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12 key SSD ideas which changed in 2014

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - December 18, 2014
key SSD idea #1

in-situ SSD processing

This is about closing important gaps in the intelligence of message passing and the speed of data access between application processors and SSD controllers.

(SSD controllers which - in the vast majority of SSDs - come attached with their own offload processors or associated data movement engines.)

Traditionally SSDs have been designed to reduce the access times to data - but within the framework of commands, APIs and data structures which have been designed for applications agnostic data storage drives.

And in order to make SSDs easier to use - classic SSD controllers also perform a lot of house-keeping and data integrity related functions - in a way which is the apps processor doesn't need to know about (although it can collect stats related to endurance etc).

There is much evidence to support the idea that both applications performance and data storage efficiency can be greatly improved if the flash management and apps management processor are either the same CPU - or if they can talk to each other in a more effective way.

These improvements (which enable data handling responsibilities to be partitioned downwards to the flash or upwards to the apps host - depending on which has the best view of what is needed) have already been implemented by various SSD vendors in experimental or custom APIs.

These concepts - which first took root in large web scale server farms - have also delivered useful results in some industrial SSDs when scaled down to a single SSD.

A handful of SSD vendors have already done work in this area - notably Fusion-io (in whose non offloaded SSD controller architecture - the flash management and apps processors were the same processor).

But in 2015 and 2016 these concepts will become much more explicitly talked about.

Related SSD drive companies:- NxGn Data, Seagate (SandForce), Memblaze, InnoDisk

Related SSD array companies (who probably already do some degree of in-situ SSD processing) include:- Skyera, Violin

Related ideas:-
  • 80% of fast enterprise data IO is transient - but legacy storage software often sucks this up as part of its reliability functions and then attaches a similar weight of metadata and overhead as if it were archive data. This is some of what I learned in various conversations with David Flynn cofounder Primary Data

key SSD idea #2

re PCIe SSDs

This year - as part of a continuing trend - we've seen an upswing in the number of companies who offer PCIe compatible SSDs in form factors like M.2 and 2.5".

The barriers to market have been reduced by standards such as NVMe and SATA express - which by creating frameworks of software and hardware interchangeability - have minimized the risks for oems who incoprorate such SSDs into their storage and computing systems.

An important new factor for the PCIe SSD market this year was the materialization of product announcements centered around the core concept of using PCIe as an interconnection fabric between racks.

The key pioneers driving these efforts have been PLX and A3CUBE.

key SSD idea #3

random access memory doesn't have to be RAM

The idea of using flash as a new memory tier isn't new. And neither is the idea of using flash in DRAM memory slots. But in 2014 there were several developments which added weight to the usefulness of these ideas.
  • Applicable to any kind of standard flash SSD - SanDisk's ZetaScale software (described by as "one of the most significant SSD software products launched in 2014") is an API toolset which gives software designers the freedom to treat flash in a similar way to DRAM - thereby being able to rely on much higher capacities within any given monetary budget ceiling.

    Although the performance characteristics of such memory won't suit all applications - the ability to experiment and invest in a technology platform which promises to avoid lock-in to any particular SSD form factor - will encourage the development of new types of data repurposing platforms.
  • Those who may have been disappointed by the low aspirations of Diablo's 1st generation memory channel SSDs - were given a glimpse of something more akin to what they might have been wishing for - in the unveiling of an ambitious 2nd generation architecture which promised to go much further in 2015.

    The key ingredient here is a new software framework (Carbon2) with features like NanoCommit technology.

    The new software is being offered as part of developer packages which anticipate 2nd generation MCS hardware which will be fast flash DIMMs compatible with DDR4.
See also:- are you ready to rethink enterprise DRAM architecture?

key SSD idea #4

re micro tiering and micro clouds

One of the trends in computer architecture in recent years is that new software architectural concepts which deliver sustainable efficiency or management efficiencies have found it easier to get their benefits established and recognized at a large scale - as part of big web entities or cloud infrastructure.

But the lessons learned have been duly noted and reapplied to other use cases and are now finding their way into individual rack scale products too.

3 companies which stand out for their different approaches in this respect are:-

key SSD idea #5

adaptive R/W (including DSP) data integrity management in flash

2 years ago - there were only 10 companies with adaptive R/W technologies in their SSD product lines.

It was important to know who they were at the time.

Because looking ahead from the perspective of 2012 they and their licensees or acquirers were going to be among the first vendors who could leverage the economics of next generation flash.

They did this by moving away from classical flash controller technologies - which relied on anonymous industry wide characterization statistics for key flash parameters - and moving towards an adaptive model - which was able to recognize and grade different qualities of individual flash blocks (even within the same SSD).

