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SSD ad - click for more infowhat changed in SSD year 2013?

the big SSD ideas to assimilate

and the big SSD ideas to forget

lessons from 2013

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - December 9, 2013

Are there any new big changes in the ideas related to the SSD market and its related technology and business directions which have emerged in 2013 - and which it would be good for you to think about when formulating your own plans for 2014 - and guiding your day to day assessment of products and companies to follow?


And in this blog I'll tell you what I think they are.

I was talking about the desirability of an annual refresh of SSD ideas in a recent conversation with Rado Danilak founder and CEO of Skyera.

I said - "I've been in the enterprise market for a long time and my experience goes something like this.... Every year I learn 2 new important new ideas about SSDs. But every year I also have to remember to forget or discard 1 old idea which was vital to know before because it's no longer useful, valid or true."

I hope that - whatever your level of SSD knowledge - you too Dear Reader can either agree with the principle of this statement - or derive some comfort from it.

In the case of Rado - who is one of the world's most experienced experts when it comes to optimizing flash SSD controller architectures - his list of what's old - and needs to be forgotten - and what's new and needs to be assimilated - would be different to yours and mine.

Indeed everyone comes at this from a different starting point.

So when people starting new jobs or projects within the SSD industry - approach me somewhat hesitantly to say hi! - and say - I'm new to SSD - I say - don't worry too much about that - it means you've got less old baggage dragging you in the wrong direction.

What are these past directions?

If you've seen my SSD history article (which is thinly-disguised recycled old SSD news) you may have noticed that in the past 6-7 years or so at round about this time of year I've tried to anticipate and then later retrospectively summarize the themes for each year.

If you trawl back far enough in time - the number of really new big ideas and changes in each year was initially just one truly outstanding theme per year. But as we edge closer to the present day - then because the SSD market itself has grown (in both technical complexity and the scope of its market reach) the number of significant twists in this annual SSD narrative thread has expanded to 2 or 3 and sometimes even 4. It doesn't sound like a lot. But it's a lot of ideas to digest at a single yearly sitting. (Which is an argument for dipping into these pages at shorter intervals and snacking your SSD shock nibblets.)

When I started thinking - what's going to be in my new SSD idea / emerging trend list for 2013/14? I was coming at it from the perspective of "new" - as in - not just something which I've already written about in one of these annual summaries before.

SSD ad - click for more infoThat means my reference point for this article - starts with the sum of all the things I've said before - and will focus on the genuinely new things.

So - in a way - you need to know some of what I've said before - otherwise you'll be wondering - why did the SSDmouse not mention at all something which everyone else seems to be writing about now? (Maybe because I already told you about those exact same things in earlier years - and these "new" SSD issues are being rediscovered by new SSD analysts in the same sense that Europeans "discovered" the rest of the world.)

But it would be unfair for me to expect you to read all that previous SSD stuff - especially if you haven't seen it before - because (as I already warned you at the start of this article) half of the ideas which were really helpful and important 3-5 years ago - don't help you very much any more.

So instead - I'm going to take as my starting point a quick recap of what I wrote about as the main new trends in 2012 - see if they are still valid or not - and then do my update for 2013.

The advance clue here is that one of the safe assumptions about the SSD market - which held true all the way through 2012 - is now something which is no longer true - and which you need to forget.

OK let's recall some of the key changes in 2012 which I highlighted in my 2012 SSD market transitions article (which originally appeared as a home page blog like this one.) The important ideas emerging at that time were:-
  • diversity in PCIe SSDs - in particular the new 2.5" form factor. In 2013 the trend to more ways of using PCIe SSDs expanded in 2 directions.

  • adaptive R/W - which a few years ago was a niche technology - but which has been finding its way into more products from more companies. For example - in news stories in the 2nd half of 2013 - this technology was a key factor in 2 acquisitions (WD buying Stec, SanDisk buying SMART), and this technology was the reason for a technology licensing deal between Toshiba and Densbits.

    But you know how technology trends go in SSD...

    In 2014 - some version of adaptive R/W DSP technology will be included within the product lines of nearly all SSD makers - because - apart from organic development and licensing - it's one of the design techniques which has enabled LSI to design a single SSD controller chip - the SF3700 - which I described as "SSD market in a chip" - when it was launched in November 2013 - and which can be configured by firmware and a suitable supporting cast of flash memory chips to deliver a very wide range of SSD power consumption and performance metrics all within a single design (pdf).

    A lot of SSD makers already use SandForce controllers. When they use the new 3rd generation chips - then among other things - they also get adaptive R/W DSP inside.

  • efficiency within SSD design - emerging as a concept for users (because SSD utilization affects running costs) and for vendors and investors (because it dictates the elasticity of profit margins - compared to competing SSDs with different design efficiencies).

  • more acquisitions - I promised you a lot more of those in 2013. You got them and you're still seeing more of them for the reasons described in my article - hostage to the fortunes of SSD.

