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What were the big SSD ideas of 2015?

and new SSD trends that will shape 2016

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com - December 15, 2015

See also:- SSD History - 2015

What were the big SSD ideas of 2015? The new ideas to assimilate in your thinking, and any big ideas to unlearn and forget. And is it possible to predict yet the SSD ideas which will dominate our strategic SSD thinking in 2016?

Having been in the professional SSD market prediction game a long time - I thought I'd give these questions my best shot.

Unlike last year my 2015/16 list (here below) is shorter.

(Big sigh of relief from those of you out there who tell me they read nearly every word...)

(Similar sigh of relief from me too - as there is less to write. But also feeling some pressure that the smaller list better be good. Anxious thought - did I forget something?)

What were the 3 new big SSD ideas of 2015 to learn?

big idea #1 - No SSD company is too big to be acquired.

There were enough examples of big SSD companies being acquired in 2015 already at the time of writing this to make the above statement seem almost too obvious - so why did I add it to my big ideas list?

It's because when the implications of this idea sink in - it will change the way that vendors and users in the SSD ecosystem behave - compared to what they might have done before.

I think the effect will be to favor some specific changes in technical design and architecture adoption which otherwise might not have happened at all, or would have had smaller market revenue impacts.

Here are some immediately obvious changes that I'd expect to see as a result.

In the SSD vendor ecosystem - it is no longer safe for companies to assume that their existing technology buying and selling relationships will remain stable and secure.

Although there was always an element of such risks in earlier years - for example when SSD software companies were being acquired as if they were going out of fashion - or when SSD drive or array companies which appeared in the Top SSD Companies Lists were likely to get picked up by anyone with a spare half billion dollars who wanted to get into the market - these transactions took place against a background assumption that there would always continue to be a flow of other similar companies in the market (if you really wanted that kind of product) whereas the framework assumptions about which companies would be the biggest suppliers at the top or bottom of the food chain (as memory makers, or drive makers or systems companies) mostly remained the same as these T-Rex companies were comfortable in their dominant market defined identities .

Vendor strategies which once appeared safe - such as
  • this is where my company fits into the market ecosystem, and
  • that's where my raw suppliers fit in the market (compared to my place) and
  • that's where my customers fit in the market, and
  • this is a company I would choose to partner with
are no longer safe assumptions when your biggest supplier can become your biggest competitor. Or when your biggest customer can become your competitor.

And all these changes can happen in the space of time it takes to read the latest acquisition press release.

This will lead to more SSD companies choosing defensive design strategies to decouple their exposure to sudden changes with the kinds of companies which traditionally they would have considered as natural partners.

A defensive technology strategy in this context means acquiring or developing deeper technology IP while at the same time leaning more on de-facto market standards.

A defensive business strategy could be to deepen end-user oriented focus and specialization. In this line of thinking small to medium size SSD companies may decide it's less risky to be a leader in a small niche than to be a generic supplier in a big market where the traditional customers have become vertical integrators and don't need you to exist at all.

The implications for users of the "No SSD company is too big to be acquired" idea come from the alternative translation that "none of my big suppliers is safe anymore - just because it's big."

Your favorite products and product features may disappear forever in any quarter.

Your safe old big supplier wouldn't have made the legacy product obsolete - because they relied on customers like you to keep them fed. But their new owners will have to be ruthless in their support of the technology they've acquired. For their own plans to succeed they will have to prioritize the one or two things they liked in your old supplier's goody bag. Sorry your platform isn't in the list.

I explored in more detail the defensive changes which enterprise users can make in their buying and technology adoption behavior in my article about enterprise consolidation. In other markets like the embedded industrial and military - the assumption that your favorite big supplier may exit your market at any moment - is simply business as usual. (And it has been that way ever since digital chips replaced the analog, pneumatic and clickety clackety stuff which came before.)

big idea #2 - there's no single best place to locate all the IO and management intelligence of a big SSD.

Another way to say this is that the optimum design solution is to place a little piece of intelligence everywhere it can make enough of a measurable difference (to the total application context in which it operates).

When I listed "adaptive intelligence flow symmetry" as one of the 11 key design symmetries in my 2012 classic article - how fast can your SSD run backwards? - it was located pretty close to the end of the article.

That didn't signify its relative importance in SSD architecture. But it was a topic whose significance at that time was relatively little appreciated outside a small group of designers of enterprise PCIe SSDs and related software. And there were very few publicly known examples of product implementations of this technique which I could point to in my narrative.

In 2014 there were more examples which flashed across the SSD news screens of those with the alertness to notice such things. And to make sure that my readers got the alerts they needed I noted this technique as key idea #1 in my 12 key SSD ideas which changed in 2014 article. Although in that case - it was a much narrower interpretation of the benefits of this technique - which was speed. Whereas - like all powerful SSD design techniques - the general concept can impact a wider range of SSD attributes such as power consumption, reliability and cost too.

