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SSD news - October 2011

SSD endurance
the Top SSD Companies
all enterprise data will touch an SSD
meet Ken and the SSD event horizon
how fast can your SSD run backwards?
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LSI buys its way into the top 5 SSD companies list

Editor:- October 26, 2011 - LSI today announced a definitive agreement to acquire SandForce for approximately $322 million in cash and to take up approximately $48 million of unvested stock options and restricted shares held by SandForce employees.

The transaction is expected to close early in the first quarter of 2012.

SandForce president and CEO, Michael Raam will become General Manager of LSI's newly formed Flash Components Division.

Editor's comments:- in June 2011- a reader asked me - how much is SandForce worth?

I said (here on StorageSearch.com) - "...in the current state of the SSD market I would estimate that Sandforce is worth significantly more than SanDisk paid for Pliant ($327 million) but slightly less than if someone were to acquire STEC."

Since then Sandforce has dropped slightly in its ranking in the top SSD companies and the competitive situation it faces has got tougher - with more viable competitors operating in its market space (for customers of its oem customers - which will dampen its growth rate). Those factors in the last 3-4 months have depressed its value - and so it seems that LSI is offering a realistic price.

Although it's too early to make definitive statements about how this will impact the market. Some things are clear.
  • LSI has bought intself a place in the top 5 SSD companies - up from where it has previously been at the bottom end of the top 20 and just below it.
  • Uncertainty about what happens next in the PCIe SSD space - which had been a significant gap in SandForce's interface map - will benefit systems competitors like Fusion-io, and TMS and controller makers like Marvell.

    OCZ - which has used SandForce controllers within its PCIe SSD products - has been growing the speed of its own controller IP (Indilinx) and and recently acquired additional PCIe human design resources from PLX Technology which means that it could easily uncouple itself from depending on SandForce controllers if the new owner LSI ever turns into an SSD competitor. That's my threat analysis. But OCZ has reacted positively to this news.

    Ryan Petersen, OCZ's CEO - congratulated SandForce and said "SandForce has been a great partner, and we expect the added resources of LSI will only benefit SandForce's customers. Moreover, because OCZ and SandForce previously contemplated this scenario, we expect that this combination will have no material impact to our existing product lines or business."
  • the first SSD product which LSI had codesigned with Seagate - already had a Sandforce controller in it - something which proud Seagate had been reluctant to reveal until it became obvious.
So - if you need to buy an SSD company - there's one less company to choose from. Who's next? Watch this space.


SMART samples new MIL SATA 3 SSD

Editor:- October 26, 2011 - SMART today announced imminent sampling of a SATA 3 version of its MIL-STD-810 compliant 2.5" SSD family - which includes encryption and fast erase.

The new Xcel-200 provides from 60GB to 240GB SLC capacity, 500MB/s sequential R/W speeds and 60K/40K random R/W IOPS. It operates at standard industrial temperature ranges and is certified for operation at altitudes up to 80,000 ft.


BiTMICRO nurtures microchip design training in Philippines

Editor:- October 25, 2011 - the Bruce Institute of Technology is a new training institute in the Philippines - focused on microchip design - which has been set up in a collaborated effort led by BiTMICRO in partnership with Synopsys, Cadence and leading universtities.

The institute's name celebrates the family name of the Bruce brothers - who founded BiTMICRO in 1995 as an ASIC design consultancy - before embarking on their pioneering market developments in flash SSDs.


SolidFire gets more funding for iSCSI cloud SSDs

Editor:- October 25, 2011 - SolidFire announced that it has raised $25 million in its second funding round, bringing its total funding to $37 million.

SolidFire's founder and CEO, Dave Wright said - "The response to our Early Access Program... has been overwhelming. We have a very solid sales pipeline and we will be investing in our sales and marketing team to respond to customer interest and accelerate our growth."

Editor's comments:- The raw building block in SolidFire's product - the SF 3010 (pdf) - is a 1U system with 10 internal 2.5" SSDs (giving 3TB raw capacity) and with 72GB RAM cache.