The new adaptive DSP technology was able to choose from a wide bandolero of timing and ECC techniques instead of being dependent on a single caliber flash manage bullet.

By the middle of 2014 - adaptive R/W had become a mainstream technology - deployed by most leading enterprise SSD systems (in applicable products) - so its strategic advantage as a competitive differentiator has diminished.

Instead it has become the new "standard technology" for handling all sub 20nm planar MLC flash devices.

But it would be wrong to think of it as a uniform technology. There are significant differences in the scope, granularity and associated controller and power footprints of the many different adaptive DSP flash IP sets used in the SSD market.

key SSD idea #6

3D nand flash -may be tough enough for industrial markets

Although 3D nand flash SSDs have been shipping in the market - the current technology doesn't deliver enough efficiency and cost advantages to replace 2D in the short term. Many manufacturability and design problems remain to be solved before that is likely to happen in mainstream SSD markets.

On the other hand the raw endurance of 1st generation 3D flash seems to be 3x to 4x better than 2D at the same line geometries - according to early work done by an industrial SSD company FMJ Storage.

If these early impressions are confirmed in later volume production - this could open up the possibility of alternative markets for this type of flash.

See also:- flash memory news and articles, DWPD - endurance in industry leading enterprise SSDs

key SSD idea #7

valuing SSD companies

Acquisitions reported in 2014 seemed to indicate that SSD companies aren't worth as much as they were before.

Although there are special factors which complicate any particular analysis - as I discussed in the cases of Seagate acquiring LSI's SSD business, and SanDisk acquiring Fusion-io - it's clear that from the viewpoint of the people who matter (those with the money) an SSD company with a rich set of IP and strong market recognition in 2014 isn't generally worth as much as you might have thought if you had extrapolated from SSD company values in 2013.

Why is that?

In one way it seems perverse - given that the overall market opportunity for SSDs is now generally assumed to be much larger than it was before.

I think the key factor at work here is evidence (as reported in financial reports of some leading SSD companies) that competition is much tougher than before (due to the growing number of competitors and also the rise in the quality of such competitors).

But another key risk factor (for any encumbent SSD vendor) is vulnerability to future technology shocks - which can disrupt their business prospects.

These technology shocks don't just stem from new startup SSD companies - but can also occur as a result of macro changes in the market as users change the way they use and deploy the same type of SSDs when using different software.

key SSD idea #8

SSD pricing and business models

How much should you pay for an enterprise SSD array?

And what exactly is it that you're getting?

Although SSD vendors had always been enthusiastic about what their products and technologies could do in the first decade of enterprise flash - the language with which they bundled their pricing offers did not show the same leaps of creative imagination which they were expecting their customers to make.

But in 2014 - a small number of SSD pricing pioneers designed new enticing pricing models for their flagship flash arrays which broke away from the formulas of the past.

Behind these new pricing models was the explicit recognition that there is always a high degree of uncertainty involved in such purchases for various technical and business reasons.

This was the subject of my previous home page blog - Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing - which describes why the change is happening now and names the companies who are leading this charge.

key SSD idea #9

re rackmount SSDs

Surprisingly - given its already substantial size and gravitational business pull for SSD drive makers - there are still significant parts of the enterprise SSD market which remain uncharted and unsatisfied.

For investors and SSD startups the opportunities to grow business in under exploited high value user territories may be a source of comfort - given the potential upside.

However, for users who are still waiting for vendors to offer them the kind of products and services they really need - it's a source of frustration.

I described the reasons for these market voids in a recent article - Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise.

In some embedded markets - which use a lot of SSDs - the rackmount SSD is simply viewed as a dumb component - like a 2.5" drive. It's a component with larger capacity and more performance - but is simply one of many. And although it's a box - it's not "the system". In fact its internal cleverness and associated software are sometimes regarded as a nuisance by true applications aware systems software which has a much better idea of what's going on then the little SSD box designers could ever have imagined.

key SSD idea #10

the importance of SSD software

One of the key ideas which permeates everything now in the SSD market is the importance of software to the SSD market.

In an article in January this year I said

"the SSD software market is getting ready for a world in which all enterprise data touches SSDs"

And elsewhere in the same article I also asserted

"the winners in SSD software could be as important for data infrastructure as Microsoft was for PCs, or Oracle was for databases, or Google was for search."

Apart from any confirmatory events in 2014 - when I think about to what might happen in the next few years - the overwhelming importance of SSD-centric software seems like a no brainer.

