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4 SSD companies which made me stop and think1 big market lesson and 4 shining technology companies showing the way ahead for all SSD and memory systems

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - December 20, 2016
If you're trying to understand the SSD and memory systems markets and looking for a single big idea which gives you a confident feel for what's going on - then you'll be disappointed if you stare too hard and look in the expected places.

Unlike past years you won't find the answer in any single interface, memory technology or startup company.

In past years we could (and often did) identify - as the SSD news stories unfolded - that there were bright candles which provided clarity to how SSD adoption strategies would emerge with examples coming from particular angles and hinting at plausible multigenerational roadmaps:-
  • the implicit assumption of SSD accelerators in every new enterprise server - due to ground breaking business development by Fusion-io with PCIe SSDs (2007 to 2009).
In 2016 - if you can say there is a single big idea in the SSD and memory market which reaches out everywhere - I would say it's this.

The SSD and memory systems market is now a self-aware interconnected ideas ecosystem in which the detailed implementation of new advanced technologies has to take into account the big data and big controller architecture ideas in all the other parts of this new SSD aware ecosystem.

And in this new market paradigm - management complexity at the micro level and the ability to have intelligent flow control symmetry which has been enabled by the flattening of read latency costs spanning across many previously hard banded tiers - is enabling utilization rates of installed data infrastructure which are vastly more efficient than legacy enterprise architectures which were heavily optimized to hide the latency weaknesses of hard drive based systems rather than optimized to support native application based data query flows.

You can see the effects everywhere.

Or nowhere depending how you interpret what you see in the news and market reports.

This is a business phenomenon rather than a technology shift, But it affects all technology business plans.

The difficulty of this lack of a single technology focus point (instead everything seems to be hot) is like the difficulty of seeing the wood for the trees.

It's much easier to demonstrate how some of these interconnected ideas interact with each other in business stories (like I tried to do with the story below - a winter's tale of SSD market influences). And I'll be using similar stories to show the interconnectedness of this new SSD market paradigm in my writing next year.

Of course this doesn't mean to say that there aren't worthy new hot technologies too. As to what they are? You probably have your own ideas.

And to get a wide trawl I asked a bunch of people in the SSD industry for their suggestions and you can see what they said in this article - what were the big SSD memory architecture ideas in 2016?
4 SSD companies which made me stop and think

4 shining companies which made me stop and think

Companies matter too.

For me - the SSD ecosystems companies which made me sit up and take notice - because of the promise of better prospects for the SSD market implied by something new they did in 2016 were:-
  • Symbolic IO - who hinted that all the calculations which have traditionally been done related to storage capacity and performance give you the wrong expectations of what you can expect to get from memory systems enhanced architecture - if you can find a way to embed data packing transparently into the memory system. (We'll learn more about the details I hope in 2017.)
  • Diablo Technologies - who showed that if you integrate motherboard DRAM and software into the controller thinking of "flash as RAM" - then enterprise server workloads don't stress flash based NVDIMMs as much as you might have thought when extrapolating from storage SSD based RAM emulation previously done in the market.
  • Marvell - who (with their FLC technology) confirmed that even battery powered embedded products like phones should now aspire to reap the "flash as RAM" benefits which had been pioneered in big memory enterprise systems.
And while we're on the subject of interesting SSD companies I recently published the new Q3 2016 edition of the Top SSD Companies which is based on the crowd sourced intelligence of readers here on

SSD ad - click for more infoThis is the 38th quarterly edition and sometimes when I look back at past editions I am impressed by how well the SSD industry has changed so much from being a small and disruptive influence in a corner of the data systems market and had now grown to confidently sit at the center of everything that matters.

Although many SSD CEOs I talk to ask how their companies are doing in these lists - and want to know if they are moving up or down - another way of extracting useful lookahead pointers from it is to see which companies have entered the list for the first time.

In 2016 the newcomers to the Top SSD Companies were:- Memblaze, Netlist and NxGn.

We've heard interesting things from these companies before - and it now seems certain that whatever they may do in 2017 will attract more attention.

2016 in the SSD and memory systems market was a year of growing confidence that no apologies or deference are any longer due to the older related markets of processors, and rotating media storage. The only market which SSD product plans need to adapt to and compete with are within the SSD market itself. And this market has big enough potential to make difficult efforts worthwhile.

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In 2016 4 shining companies - Diablo, Marvell, NVMdurance and Symbolic IO provided significant technology markers for the way ahead for the SSD memory systems ecosystem.

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Everything in storage changed in the past decade due to the disruptive impact of SSDs and SSD aware software.

Now everything in memories and storage and processing is set to change again and branch into different directions leveraging on the confidence that when you have memory everywhere you can do things differently.
where are we heading with memory intensive systems?

is data remanence in NVDIMMs a new risk factor?
maybe the risk was already there before with DRAM

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what were the big SSD, storage and memory architecture ideas which emerged and came into sharp focus in 2016?

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There's a genuine characterization problem for the SCM industry which is:- what are the most useful metrics to judge tiered memory systems by?
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Many of the important and sometimes mysterious behavioral aspects of SSDs which predetermine their application limitations and usable market roles can only be understood when you look at how well the designer has dealt with managing the symmetries and asymmetries which are implicit in the underlying technologies which are contained within the SSD.
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SSD drive makers are hostages to the fortunes of the arrays their drives populate.
a winter's tale of SSD market influences

It's by no means inevitable that the biggest memory companies will go on to become the biggest SSD companies.
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Also in 2016 these companies entered the Top SSD Companies List (ranked by reader search) for the first time:- Memblaze, Netlist and NxGn.