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why the caching tiering hybrid SSD appliance hockey stick sales curve is flat...

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - May 28, 2010

why's no one buying auto-tiering / auto-caching SSDs?

the Problem with Selling Revolutionary SSDs to Risk Averse Technology Laggards
Editor:- May 28, 2010 - OCZ yesterday announced that its SSDs have been qualified for compatibility with Adaptec's MaxIQ SSD caching products (which are SATA compatible SSD ASAP controllers for Auto-tuning SSD Accelerated Pools of storage).

Originally launched in September 2009 to interoperate with Intel SSDs - Adaptec's product was in the forefront of a new wave of products designed to automate the acceleration effect of mixing SSDs with legacy HDD arrays in hybrid storage pools - a paradigm discussed in an article here on which was aptly titled Using SSDs to Boost Legacy RAID and Database Performance (published in 2004).

The idea (of using a small capacity SSD to cache a large capacity HDD array) has been around for more than 20 years - to the dawn of the RAID systems concept and this kind of speedup challenge was my #1 product design priority when I joined a hot start up called Databasix in 1987. I didn't solve the problem - but during the next several years learned a lot about performance measurements and how to achieve wire speed writes in rotating (and solid state) storage arrays.

The SSD automatic tuning / optimization problem has never been successfully solved in a way which is economic for all applications.

Personally I don't think it ever will be. Like all SSD acceleration schemes (except those which use 100% SSD without HDD) - the application speedup is environmentally specific. It depends on the server environment, the shape of the user process demand curve, the spatial distribution of hot-spot data and the compatibility of the caching algorithms compared to the real-life data flows.

Vendors in this market space face a tough challenge - which is that their ideal customers are mostly SSD virgins who are conservative by nature and who have opted out of earlier generations of SSD acceleration because their installations were not big enough to make human tuning feasible - or because the cost benefits of SSD speedup versus server consolidation were not big enough to justify the risk in their own business operations.

That means SSD ASAP companies have been offering revolutionary products to potential customers who by their own choices behave as technology laggards.

No surprise it has not resulted in any hockey stick sales growth curves (yet). But I have no doubt that when some companies do prove that their way of doing SSD ASAPs is the safe way to go for specific applications (and specific server environments) - it will become a huge market. The clock is ticking. The SSD ASAP market is only viable until the SSD array cost of ownership model falls below that of HDDs
..Much later:-

The problems of being a new enterprise SSD supplier in a traditional storage market were discussed in these later articles:-
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...Later:- discussing these problems with some readers I used the idea of concatenated probabilities to explain why new vendors in this market were seeing slow sales ramps.

1st - the user has to believe that SSDs will solve their problems (and the ideal customer segment served by ASAPs has already resisted SSDs until now).

2nd - the user has to be convinced that your own proprietary SSD ASAP algorithms are the best match for the application and server environment they've got - and you (the SSD vendor) will still be around in a few years to support them. Because unlike vanilla SSD accelerators - these ASAPs will only do speedups based on algorithms which are designed into the box. What if the algorithms aren't quite right? - and need to evolve... If the vendor is bust - the user is stuck with an expensive storage box which performs no useful functions at all.

Satisfying both conditions concurrently is a much smaller probability than satisfying either one. And to make things worse - establishing the reputation consistent with calming nervous user FUD could take longer than the typical market life of a new SSD product.

It did indeed take years longer than pioneering SSD vendors had originally expected to get the SSD auto-caching / auto-tiering market established.

It wasn't until 2013 Q4 that a company whose primary business was bybrid SSD arrays - Tegile - entered the Top SSD Companies list.

Partly it was because the job of establishing exactly where the boundaries of the SSD software element in these products should be drawn was unclear.

Another reason was that the earliest appliances lacked features which most users considered to be essential - such as including an acceptable way of handling fault tolerance.

And another reason was that early appliances were limited in their scalability (assumptions about SSD capacities were too restricted, or assumptions about back-end storage were too short-term (HDD speed-up view only - and useless if back-end storage was also fast-enough SSD.)

And another reason was sheer complexity.

Users were faced with too many different types of products which all claimed to solve the same kinds of problems - but which involved completely different types of approaches.
  • appliance in a box - with the SSD and software and HDD already integrated
  • appliance in a box - with the SSD and software inside - but designed to attach to pre-existing legacy HDD storage
  • appliance as software - to run on the server - which leveraged PCIe SSDs or other SSDs from various 3rd party oems
  • appliance as software - to run on the server - which leveraged SSDs from the same vendor
  • appliance as software - to run on the server - which was pre-integrated in the SSD itself
  • combinations of the above

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