I think we will see not only new predictable generations of SSD software coming to market (which will be designed to work with currently known computer architecture models) but also entirely new data architectures and ecosystems whose very existence has been predicated on the assumption of a widely deployed SSD enhanced base infrastucture.

key SSD idea #11

re industrial SSDs - designers have refocused and chosen the viable reality of excellence in selected niches above the unfeasible goal of having the best technology roadmap for all applications

I have talked to many leading industrial SSD companies this year - and there is definitely a different mood in the air about this market and some confidence that vendors can carve sustainable business niches - having found (differing) rational strategies to cope with the chaotic changes in the general SSD market.

Those companies which still have industrial SSDs as their main product lines - when many other companies have exited this market - due to the siren pull of bigger markets (such as the call to consumer SSDs in 2006, and the big pull towards enterprise flash which was hard to resist by 2008) have survived several waves of turbulent change in their own market in the past 5 years.

At the start of that period - in 2009 - 2011 - the first wave was due to the impact of commoditization in the SSD market due to the success of the merchant controller market - and in particular SandForce controllers.

In 2011 to 2012 - the long held assumption that MLC flash would never be good enough for industrial applications was called into question by the apparent disproof of that very notion in many enterprise products. That caused customers to question - why can't we use MLC in industrial SSDs?

The practical questions for industrial SSD designers - looking at MLC were:-
  • which products? and
  • which applications?
This was a difficult balancing act for industrial business owners - because even if they solved the problem of sourcing and managing reliable enough MLC for some applications - with new controllers - the added cost of other factors in the design - due to the increased hold up time needed to clean up block management operations in MLC compared to SLC (new firmware) - and the lower capacities used in many industrial systems - meant that the cost benefits of making the transition to MLC - were not always clear cut or immediate.

Customers told me they experienced a distinct lag in the market of about 2 years - during the transition in the top 20 or so industrial suppliers from talking about the availability of MLC in their products - while others were actually doing it.

Part of that was due to competitive market differences (some companies do things faster than others) but another factor was a fundamental difference in views about whether that was the right solution for all products. (It still isn't.)

What has become clear in 2014 - is that there is now a greater degree of specialization within the industrial SSD market.

This has come about because no single company has a single set of IP which is most competitive for all form factors and interfaces.
  • when it comes to controllers - industrial SSD makers have different approaches even within their own product lines.

    The diveristy of industrial controller solutions goes beyond the simple filter of performance / form factor / power consumption and memory type - and standard versus in-house design - to encompass firmware adaptions of standard controllers, and stretches to customized firmware which can optimize system performance for known configuartions and software environments.
  • The industrial market represents a bigger total available market than ever before.

    But set against that is the need for greater specialization - and application specific optimizations.

    The result is greater market fragmentation - and more niches - rather than a small set of big broadly overlapping markets.
And industrial SSD companies are also finding new markets in the enterprise too - in hot spots in blades and small solo SSDs which are used in managing services rather than as primary storage.

See also:- business aspects of SSD customization

key SSD idea #12

enterprise SSD designers will adopt any kind of naughty flash - once they've figured out what to do with it - and have validated the memory in less intense consumer markets

Continuing this 10 year trend - in 2014 - 3D MLC indisputably joined the roster of flash types deemed good enough to ship in enterprise SSDs - notably confirmed - if there were any doubts - by the announcement in September 2014 - that Samsung was using 3D nand in a new PCIe SSD - rated at 10 DWPD for 5 years.

Currently there is no type of mainstream nand flash which isn't being used in some type of enterprise SSD systems.

And if you hear vendors say - that their array is better because it uses so called enterprise MLC (eMLC) it really means that they don't know how to manage the flash with their own IP and have passed the buck to their memory suppliers and to their customers (who have to pay more).

In some high end enterprise market applications - there are valid reasons you might choose to pay more for your flash and have your flash array delivered in a bigger box - but in most applications - that choice is a customer preference.

Maybe you like the software which comes with the box - or it will cost you more to validate alternative suppliers. But eMLC is not - and has not been for many years - a necessity in most enterprise flash arrays.

On the other hand - if you are a worrier - rest assured that the reliability of 3D nand will need to be reassessed in future generations as the stack layers progress upwards in number. (Bad things might still happen.)

23 years later... and still counting - as in 12 key SSD ideas, Top 10 SSD Companies etc

Where does - 23 years later come in?

Earlier this month (December 2014) LinkedIn's software picked up the fact that it was the 23 year anniversary of my having founded the enterprise publisher which publishes

Although 23 is a prime number - and in that way is - I suppose - interesting for some - it wasn't a milestone I had planned to write about or mention on these pages. But as some of you picked up the bot generated posting and said nice kind things I thought that deserved some kind of human generated response from me. So here's what I said...

