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Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - July 17, 2014
There was one of those big moons facing me for most of the 1 hour drive back from the theater last night - and my wife and I who both have science and engineering based backgrounds were speculating about the possible causes of this dramatic effect.

My contribution to this conversation about the big ghosty shimmering light in the sky was lacking in credibility however - as my brain receptors had filtered out optics on first contact in school when I already knew that my interest was electronics and not bendy glass stuff.

So the plausible scientific explanations in the car driving towards the big hanging moon on the horizon were mostly coming from my wife Janet - who had worked during one university summer vacation at an optoelectronics company (1975) - and whose final year project involved a laser cannon which was bigger than those you sometimes see in the Big Bang Theory - and more like the size of those in Pirates of the Caribbean. (Lasers were generally big in those days, had massive power packs and were kept in locked rooms with danger signs to deter terrorist students playing with them.)

But - no - she didn't know what made the moon look like that either.

And I realized almost as the words were leaving my lips that my theory about the moon's appearance was going to sound like a mash up between all the concepts I'd ever heard of that could bend light:- gravity? refraction? Hogwart spells? - It was all the same to me.

It was all part of that bendy glass stuff - which I was never interested in - and it reminds me now of failed school physics experiments.

Zsolt - How many colors do you say you see?

I'm color blind. Who needs that many colors? In a later part of my career I used to joke with advertisers of 24 bit color graphics accelerators for workstations - 8 bits is more than I need. - It's lucky your customers aren't all like me.

Anyway Janet and I both agreed that the best thing to do would be to look it up on the internet when we got home - which is what we did.

What was the explanation?

Don't ask me. I was none the wiser because the most interesting explanation which Janet found involved looking at some optical illusion diagrams which involved a load of shapes and colors - at which point I lost interest.

It was interesting that the moon on our journey back from the play looked like something out of a science fiction film hovering above the road in the direction we were driving.

Apparently it wasn't just the size - but the dramatic colors too.

I said the sci-fi idea would work better for me if I was seeing 2 moons.

That's another color analysis based value judgement I guess.

When we visited the National Gallery (in London) with Janet's sister once - they had a special exhibition of Italian paintings. I was through in 5 minutes and spent the next couple of hours reading a book in the tea shop - which is at the exit to the maze.

Your ancestors and mine didn't have the luxury being able to google pseudo scientific explanations of the lights they saw in the night sky - and that's why - over a period of thousands of years they came up with many fascinating stories which tried to explain what they were seeing and how it all tied together in a reassuring way which helped them understand the world they were living in.

Which brings us back to SSDs - and in particular - the subject of enterprise SSD pricing.

Although the many stories about the true nature of the stars, moon and other heavenly bodies in the night sky were created and developed over many thousands of years - the SSD market which has a much shorter history (spanning about 40 years) - has nevertheless managed to accrue an imaginative body of literature which includes truths, half truths, mysticism, misunderstandings. myths, legends - and in some cases - downright balderdash - when it comes to the subject of SSD costs, pricing and justifications.

As someone who has been involved with the enterprise SSD market since the 1980s - it's been interesting for me to observe how these stories grew. I've written more than a few myself. And over the years I've collected snippets from some of these SSD price anecdotes, cost justifications and switching model anecdotes in an my article which started out with the title Clarifying SSD Pricing.

If we use the astrology / astronomy comparison and relate this to enterprise SSD pricing - I think we can divide SSD history into these simple phases.
  • the Dark Sky phase of SSD pricing:- from the 1980s upto the late 1990s.

    In this period - as far as most people were concerned - the inherent beauty of the possibilities in the SSD market were as opaque and unknown to most people in the computer market as the brilliance of colors in a picture by Caravagio were to me when I raced through an exhibition of his paintings. (As I described above.)

    SSDs didn't need universal cost justifications. Because using SSDs was mostly a tactical project related design decision made when no other technical approach would satisfy the mission objective - (speed, reliability or both) - and when it was desirable to get the system working - despite the very high cost.
  • the pre-modern era of SSDs - from the late 1990s to 2002.