See also:- iSCSI SSDs and cloud storage.


Fusion-io recruits enterprise SSD veteran Woody Hutsell

Editor:- October 25, 2011 - this week Woody Hutsell - former President of Texas Memory Systems, and, more recently, author of the enterprise SSD blog - appICU has joined Fusion-io.

There's a brief note about this in Woody's blog this morning - but I'm sure we'll hear more later.

Editor's comments:- My immediate reaction on hearing this was - it hardly seems fair that FIO is hogging so much of the talent in the enterprise SSD market. But I guess they have growing demands on the ways they can leverage their human SSD resources.

As well as increasing their footprint with IOturbine they also have many new technology and partnership avenues opening up which mean they need to lengthen their stride too.

I congratulated Woody and am secretly relieved that he isn't going to a competing SSD publication. That would make my life too difficult - as he writes such good articles.


OCZ pads out SATA-3 SSD range to pull in latency

Editor:- October 21, 2011 - Just in case you spotted any little gaps in OCZ's already crowded 2.5" SATA SSD range - they've introduced another new model called - Octane - which unlike its skinny Vertex sister - has a regular RAM cache architecture - and therefore lower latency.


Satisfying apps speedup hunger without expensive SSD write caching

Editor:- October 19, 2011 - Read caching can lift the glass ceiling on write caching - by as much as 3x. That's one of the unexpected twists revealed in a new blog by Gary Orenstein VP of Products at Fusion-io.

What are the practical applications of this? - Gary gives several examples - like greatly simplified data replication / protection. But that's not the only trick in the SSD toolkit. To demonstrate how this can be leveraged Gary shows readers a graph which shows a 10x write speedup obtained when using FIO's PCIe SSDs as read caches - managed by their IO Turbine SSD ASAP software - in a server attached to a storage array from NetApp.

Editor's comments:- providing fail safe data replication within the low latency of an SSD acceleration environment is a non trivial problem - discussed in an earlier blog by Woody Hutsell (who now works for Gary - see news above).

That complexity is why you pay more for SSD solutions which include write replication (like Violin, Kaminario, Huawei Symantec and Dataram) - the extra cost appearing in both the invoice and accrued latency.

The new blog by Gary Orenstein says - in effect - that you don't have to go all the way to full à la cartre R/W SSD caching to get a satisfying meal of the day apps speedup. ...read the article


Viking ships 8GB DDR3 NVDIMM

Editor:- October 18, 2011 - Viking Modular Solutions said it is shipping an extension of their nv module range.

The DDR3 ArxCis-NV plugs into standard RAM sockets and provides 2GB to 8GB RAM which is backed up to SLC flash in the event of a power failure - while the memory power is held up by an optional external 25F supercap pack. Viking says these new memory modules can eliminate the need for battery backup units in servers and the maintenance logistics associated with maintaining them. They are specified as being maintenance free for "5 years @ 60°C".

"Our enterprise OEM customers are leveraging this persistent memory solution in a variety of applications, adding significant value to their products," said Adrian Proctor, VP of marketing at Viking Technology. "ArxCis-NV's high speed non-volatile memory was developed through our extensive experience in both DRAM and SSD technology to create a hybrid solution that leverages the speed and endurance of DDR3 memory, seamlessly integrated with the non-volatile storage retention of flash memory."

Editor's comments:- will these new modules replace batteries in RAM SSDs? - I doubt it - because of scalability issues - like managing a spiderweb of 100+ dangly bits of wire when you have a terabyte of RAM. Having said that - there are many applications which only use a small number of memory chips which could benefit from such a product.

See also:- hybrid DIMMs, a guide to semiconductor memory boom-bust cycles


another new season for that depressing consumer SSD saga

Editor:- October 18, 2011 - Like anyone who makes a lot of market predictions I'm delighted if any of them come true - but there are 1 or 2 cases where I would be just as happy to be proved wrong - in particular - on the subject of consumer SSD reliability.

2 years ago I wrote an article called - Why can consumers expect to see more flaky flash SSDs? - which had the sub-headline - "You need to stay vigilant because it's not going to get better anytime soon."

