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Legacy versus New Dynasty?

A new way of looking at the Enterprise SSD market

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - September 29, 2010
You may think that the so called "enterprise SSD" market is already complicated enough - but there are many more product implementation choices and technologies which will make the spectrum of enterprise SSDs clamoring for your attention wider than it is now and harder to focus on and latch onto quickly.

I'm not just talking about the proliferation of memory types. There are 5 different memory types currently being marketed in "enterprise SSDs" and more on the way.
And I'm not talking about the different architectures (open versus proprietary) which already occur in vanilla rackmount SSDs.

And I'm not just talking about whether users are better off with SSDs which can tune themselves (using one of the many different types of algorithms embedded in SSD ASAPs) versus the old fashioned way of getting SSD tuning done manually.

And I'm not just talking about application specific SSDs - which already exist in some market segments - and will be a much bigger part of the future SSD market.

What I'm proposing is a simplistic way to view all these products (and those still to come) through a technology-agnostic lens (mental trick) which quickly helps you decide whether you should invest more time reading about new SSD products which fall under the "enterprise SSD" umbrella.

In my view all enterprise SSDs can be thought of as belonging in one of 2 categories
  • Legacy - the SSDs are going into an architecture originally purchased by the user with just HDDs in mind.
  • New Dynasty - the SSDs are going into a user base or factory fitted box always intended to have SSDs from the initial purchase order.
Despite the names "Legacy" and "New Dynasty" - both types of SSDs will both be around for the foreseeable future.

PCIe SSD examples

In the PCIe SSD market you get both types of SSD. Some products are legacy while others are new dynasty. And knowing which is which can help you comprehend some puzzling market nuances.

You may think that products with superficially similar performance envelopes like the RamSan-20 from Texas Memory Systems and the ioDrive from Fusion-io compete head to head.

But that is rarely the case for most commercial end users.

The RamSan-20 (which has an onboard offload SSD controller) is in the Legacy camp. It's a product which a user might retrofit to an existing bunch of servers running existing apps.

The ioDrive is undoubtedly in the New Dynasty camp - because it will usually be a factory fitted option supplied by the server oem. Although you can use ioDrive's in some older servers - these products work better with newer servers (with faster CPUs) because that's the market they were designed for - with the host CPU doing the memory gymnastics traditionally done by an SSD resident hardware controller.

The Legacy / New Dynasty way of looking at things works at the next level up in the application hierarchy too.

A New Dynasty SSD accelerated server (whether it's got a factory fitted PCIe ioDrive inside or some SandForce driven SAS SSDs) simply looks to the external world like a faster server. A year or so after you've installed a couple of hundred New Dynasty accelerated servers into your environment - you may hit some new IOPS bottlenecks in another hot spot further up the data food chain. In most user sites that bottleneck will be architected on a classic storage network (SAN or NAS) and the solution to the next level of bottleneck will actually be a Legacy SSD - maybe even a RAM SSD.

The RAM SSD market (the oldest part of the enterprise SSD market) may - in my analysis -paradoxically see a resurgence and continue growing for many years.

Although lower priced flash SSDs killed off the entry level RAM SSD market - only RAM SSDs have the fast latency and symmetric performance which can cope with the increased data demands which will be created by bigger populations of flash SSD accelerated servers.

And meanwhile - all that propaganda spewing out from the flash SSD market in the past 5 years has educated users and made the market more receptive to the idea of an SSD solution.

In the old days of the enterprise SSD market - pre 2005 - the server accelerator SSD was parachuted into performance distressed customer sites as a previously unlooked for expensive fix when all else had failed.

I'll talk more about this new way of looking at enterprise SSDs - in future articles.
New Dynasty

Fusion-io, FlashSoft, Skyera,

EMC, LSI, Nimble Storage, Virident Systems, Violin Memory,
Why do I have an auto-caching SSD ASAP company like FlashSoft (now SanDisk) in the new dynasty category above?

Isn't an auto-caching appliance mostly going into a legacy storage systems?

That's often true - but when I talked to the company about its technology roadmap (June 2011) it was clear they were already looking at what their software will be able to do in 100% solid storage environments - in which they'll be tiering between different SSD speeds. Their applications fit isn't predicated on an HDD world - but has the possibilities of becoming an SSD software platform.
More enterprise SSD articles.

MLC flash wars in the enterprise
What do enterprise SSD users want?
Where are we now with SSD software?
High Availability enterprise SSD arrays
exciting new directions in rackmount SSDs
Adaptive R/W and DSP ECC in flash SSD IP
Efficiency - making the same SSD - with less chips
how will Memory Channel SSDs impact PCIe SSDs?
if Fusion-io sells more does that mean Violin will sell less?
will the enterprise SSD market be big enough for all these companies [list] to grow?
sugaring nand flash for the enterprise
When flash SSDs started to be used as enterprise server accelerators in 2004 - competing RAM SSD makers said flash wasn't reliable enough.

Since then flash has dominated the installed base of enterprise SSD starting with SLC, followed by MLC, then a correction to eMLC and now some SSD makers are saying TLC (x3) may be good enough.

But it's not just the raw memory type which determines the suitability of which flash can work reliably in what type of enterprise SSD. The controller IP and cache architecture can make a difference to the endurance of x5, x10, x20 - and I've even heard claims of x100...

That means TLC (aka x3) - with the right SSD IP - may be as good as SLC in some types of applications. And it costs a lot less and has higher capacity.

What do you need to know?

Who are you going to believe?
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