving every twelve months or so, meaning the card could be $2,400 ($1,200) in 2009.