I get a lot of emails about this subject - which is threatening to tarnish the reputation of the whole SSD market - and not just the small part which is consumer drives.

Today I got an email from a reader who told me that out of 13 client SSDs he'd bought 7 months ago "4 have died so far."

He gave me a link to a blog on codinghorror.com which illustrates the soul searching and frustration that SSD unreliability is causing to so many thoughtful people who want to get the speedup advantages of SSDs but are rightly anxious about the flaky reputation of consumer SSDs.

I agree this is a lamentable state of affairs - which needs some explanations. This is a tidied up version of what I said.

SSDs aimed at the consumer market are designed to deliver basic functionality at the lowest price. That means the designers (originally due to ignorance – but nowadays with foreknowledge) have to decide what shortcuts they can take in the production process and what design factors they can leave out to reduce the price - compared to a reliable industrial / military / enterprise grade SSD.

There are countless techniques they can use to get the cost down.
  • Shutting off reliability features in the controller. For example the SandForce SF-2200 controller (launched in Feb 2011 and optimized for consumer markets) has an option which enables oems to deliver an SSD with a smaller or larger usable capacity when using exactly the same set of flash chips. The bigger capacity sounds like it's better value for money to the consumer – but they are losing some of the RAIS protection which means the SSD won't survive the failure of an entire flash chip. And that's just the tip of the SSD capacity iceberg.
  • Using cheaper components in the power loss management system. The consequences are that the trigger events to save data may come at the wrong time or that the capacitors don't hold enough charge to maintain reliable operation for vital data saves – because they have drifted out of tolerance. That's before considerations like whether the controller has an intrinsic foolproof auto recovery architecture in the first place.
  • Using no-name cheap flash memory. The difference between the best and worst flash manufacturers is a many times factor. Also if the memory is unknown – the controller parameters may not be set up correctly for it – leading to wrong handling by the controller.
  • Saving time and cost on testing the design. Many consumer SSD products aren't adequately validated before they're shipped. That's why you hear about firmware upgrades and recalls. It's expensive for SSD makers to invest in comprehensive tests before they ship - and some consumer SSD marketers worry that if they delay their launches they run the risk of losing market share.
When companies want to design reliable SSDs – for non consumer markets – there are many additional steps they take in their processes – such as qualifying the memory to see which is the best, allocating more memory to act as hot spares for defective blocks, using better reliability architecture, and burn-in and functional test before shipping.

But even when all those precautions are taken - expensive SLC flash enterprise SSDs can fail too. The difference in the enterprise is that the data is more likely to be backed up and the storage system is likely to be protected by a RAID-like or fail-over architecture which means that life can go on without too much disruption.

If it's any consolation – the hard disk industry was even worse at one time. In 1986 when I was designing a demo RAID controller - most of the brand new drives I got for the project arrived with serious faults.

What is the SSD industry doing to improve the state of the art? You can get an idea of who's doing what in the SSD reliability papers.


Kove snapshots financial markets 12x faster

Editor:- October 14, 2011 - STAC (a specialist in testing low latency platforms used in financial markets) has released audited benchmarks for Kove's XPD2 - a RAM SSD - in a setup configured with InfiniBand adapters.

This solution stack set several new official records. For example, the Market Snapshot benchmark was over 12x the previous best published speed. See also:- the fastest SSDs, record breaking storage


Intel would like to be where Fusion-io's SSDs are now... snuggling up close to the CPU

Editor:- October 11, 2011 - an article in VR-Zone discusses a "leaked" Intel SSD roadmap which indicates the company may enter the PCIe SSD market in 2012.

It's hardly a revelation - because Intel is member of technical groups which are co-ordinating standards in this segment of the SSD market - and until standards for the Hybrid Memory Cube get established (which could take another 3 years) - the PCIe SSD market is the closest attachment that an SSD can make to an Intel server host processor bus.