In case you're still unsure what I'm talking about and how this relates to what we saw happening in 2015 - some of the reasons for this unclarity are:-
  • the technique started in PCIe SSDs, then was next adopted in arrays of SATA SSDs but these implementations were mostly hidden as "improvers" in proprietary products.
  • the technique was called different things by its various different creators. These different implementations also differed in the set of parameters they were intended to optimize. (But actually they were all variations of the same basic architecture idea. The big idea #2 above.)
Still no wiser?

In 2015 there were enough new COTS implementations of big idea #2 to swing it for me as a done deal

See what you think with these company and word associations... Fusion-io, Memblaze (3rd generation), NxGn (in-situ SSD processing), Seagate (cloud customized SandForce), InnoDisk (FlexiRemap), Skyera, Baidu (SDF for web-scale), Radian Memory (cooperative flash management ), OCZ (host managed SSD technology)...

Now you've got it.

Without it - all SSD application architectures look like they're missing part of their oxygen feed to the brain.

You're going to see a lot more in the next 2 years - for the obvious competitive reasons.

big idea #3 - retiring and retiering enterprise DRAM

which includes a new value proposition for enterprise flash SSDs (flash as RAM) and presages a rebalancing of server memories - DRAM will shrink as a percentage of the physical RAM - which will also make it easier for emerging alternative memory types to be adopted by hardware architects and by systems software too


In 2015 there were significant and tangible product announcements around the ideas of rethinking enterprise RAM architecture (2014) - which have the impact to change the balance of memory types used in enterprise systems in as fundamental a way as SSDs themselves were predicted to change the server, storage and software markets in my 2005 article - 5 User Value Propositions for buying SSDs.

You could say that not the least impact of big idea #3 will be to add a 6th value proposition to the original 5 which I had in my list. And the economic impact of this - could be as great as any of those earlier 5 ideas.

The size of the business opportunities represented by retiring and retiering DRAM (aka storage class memories) have become apparent by analyzing the gains made possible by earlier generations of enterprise SSDs - in particular PCIe SSDs with their related support software. If you want to see more detail about this take a look at what's RAM really? and DIMM wars - the Memory1 episode.

Companies which made product or technology announcements in the big idea #3 context during 2015 included:- The above companies were joined in 2016 by:- Xitore. (Others will be added to this list as they emerge).

What were the big SSD ideas which 2015 taught us to unlearn, discard and forget?

Are there any big SSD ideas or ways of thinking about the SSD market - which were useful in the past - but whose relevance and usefulness has been downgraded by developments in the market?

In previous years I suggested these:-
  • 2012 - I said enterprise users and systems integrators should stop worrying about the type of flash in their systems. "Good design is more important than good memory."
  • 2013 - I said that the apparent traction and staying power in the Top 10 section of the Top SSD Companies List researched and published by StorageSearch.com would end and that we would see new names breaking into the list.
  • 2014 - I said we could forget old ideas about the limits of server memory due to new SSD based software and the business confidence of the SSD ecosysytem that it no longer had to be tied by backwards compatibility with historically set limits and zoning ideas in enterprise architecture.
So... what's new to forget?

It arises as a direct consequence of the way that some vendors will be implementing the new big SSD idea #3 above and is related to retiring and retiering RAM. It's this...

It's no longer universally true that flash is always used as non volatile memory. Instead flash memory has a potentially viable latent duality of market roles as either:- nvm or vm.

This is because nand flash has now discovered a new market role which has the potential to displace tens of billions of dollars of DRAM in new application roles (as big data DRAM replacement) in which the intensive R/W and flash care schemes are not focused on preserving the remanence of the memory.

Sure - if you can still offer a flash based DRAM replacement that is persistent (like an SSD) that's a product you can sell. But if the cost of maintaining such good data persistence compromizes the performance you can offer in that emulated DRAM - then maybe in some applications it's a worthwhile trade off.

I've touched on the enormity of this design rethink in some earlier references this year in my endurance and DIMM wars Memory1 articles.

What it means for flash controller designers is a break away from traditional thinking about flash care schemes which was guided by the pre-eminent need to preserve the "n" in the "nvm" description of flash chip arrays.

Once you say "we don't care about the n in nvm" that opens up an entire alternative universe of timing and R/W management which we presently don't know much about. But I'm sure that as more vendors enter that market space - we'll see hints and details emerging in papers and patents.

So the next time you see a text book or blog which describes the primary and distinctive characteristic of flash as being "non volatile memory" - you'll know it's out of date.

What are my new predictions for the dynamics of the SSD market in 2016?

