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the SSD Heresies

Why can't SSD's true believers agree

on a single shared vision for the future of solid state storage?
by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - June 8, 2010
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.

Try this thought experiment for yourself replacing the concept of "flash SSD" with "microprocessor". As in ...why can't we all agree about the future of microprocessors?

For products like servers, notebooks and cell phones there's fairly uniform agreement about how to design a microprocessor that's appropriate to the performance and power/cost budget levels of these recognized standard products - and whole families of micros which have been optimized for specific categories of applications - so the designer of a dishwasher for example doesn't have to waste time researching trends in 256 core 64 bit CPUs.

Those of us old enough to witness the excitement and confusion of the early microprocessor market remember a similar state of confusion.

Mainframe companies thought that micros might have an arm's length role in peripherals like VDUs. Minicomputer companies initially thought micros were irrelevant because they didn't have operating systems and compilers. First the hungry micro companies ate the minis - then they ate the mainframes too. In other product areas too - I remember having debates about whether it was excessive to design products which had 2, 3 or more processors. It was easier to get the job done with more - so that's what we did. And having crossed that line - and proven it was a good idea later products used a lot more processors.

Will it go the same way with SSDs?

They're already eating the server microprocessor market due to SSD-CPU equivalence - as I predicted in 2003.

Will SSDs eat the VTL and tape library too? Yes (but not soon) - it's a hungry market but getting accustomed to a rich and diverse diet takes time.

The norms for what makes a good storage design in user environments are changing faster now than at any time in history.

And in the past 3 years in the SSD industry we've seen a lot of learning going on by designers of SSD controller chips - as successive products have demonstrated good features (which make products work better for users), bad features (which made the products look good in benchmarks but didn't work so well in applications and missing features (important functions which are required for a hassle-free user life-cycle - which never got into the original design).

That complex picture of shifting sands of assumptions in the SSD market is the reason that StorageSearch.com has thousands of pages of content devoted to the subject of SSDs. (It's still not enough - I know.) And it's why thousands of bloggers are writing on this subject. Just when it seems for a brief moment that there's agreement about a topic - such as what's a good notebook or server SSD? - Then a new technology generation - or article comes along raising a new important issues - and it's back to having no safe answers any more.

Debate is good - and where we end up with SSDs is going to look a lot different to where we are today. The SSD analysts agree on some things - but disagree on others. Each SSD manufacturer would like to think that their own way is best.

I have my own views about the future of the SSD market and what it's going to look like. And they may be different to yours. But maybe we can all agree and get accustomed to the idea that what we are seeing now in SSD design and usage is still a long way from where we will end up.

Tactically the SSD product decisions you make today may be different to what you would do in 3, 6 or 12 months from now.

Surviving the present to get to the future and retaining flexibility by avoiding routes which limit your future options seems like a good way to go. Translating that into customer strategies - may mean don't worry if your notebook SSD choices and suppliers are completely different to the SSDs you use in your servers. And the tick lists will be different too. Server SSD choices? Just fix the problem you have today - because your server assets may look completely different tomorrow.

Remember how email and the web transformed the server assets for most companies in the early 1990s? That's the kind of seismic change SSDs will have too. So having a 5 year SSD server plan may not be a realistic idea.
click here to see our directory of SSD market analysts Thanks for reading the latest SSD squeaks from the mouse site. I hope you find the articles and ideas you see here helpful in stimulating your own thoughts - and helping you avoid obvious pitfalls. If you like what you see - why not tell your friends and colleagues to take a look too.
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That step - when users make the switch to newer generations of software - means not only do they need less servers - but they don't need as many SSDs as they did in an earlier phase of SSD market adoption either.

Some enterprise vendors have already seen that painful effect - the most notable being Fusion-io. However it will affect all enterprise SSD vendors at some time or other.
meet Ken - and the enterprise SSD software event horizon

Here are some useful SSD overview directories

SSD news

the Fastest SSDs

SSDs - perspective

the SSD Buyers Guide

the Top SSD companies

the Top 100 SSD articles
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As you can see from the types of acquisition which occur most frequently - the recent trend in SSD company acquisitions has been mostly about buying the capability to design a better SSD rather than buying a company which already makes a perfect product. That's because the evolution of what is an SSD, what it should do, and how it should fit into the computing infrastructure is still evolving.
exciting new directions in rackmount SSDs (May 2013)
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by which all others are judged
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examples of differing views about important topics within the SSD industry.
  • flash SSD capacity - the iceberg syndrome - how does the amount of flash inside a flash SSD compare to the capacity shown on the invoice? - There are huge variations in different designs as vendors leverage capacity to tweak key performance and reliability parameters.
  • What are the main application slots which suit SSDs? Can one type of SSD be good for more than 1 type of function? Are the SSD types we're seeing now all that there will ever be in the market? Or will there be entirely new types of SSD still to come? If so - when?
  • Adaptive R/W and DSP ECC are market changing tools in SSD controller IP - but only a small number of SSD vendors have this technology. Those who have it - say it's a gamechanger. Those who don't have it - say they don't need it. This looks like a replay of the flash versus RAM SSD wars - only this time the stakes are higher.
  • Efficiency in SSD design architecture (how many chips and how much cost are needed to get the same SSD specification) could become a key business differentiator among leading SSD companies. That's because there are many different techniques which work at different levels.
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