    Some people seeing this trend may ask - will this activity (bigger companies buying smaller companies) lead to a reduction of competitors in the SSD market? My answer to that is no - not for the next 2-3 years at least.

    My reasoning for this is that no single technology or set of SSD IP owned by any particular vendor - can optimally satisfy more than a small percentage of SSD market uses - while also remaining the most competitive in each of those segments.

    And so for long as that remains true - any big company would have to acquire maybe 5 to 10 SSD companies to get the technology it needs at any point in time.

    But even if it were to do that - the question of whether it can understand all these sub-markets within SSD and perform adequately from a marketing perspective to remain relevant to customers (compared to each company which it acquired) is very doubtful. That's aside from the question of how long the hot talent will want to remain in the stifling cocoon of a bigger organization.

    And you can add to that - the continuing disruptive effect of ever more new SSD companies - and the growing revenue value of the SSD market - which will attract more competition for as long as anyone thinks they can do a better job than all the other companies already in the market.

  • the potential of SSD software to become the most important gateway for managing everything.

    Buried among the many similar sounding news stories which paired the words SSD and software in 2013 - there have been some gems of difference visible too.

  • ratios of things within the SSD market - is becoming a useful business benchmarking indicator for performance and economics. You don't have to be an SSD-head to understand that the relative ratios of parameters in arcane SSD technologies can tell you something useful. Within this ratios idea - I include many different ideas including:-

    • how many directly attached SSDs should each server have? (for different markets and different apps setups)

    • ratio of SSD capacity - how much server attached SSD to that on the SAN? (for legacy architectures)

    • ratio of SSD capacity - between different speeds and hierarchies of SSD rackmount (ultrafast, fast, fast-enough, cloud etc)

      This also includes the ratios of apps server racks compared to storage racks - because in my enterprise model the apps server - is simply the base level of this hierarchy. However, in some systems architectures - it may be the only level.

    • ideal ratios of new SSD cache to legacy HDD array capacities in legacy and transitional systems.

    • how many flash chips to a single controller? - (in different markets)

    • how many chips in an SSD controller? - (for different types of SSD array)

    • how many SSD vendors should any single SSD software platform support? - Is more - always better?

    • ratio of RAM to flash in SSD caches and exteranlly in systems

Anyway - all the stuff above - had already been discussed before 2013.

what's new as we look back on 2013?

Here's my shortlist of new SSD ideas to incorporate into your thinking based on what's been happening in 2013.

An important new SSD idea to remember - re enterprise SSDs - is the rack has become the most important form factor at which level enterprise SSD vendors must focus their strategic product ideas.

What we're seeing in the market today at the rack level - are efficiencies and competitive advantages which accrue from combining and integrating design factors at many levels within large SSD arrays (at the memory utilization level, the SSD controller level, the drive interface level, the flash array organization level and multiple levels up and down the system software and apps software stacks). Mastering the design possibilities of SSD at the rack level enables new levels of competitive advantages for vendors.

Moreover, participication in the market at the rack level - can enable vendors to learn how users value the features they find in SSD racks in unexpected ways. By leveraging this usage information for specific use cases and market segments - vendors of rackmount SSDs can - if they choose to do so - make their products uniquely attractive at price points which cannot be achieved by standard arrays of vanilla SSDs.

The importance of lessons learned at the rackmount SSD level - as a business development strategy for SSD drive vendors cannot be overstated in this phase of the market. Although many of these lessons can be learned indirectly by other means- the risk of being remote from the user experience of deploying large SSD arrays - places drive vendors at a disadvantage where what they do isn't seen to be unique - and their prime route to market is as a commodity.

SSD ad - click for more infoA new SSD idea to forget - is traction in the Top 10 part of the Top SSD Companies List ('s list of leading companies based on search volume).

In the past 2 years it was rare for companies to break into the top 10, and rarer still for newcomers to break into the top 5 part of this list. So a safe working assumption was that companies who had achieved those dizzy heights of technology, brand and thought leadership were consistently doing things better than all other SSD companies - and so were a prime choice to include in long range strategic plans.

The change I predict - is that in 2014 we'll see more new names at this end of the list - for 2 reasons.
  • Companies in this list have always scored strongly as acquisition targets. In the past 8 quarters - out of the 19 companies which have had at least one appearance in the top 10 section of the list - 7 have been acquired.

    Of the top 20 SSD companies named in the most recent quarter alone - 5 have already acquired in the 2 months since that list was published.

    As we've seen in the history of this list - the companies doing the acquiring aren't guaranteed to immediately inherit this attribute from the companies they buy. This creates a vacuum of uncertainty which facilitates shuffling.
  • People at the leading edge of the SSD market today have a much stronger conceptual grasp of what the SSD market can do for them - than ever before - simply because SSDs are a much bigger part of their every day work and thinking experience.

    Consequently new product ideas which solve genuine problems in a useful way - can be understood, assimilated and have a market impact sooner today than ever before.