I think that hovering in the background and influencing many seemingly incomprehensible product changes in 2016 will be the apparently conflicting tensions between 2 primary Higgs boson-like SSD forces:-
  • an urge towards greater standardization, and at the same time
These tensions will affect all the main markets in which SSDs are used:- enterprise, consumer, industrial, military, medical etc - although the resulting outcomes (in the shape of product and systems design) may be hard to recognize at first as being the result of these 2 tensions.

The urge towards greater customization will be driven by the need to improve the efficiency of SSDs (cost of raw materials and competitiveness) and also technical characteristics (performance, power consumption, reliability etc) which are optimized specifically for well defined application specific needs. So whereas in earlier phases of the SSD market - the viability of new application segments could be prototyped and proven using mainly simple variants of COTS SSDs - it is imperative from both the user and vendor competitiveness points of view - that SSD products are designed to be a better fit for the purposes in which they are intended to be used. In that respect any intrinsic features which are not recognized or valued by the applications segment become instead frivolous luxuries which simply add to the cost and detract from other opportunities to provide systems apparent benefits.

The urge towards greater standardization will be driven by the needs of users (and vendors) to have some degree of continuity in applications and business roadmaps against a backdrop of more chaotic than usual technical changes at the raw memory and (massively changing) architecture assumptions.

Software will play a big role in both these primary forces.

And a factor which will make the analysis and interpretation of some new SSD product lines harder for external market commentators is that we'll see both customization and standardization forces being implemented simultaneously in the same products - but in different parts of the design.

Here are some specific examples of how the above 2 forces will interact to drastically change aspects of the SSD market which we have hitherto come to regard as being mature and well established.

customization and standardization - the SSD directional push-me pull-yous
  • enterprise systems

    Customization pressures - means we're going to see more efficient products (lowest hardware production cost needed to do the job) being designed for each type of clearly defined product role. An inevitable consequence of this will be a demise in business prospects for sloppily defined "general purpose" systems which straddle application boundaries and which are therefore not the most competitive solutions for any application. This missmtach in most cases in the market today stems from bad marketing thinking rather than technical design.

    Standardization pressures - will be good for the business of any software vendors who credibly offer standard SSD software platforms which aren't tied to any specific storage hardware vendor. (While at the same time the software vendors can demostrate they have a sustainable business model which isn't simply to get acquired.)

    How many different hardware platforms do you need in the support list to establish a "standard"?

    A rough guide would be as few as any 6 hardware platforms (of vendors who have ever appeared in the Top SSD Companies List). That would give users the comfort of knowing that even if half the existing hardware platform vendors disappeared from the market - they (as users) would still have a range of competitive suppliers among those who remained.

    I discussed these issues in more detail in an earlier article - 90% of enterprise SSD companies won't survive - here's why
  • SSD controllers

    Customization pressures will mean that there will be many more application uses for SSDs which cannot be viably satisfied by using standard COTS SSD controllers. This means that more systems companies will resort to designing their own controllers at the raw processor level.

    Standardization expectations - have meant that we've already seen many newcomers to the SSD controller market who think they would like to take a percentage of what they see as a growing pie.
  • industrial SSD market

    I noted the growing degree of customization business strategies being observed among industrial SSD companies (last year) as one of the big SSD ideas of 2014 - which I summarized like this...

    "Designers have refocused and chosen the viable reality of excellence in selected niches above the unfe asible goal of having the best technology roadmap for all applications."

    Now, looking ahead to 2016 - I think we'll see more of those marketing intentions being visible in new products. A key sign will be more SSDs which use more heavily customized, and proprietary SSD controllers rather than lightly tweaked standard controllers (similar to other markets).

    Special additional arguments for doing this are the demanding industrial constraints imposed on these designs, such as :- environmental factors (temperature, vibration, humidity, physical space etc), power consumption (and robustness) and (unlike in the enterprise) the greater reliance in industrial systems on the intrinsic reliability of standalone SSDs (rather than arrays).

    Standardization influences on the industrial market will come from many directions.

    • commercialization (by means of COTS controller support) of new emerging high temperature alt nvms (which previously had prohibitively high integration costs).
      .
    • market pull from the clarification and definition of new distinct IoT roles for SSDs.
      .
    • adoption and transfer of mobile phone reference platforms (and OSes) into industrial equipment applications.
      .
    • industrialization of flash as DRAM (enabled by migration of software from enterprise markets).
      .
    • growing strength for the argument that using standard FPGAs (where feasible) as the controller implementation technology - assures customers of longer BOM availability than COTS processors.
That's it from me for now. It's fascinating to think that the excitement about changes in the SSD market and coming from the SSD market will continue to be at the forefront of digital systems thinking and architecture in 2016.