    During this period - there were several pioneering companies in the enterprise SSD market who had figured out economic justifcations for users (with the right kind of application profiles) to deploy SSD accelerators as a much cheaper option to the other alternatives they had using the arguments of SSD-CPU equivalence.

    The problem for vendors in that phase of the market was that - as far as most of their potential customers were concerned - SSDs were like the twinkling objects in someone else's sky - maybe on another planet or at best in the other hemisphere.

    That presented many challenges of education. And even when customers were won around to the arguments - there was a lack of automation support for implementing SSD acceleration solutions. A serious inhibitor to revenue growth was the number of hot spot tuning engineers employed by SSD companies - and the willingness of customers to let SSD suppliers from small companies delve deeply into their live computing infrastructure and twiddle with the data addresses and apps.

    And another serious problem for vendors in that period was that most users did have other viable alternatives which were easier for them to understand - even if they did cost more.
  • the modern era of SSDs started in 2003.

    That was the year when not only did SSD stars become visible to a larger population of people - but the first scientific theories about SSD pricing were published and analyzed - relating the SSD CPU equivalence concept to a market impact - rather than merely a project by project impact assessment.

    It didn't make the earlier business development problems go away - but it meant that SSD companies and the founders of future SSD companies who understood the market models - realized that if they invested enough resources into fixing SSD adoption inhibitors - there would be a big enough market in the future to make such investments pay off.

    There was also an optimistic mood starting in the industry from 2003 onwards that "the market advance of SSDs as a significant well known core market within the computer industry had become a historical inevitability - and the only serious technology which could displace an SSD from its market role was another SSD."

    That was markedly different from earlier phases in SSD market history - in which an enterprise user might buy an SSD accelerator to solve an urgent performance problem - but then for a similar project a few years later might find that due to advances in processor speed, server RAM limits or speedups in hard disk array interfaces - they could get by without SSDs (and in the meantime the original SSD product line had terminated and the pool of alternate SSD suppliers was tiny and hard to find.)

    The new dynamic - once an SSD customer - always an SSD customer - meant that SSD vendors didn't simply have to keep finding customers who had never used SSDs before. If they kept improving their products - those same customers would be still be receptive to them. And for new entrants in the SSD market - the growing population of SSD savvy user sites - meant they could significantly shorten their business development lead times by stealing customers developed by the earlier enterprise SSD pioneers.
  • 2008 to 2013 - the clear sky era of enterprise flash.

    In 2008 - even users who weren't going to buy an SSD until many years later - couldn't fail to notice the twinkling market efforts emanating from an SSD ecosystem which numbered 100 SSD companies listed on by the end of 2008.

    But as the visible SSD universe expanded into the start of the SSD market bubble in 2010 - the market moved into a new phase of multiple interpretations, explanations and misinformation about the economic cost benefits of enterprise flash - which was compounded by these problems.

    Many SSD vendors themselves were clueless about the real economic benefits of their products - because they didn't know enough about the user application experience - and the diversity of user businesses and risk profiles for projects.

    This spawned many techno babble justifications for SSDs - which sounded plausible - because they included SSD performance jargon and because they came out of the mouths and blogs of technical enterprise SSD marketers.

    But many of these in my view were sadly about as useless (in the context of being usable business ideas which you could extrapolate good decisions from) as if NASA had taken my knowledge of optical physics (which I mentioned above in my big moon story) - and if NASA had used my knowledge of optics to design experiments for the next generation of deep space probes.

    OK - on that basis (being the lowest bidder) I might have got away with that for about 10 years till the space probe reached its destination - but if NASA had also relied on my equally scant knowledge of microwave communications - let's just say that they would have realized they had a communications problem while they were still on the ground.

    Which goes to show that someone can be an expert at one subject - while being clueless at many other things at the same time.
How does that relate to enterprise flash pricing and the affordability of SSDs?

I think that 2014 will be seen as the start of a new phase of creativity in the enterprise SSD market on the subject of pricing and affordability.

As evidence for that - I'm going to mention 3 companies at the end of this article - whose recent activities - while different in detail - were swirling around in my head this week.