    And another thing which will accelerate the sudden appearance of completely unknown companies into easy name recognition is the fact that - unlike previous times in the SSD market - where new companies had to develop almost everything for themselves - today new companies entering the market can rely on a sophisticated SSD ecosystem - in which key elements of their solutions are already being supplied by other companies. So all they need to do to get to the next level is to leverage that ecosystem - and also leverage the fact that the problems they solve are already becoming widely known.
New form factors in SSD
  • in the enterprise - memory channel SSDs - by which I mean flash SSDs which can provide strategic apps enhancement functionality and which plug into in legacy DRAM slots - have become a serious business proposition.

    The most significant product in this form factor has been the architecture designed by Diablo Technologies - which was brought to market by SMART Storage (which is now part of the enterprise SSD business at SanDisk).

    It's likely that other memory vendors will also step up their SSD efforts in this form factor if enough server makers adopt the concept.
  • in the consumer market - users have now got new reasons to get excited by SSDs in notebooks - as they can get either ultra low power (with a new SATA sleep mode) or faster performance (with PCIe SSD speeds) within the same single form factor (M.2). LSI has a reference design SSD which can satisfy both markets with the same card design and same controller. A single link is all that's needed for oems to determine which personality this SSD will have when it gets shipped. The availability of low latency PCIe SSDs in the consumer market in 2014 may
A new emerging enterprise SSD idea for 2014 will be the idea of "SSD software platforms" which will promise to solve a wide range of SSD integration and utilization problems from the server SSD (single drive) to the SAN SSD (rack) level with a single software architecture which supports multiple SSD types over many product lifetimes.

These SSD platforms can be viewed as a new strategic lens through which enterprise users can think about and plan future SSD deployments independent of the SSD itself.

In the past 4 years we've seen SSD-centric software change from being almost non existent, then growing in importance as a sales acceleration tool to simplify the deployment of more SSDs. You could almost say that some types of SSD software functionality - such as caching - have become almost commodity-like in what they appear to offer.

My gut feel is that - just as there's no single type of integrated SSD box which is ideal for all SSD applications - there probably isn't a single "SSD software platform" which will ideally suit all use cases either.

Nevertheless - it may be that some platforms could dominate some types of applications.

Eventually - in 5 years or so - it will be obvious who the 4 or 5 SSD software platform heavyweights are. And it's possible to make some guesses about that now. But some of the companies in this space have only recently emerged from stealth - while others haven't even announced their first products yet.

In 2014 we will see the battle lines for the SSD platform being drawn up - as ISVs and SSD drive makers and SSD systems companies all try to convince you that any long term plans you make will be more future-proof if you use their software.

Regardless of which handful of companies wins the ultimate battle of the SSD platform in 2018 - inevitably that means most of the solutions which are in the market today will fail to survive.

So another headache for users is this. If you're using one of the 50 to 100 or so SSD software solutions which are in the market today... how do you insulate yourself from the pain of having picked the wrong product - when those solutions stop being supported in new SSDs in 2 to 3 years time?

In one way - the need to architect IT infrastructure for the certainty that everything will change due to the growing disruptive impact of SSDs is similar to the idea of designing earthquake-proof buildings. The difference being that everywhere is going to be an SSD zone - no one can be sure yet how to make their own infrastructure SSD future proof.
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2013 - from the SSD news archive
December LSI agrees to be acquired for $6.6 billion

A New CEO for Violin

1st day for NMBL
November Primary Data gets $50 million funding

Toshiba may buy assets of bankrupt OCZ

LSI samples the most ambitious design of a single chip SSD controller in SSD history.
October Crocus seeks to annul core STT patents

McObject shows in-memory database resilience in NVDIMM

Toshiba chooses DensBits' adaptive flash IP
September Violin does IPO

WD wants Virident

Cisco wants WhipTail

Micron samples first Hybrid Memory Cube devices
August SMART samples memory channel SSDs

Skyera promises 2U petabyte SSD
July SanDisk will acquire SMART
June WD will acquire Stec

Samsung enters PCIe SSD market

Tegile taught this school a lesson

Whiptail offers clues to Users playing the SSD box riddle game
May Fusion-io's CEO and CMO both resign

Micron samples new hot-swappable 2.5" PCIe SSDs

LSI is #2 in PCIe SSD shipments in US
April Diablo names SMART as flash partner for memory channel SSDs

Fusion-io and Astute Networks make (different) moves to make solid state cheaper in the iSCSI storage market
March Violin entered the PCIe SSD market

InnoDisk's iSLCT technology repurposes MLC cells to SLC
February remote PCIe SSD data sharing / caching introduced separately by Virident and Intel
January Skyera entered the top 5 SSD companies list

Seagate turns to Virident for big SSD controller architecture

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In the days before every SSD company was linkedin and tweeted (and there were less companies but we had similar problems) - I launched a series called the SSD Bookmarks to help deal with the information overload and quality problem of filtering the credible ideas from the crazed looney and the honest but just plainly misunderstood.
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