See also:- the limericks of flash SSD endurance

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SSD ad - click for more info

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StorageSearch.com / popular SSD articles / SSD market history

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see SAN image in Megabyte cartoon
the annual SSD market roundup

An inevitable consequence of customization pressures in 2016 will be a demise in business prospects for sloppily defined "general purpose" enterprise flash systems which straddle application boundaries.

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SSD ad - click for more info

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the SSD consequences of DRAM latency creep
Editor: March 3, 2016 - We've got used to the fact the performance and characteristics of fast flash SSDs owe more to the interface, controller design and software than to the intrinsic timing and reliability of a nand cell. But what about DRAM? Isn't that much closer to the raw, organic memory ingredients?

In a new blog on StorageSearch.com - DRAM's indeterminate latencies and the virtual memory slider mix - I look at the growing gap between server memory performance and the capabilities of raw, organic DRAM cells.

As enterprise RAM performance is progressively bounded more by controller traffic analysis needs and power consumption rather than DRAM cell capability - there's an argument for saying if the statistical distribution of DRAM latencies is so wide - maybe no one would notice if you slipped in a different kind of memory in the virtual slider mix.

And that - of course - was precisely the open barn door - which ushered in the explosion of DRAM lookalike alt nvm announcements in 2015. ...read the new article

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A considerable proportion of the customer needs which affect flash array buying behavior are still formally unrecognized.
Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise

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SSD ad - click for more info

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I was talking to an end user whose organization has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on EMC storage.

They'd love to decouple themselves and benefit from modern lower cost flash.

But the flash marketers in startups aren't doing those kinds of conversations.

For many of them a single customer like that is bigger than their whole business plan.
"compared to EMC" - the unreal positioning of AFA startups


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industrial SSDs in 2016?


my prediction - "industrialization of flash as DRAM (enabled by migration of software from enterprise markets)"

was confirmed in May 2016 - when Marvell showed how its Final-Level Cache technology could replace DRAM in portable scale products like phones.



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SSD ad - click for more info



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memories?

We used to be able to write down a list of those which mattered.

Now we're seeing many new strangers from strange lands.

Even I can't remember who they all are and how to spell their names.

the SSD Bookmarks




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Many SSD company founders have said they've found the content on this site useful in helping them decide to get into the market - or modifying their plans - if they were already in it.
3 Easy Ways to Enter the SSD Market (and list of SSD company acquisitions)



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After 2003 the only technology which could displace an SSD from its market role was another SSD product.
SSD market history



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After a particularly bad day - reading contradictory SSD white papers, blogs and market reports you may be inclined to ask yourself...

Is it time to update my profile on linkedin?

Can you trust SSD market data?




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other key SSD ideas in 2015?

top SSD companies...
In the notes to the left of this I've focused on significant market wide SSD trends rather than significant SSD companies.

For a summary of 2015 as seen from an SSD company list perspective - see these articles below:-



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Now we're seeing new trends in pricing flash arrays which don't even pretend that you can analyze and predict the benefits using technical models.
Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing



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SSD ad - click for more info



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How times change!
who d'you call for the SSD crystal ball?



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How much investment does it take to achieve something big in the SSD market?
over 100 SSD VC funding stories



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We can't afford NOT to be in the SSD market...

But don't ask how we're going to make money out of it.
hostage to the fortunes of SSD



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One of the things which demonstrates the extraordinary range of diversity in thinking about the SSD market is the different answers you get to these 2 simple questions.

what's the best way to design a flash SSD?

where's the best place to put it?

Nowhere else in computer architecture will you get so many industry experts disagreeing on such fundamental questions.
the SSD Heresies



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Capacitor hold up times in 2.5" military SSDs
exploring the extreme limits of design



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All the predicted repeat sales disappeared.
impacts of the enterprise SSD software event horizon



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What do want our memory systems to do for us?

And how do we want them to behave?
can memory do more?



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"We looked at where the large corporates failed to satisfy their clients, such as when low profits and inconvenience caused those big companies to be disinterested, we then approached the clients with customized solutions"
Kevin Wang, VP Sales - Longsys - talking about business growth tactics in the blog - Longsys taps into IoT market with custom-made solutions (June 14, 2016)



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SSD market perspective
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"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."
all enterprise data will touch an SSD


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how fast can your SSD run backwards?
11 Key Symmetries in SSD design


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The enterprise SSD story...

why's the plot so complicated?

and was there ever a missed opportunity in the past to simplify it?
the golden age of enterprise SSDs


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now consider this...

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

The main reasons they will hang around a little longer and their ranks may even swell slightly before the big shrink are bad reasons...

Bad marketing and an inefficient market.

routes to consolidation in the enterprise



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In popular fiction about time travel it has often been said that the paradox you want to seriously avoid is meeting yourself coming forwards in time while you are actually traveling back.
what were the big SSD ideas which emerged in 2016?