"Thanks for your kind and motivational comments. In the new era of SSD guides the balance of effort has moved away from - what are the new products and technologies? - To inferring - where they are - on known and unknowable intersecting roadmaps of evolutionary and disruptive change - with destinations which don't yet have words in the jargon of computer architecture."

re publishing and social networks

Everyone has their own preferences. In my case - I've become accustomed to my "social informative network" being my readers rather than any of the new fangled channels such as LinkedIn or Twitter. So this web site is where I invest most of my efforts.

But it's not always obvious what I've been working on - and a reader asked my about that recently. He said he hadn't seen anything from me in recent months about the SSD market - and asked if everything was OK.

In his case it was simply that he had recently joined a Top 10 SSD Company - whose corporate servers deny its employees access to - because their firewall filters out sites which have cartoon-like content. I won't name the company - they've had this internal problem for over a year. I guess my readership would be bigger otherwise. The marketers in that company like the mice and they like the content BTW.

After our email exchange - we spoke for about an hour about strategic changes in the enterprise SSD market. Very interesting - but for background - rather than a new article.

Apart from corporate firewall walls which block out from some desktops - another reason you might not see what I've been writing about recently is that I know you won't be interested in it yet - so I don't flag the links loudly.

When I choose to write about a new SSD topic - it's because it's interesting or important to me - and my gut tells me that it will be of interest to seriously minded readers like you at some time in the future. Sometimes it can take 5 to 10 years for new SSD related ideas to get into the mainstream market. But by writing about them early - I'm able to begin a conversation with the blue sky architects and business visionaries who will do the difficult part - which is making these things happen - and fit into a world which wasn't created for their kind.

The truth is - there isn't enough time to complete half the SSD articles I get started on. Too many interesting things going on.

From time to time - it's useful to distill the essence of all that raw random SSD chatter into something simpler.

That's where the above article - 12 keys ideas etc - comes from.

other key SSD ideas in 2014?

top SSD companies...

In the notes above I've focused on significant market wide SSD trends rather than significant SSD companies.

For a summary of 2014 as seen from an SSD company list perspective - see these articles below:-

the Top SSD Companies
SSD endurance - forever war
can you trust SSD market data?
how fast can your SSD run backwards?
the top 50 SSD articles on
meet Ken - and the enterprise SSD software event horizon
enterprise SSD market consolidation - why? how? when?
SSD ad - click for more info

storage search banner

What next - after PCIe SSDs everywhere?
Editor:- December 2, 2014 - What next - when PCIe SSDs are already everywhere? You know you need them. But you need more too. Signs of interesting times ahead in 2015 are revealed in the new edition of the Top SSD Companies - based on market metrics in Q3 2014 - researched and published by

For over 5 years - Fusion-io had occupied the top #1 spot in this list as the SSD company which was most researched by our readers. That was inevitably going to change. And it did. But not in the way you might have expected.

The new #1 SSD company is Diablo Technologies - creator of the Memory Channel Storage platform.

But that's not the only sign of change.

7 years after the 2007 Year of SSD revolutions - is the enterprise SSD market about to begin a new revolution in server centric SSD architecture? the article
SSD ad - click for more info
The roadmap vision I'm seeing emerge from enterprise SSD developments in 2014 - is that while oems and users are being offered more choices in form factors and flash memory types - each of which adds to the raw confusion of which one is best to use - the mission statement for the software developers and fabric enablers - will be to create SSDcentric platforms which enable these disparate pieces to be seen as interoperable subsets of a bigger continuum architecture...
what's hotting up storage search? (September 2014)
market research

SSD market history

the top SSD companies

Hostage to the fortunes of SSD

Can you trust SSD market data?

PCIe SSDs versus UlltraDIMMs?

should we set higher expectations for memory systems?