Inadvertently - these companies and their pricing ideas were looking for a way to be related to each other in a blog - by a means which was more memorable than some read-and-forget comments tagged onto the end of an SSD news story or blog.

Before I give you that list - here are the some of the market assumptions which underlie this new trend.

Most competent SSD marketers will admit to some of these realities:-
  • They don't really understand all the technology in their products. (Only 3 people in the company understand the technology. And less than half of what they say is understood by anyone else. And that's a high comprehension score compared to the lawyers who file the patents. Which is fortunate - because the competitors will get to read the gibberish they write later.)

    They don't really know what all the other companies in the SSD market are doing. (Who's got time to read all that stuff? And how can you even be sure the market reports are writing about the things that matter? Just follow the trails on linkedin - even if only to get an early alert about your own job being advertised.)

    They can't predict exactly where the next few revolutions in SSD thinking will come from and which new ideas will need to be adopted, competitively countered or rejected.

    They don't understand everything they would ideally like to know about the current user experience of SSDs or the future user experience either.

    They do know that most enterprise SSD users will - given time and a fair wind - will come back to buy more SSDs.
Most competent SSD users will recognize some of these realities:-
  • Even if they can articulate their exact technical needs today - they know those needs will change.

    Just like the vendors - they don't understand all the technology either. And curiously they see a bigger range of different competing SSD solutions in the market than the vendors they talk to seem to be aware of. That prompts the question - just who are the experts in the SSD market?

    They know they can't believe everything about the past, present or future of the SSD market which the vendors are telling them.

    They know they can't believe everything they read in SSD blogs either. But which is the more risky decision strategy? Relying on so called expert analysis in blogs which offer simple diagnosis and prescriptions for the SSD hard drive headache in a way which sounds simple and understandable? Or working harder to become a better expert than the enterprise SSD bloggers out there - who - while being good writers - have mostly been parachuted into a country they couldn't find if you showed them a map.

    They know that they can't afford not to buy SSD somewhere. But the best places to start with SSD may not be the best places to continue investment. Many of the solutions which promise the smallest integration bumps today will lead to much bigger bumps in the future.

    They know if something goes wrong - it will be their problem.
Amidst all that uncertainty here are 3 companies which are intended to help get more business done. I've put them in the chronological date order of my learning about their new business models - a span of 2 months - so the only significance of this listing system - is that it will make it easier for me to add more names to the list when I do my end of year round up of 2014.

leading the way to exit the astrological age of enterprise SSD pricing

Tegile Systems - Agility pricing

Kaminario - guaranteed effective (virtual) capacity

Violin Memory - Pay as you grow (for Windows Flash Array)

Does this mean that rational and analytically based SSD price and competitive adoption models are obsolete?


All of the models I've presented in these pages since 2003 are still valid as explanations of the forces driving disruptive switching behavior and SSD market adoption. Though while many people still need to know this stuff - most of you don't.

This new era of simpler sounding virtualized SSD pricing models won't make the market any easier to understand.

But what it will do - is give users new choices about the kinds of risks they feel comfortable with taking on.

These new pricing preference models (and the new ones and the me-toos which will inevitably follow) will add more multipliers to pre-existing enterprise SSD segments.

By which I mean that not only will rackmount SSDs be differentiated by the internal technology architectures and compatibility roadmaps as they have been upto now - but 2 similar products from 2 vendors which have almost identical technology inside - and a similar cost to build - can now radiate different degrees of user attraction - depending on the pricing models by which they are monetized.

It will be interesting to see which ideas get copied most. And to see how much impact they make.

PS - Oh if you want to know what we saw at the theater last night - it was 2x one act plays - Miss Julie (Strindberg) followed by Black Comedy (Shaffer) at the Minerva in Chichester, England. They were really enjoyable. And I look forward to seeing more. (As you can see - I'm not really cut out to be a drama critic.)
In a 2004 SSD survey of SSD user preferences posed the question...

What would make it easier for you to buy SSD technology and remove doubts and risks which currently act as roadblocks?

52% said - "performance guarantees"

44% said - "try before you buy"
SSD market history
Hmm... it looks like you're seriously interested in SSDs. So please take a look at my latest SSD blog on the home page of
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