SSD ad - click for more info

self-awareness - new thinking in rackmount SSDs

Efficiency - making the same SSD - with less flash

How will the hard drive market fare... in an SSD world?

flash wars in the enterprise - SLC vs eMLC vs MLC vs TLC

SSD ad - click for more info

"One petabyte of enterprise SSD could replace 10 to 50 petabytes of raw HDD storage in the enterprise - and still run all the apps faster and at lower cost."
meet Ken and the SSD event horizon

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This acquisition demonstrates a new wisdom:- to succeed in the enterprise SSD market today - and to achieve the ultimate efficiencies at the manufacturing level - vendors have to think like systems companies.

re WDC acquires Skyera (December 2014)

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from the SSD news archive
Western Digital acquires Skyera

Kaminario gets another $53 million funding

Netlist revalidates core patent related to ULLtraDIMM's
Steve Wozniak joins Primary Data

Foremay readies 8TB 2.5" military SSDs
Netlist asks court to shut down SanDisk's ULLtraDIMM

Memblaze launches new 14S latency PCIe SSDs in Europe

high availability / fault tolerant enterprise SSDs - are now mainstream
A3CUBE - first US customer shipments soon

Samsung mass produces 3TB 3D 10 DWPD PCIe SSDs

Seagate reports low take up of hybrid drives
Samsung ships 10nm SAS SSDs

Diablo unveils DDR-4 flash DIMM SSDs

SanDisk launches ZetaScale (enterprise flash memory tier software)

NxGn Data exits stealth with promise of in-situ SSD processing
SanDisk to buy Fusion-io

IBM is #1 in rackmount SSD revenue
Seagate agrees to acquire LSI's flash business for $450 million

Kaminario guarantees amplified usable capacity
SanDisk samples 4TB 2.5" SAS SSDs

Violin enters the SSD integrated server market
Samsung says its 2.5" NVMe PCIe SSD are 3x faster than 12Gbps SAS SSDs
A3CUBE unveils PCIe memory fabric for 10,000 node-class architectures

Marvell samples 5K IOPS smartphone SSD (eMMC 5.0)
IBM revamps TMS rackmount SSDs and launches memory channel SSD servers (with SanDisk / Diablo inside)

Half Micron's nand flash now used in SSDs

InnoDisk's (MO-276) nanoSSD in full scale production

Netlist says ULLtraDIMM SSDs infringe its patents

And prior to that...

what changed in SSD year 2013?

Why was Fusion-io - the best known and most often admired enterprise SSD company - unable to survive as an independent company?
What will SanDisk really get from Fusion-io?

Little words can have with big meanings in the world of SSDs.

They affect price, performance, reliability and user happiness.
flash SSD Jargon Explained

One of the things which I had expected to see in 2014 - but didn't - was the appearance of more vendors competing in the low latency memory channel SSD market.

One factor for this "no show" may have been due to questions re the validity of currently claimed patents.
SSD news - December 2014


the SSD data recovery market in 2014
For 7 years the market for SSD data recovery - which is largely aimed at consumer style SSDs in notebooks - had been a sterile zone when it came to hard facts and statistics - but some data finally emerged in 2014.

As previoulsy expected - SSDs are more reliable than hard drives when used in notebooks - and less likely to need data recovery.

How much better are SSDs? About 5x.

The main problem found in SSDs which were being sent for data recovery was data corruption due to endurance mechanisms.

Endurance problems were 20x more likely to lead to SSD data recovery than all other component failures combined.
broken barrel image - click to see the SSD data recovery directory
SSD data recovery


90% of the enterprise SSD companies which you know have no good reasons to survive.
this way to market consolidation


historic perspective and context of enterprise SSD market and data architecture in 2014
In recent years hundreds of companies have been attracted by the idea of playing in the SSD market casino / bubble due to the absence of sustainable market and technical leadership positions.

The changeability of leadership positions was partly due to changing priorities in memory management due to smaller cell geometries but also due to the huge waste inherent in data architecture which had been layered on the magnetic storage server model during the first decade of the dotcom ecosystem.

There was a point in the 1990s when users were getting good enough results from the distributed workloads of RAID HDD and multiple core CPUs so that system architects didnt consider serious alternatives and didnt worry about the wastefulness of those systems.

Therefore SSD based accelerators were viewed initially by the enterprise mainstream as exotically expensive cures for rarely articulated customer headaches rather than as part of the latency based architectural hierarchy which should have been part of the software to begin with.

When solutions started to appear they were from small outsider companies which didnt have the financial resources to change the messy world they wanted to live in.

Partly what weve seen in the past 7 years of enterprise flash as the SSD market has grown in size is that software entanglement problems which were uneconomic to solve when the market was smaller have been creeping in as the useful part of some bundled SSD solution.

But changing the course of the whole data processing industry while enabling it to keep chugging on without disrupting previously embarked user missions is a fascinating story.

This owes nearly as much to the long standing inertia of innovation averse old style (pre SSD era storage / server vendors) who created the fertile ground for the disruptive market which followed as it does to the bold SSD adventurers who planted their random little seeds and amazed the world and themselves by seeing what a huge reaction they got.

See also:- comparing the SSD market today to earlier tech disruptions

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