And PCIe has the additional attraction of not needing 3rd party storage interface glue - unlike SATA, SAS, FC and IB - thereby giving more control to any chip company which does it right. Over 30 companies have already shipped PCIe SSDs in the past 3 years. This will be a multi-billion dollar market segment according to StorageSearch.com's long range enterprise SSD market model.


NEVEX launches SSD ASAP software for Windows Server

Editor:- October 11, 2011 - NEVEX today launched its first product - an auto-tiering / SSD ASAP software cache for Windows Server, VMware, Hyper-V priced at $2,495 per physical server.

CacheWorks' selective cache optimization technology empowers administrators by providing flexible control to accelerate specific data by application, file type, and location to deliver typical speedups of 3x - according to customer quotes in their launch press release (pdf).


Hybrid Memory Cube will enable Petabyte SSDs

Editor:- October 7, 2011 - Samsung and Micron this week launched a new industry initiative - the Hybrid Memory Cube Consortium - which will standardize a new module architecture for memory chips - enabling greater density, faster bandwidth and lower power.

"HMC is unlike anything currently on the radar," said Robert Feurle, Micron's VP for DRAM Marketing. "HMC brings a new level of capability to memory that provides exponential performance and efficiency gains that will redefine the future of memory."

Editor's comments:- HMC may enable SSD designers to pack 10x more RAM capacity into the same space with upto 15x the bandwidth, while using 1/3 the power due to its integrated power management plane.

The same technology will enable denser flash SSDs too - if flash is still around in 3 years' time and hasn't been sucked into the obsolete market slime pit by the lurking nv demons which have been shadowing flash for the past 10 years and been waiting for each "next generation" to stumble and be the last.

The power management architecture integrated in HMC and the density scaling it allows for packing memory chips (without heat build-up) are key technology enablers which were listed as some of the problems the SSD industry needed to solve in my 2010 article - this way to the Petabyte SSD.


Steve Jobs passed away this week

Editor:- October 6, 2011 - Like most of you - this morning on the tv news I heard that Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, died yesterday.

The outstanding products created by his visionary ideas affected billions of people in the past 30 years - not just those who used them or competed with them (or tried to copy them).

Steve Jobs showed that if you designed digital products which were easy to use, people would buy them - even if they cost more.

Stories about Steve Jobs kept thousands of journalists busy during his life and there have been many books about his achievements. I'm sure - that like Elvis - the media industry will long continue paying homage to Steve Jobs and future generations will find it hard to imagine that there ever was a world without irock and roll.

Here's a link to an interview on CBS news - with Steve Wozniak - life-long friend of Steve Jobs - and the other cofounder of Apple.


OCZ nabs PLX team to speed new PCIe SSDs

Editor:- October 5, 2011 - OCZ has has agreed to acquire the UK Design Team (approximately 40 engineers located in Abingdon) and certain assets from PLX Technology which will enable OCZ to accelerate the development of its next generation of SSDs - while also reducing development costs.

Editor's comments:- in addition to traditional storage interfaces - PLX's special focus in the past year has been technologies related to faster PCIe SSDs.

see more stories like those above in the storage news archive

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I've been thinking that maybe 2015 / 16 / 17 (it's not clear which yet) will mark another critical phase in the SSD market - which I'm tentatively thinking about as the Post Modernist Era of SSD and Memory Systems.
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Marie Antoinette never said this about SSDs
Editor:- October 12, 2011 - "Let them eat cake" said Marie Antoinette - on hearing that bakers in pre-revolutionary France had run out of the right type of flour to make bread.

If she were alive today and had shares in pure play SSD companies (instead of a market tracker which oddly mixes in HDD makers too) then on hearing the news that severe flooding in Thailand has impacted WD's hard drive production - which might lead some people in the HDD supply chain to fret about where their next drives will come from - she might retort - "Let them use SSDs instead!"

The Marie Antoinette quote isn't strictly true. And neither is the idea that - SSDs will directly replace hard drives.

What is true is that WD did issue guidance on the flooding impact today and most importantly said "The company is gratified to report that its approximately 37,000 Thailand-based employees are deemed safe at this time."

...Later today:- Seagate - whose HDD production is also affected said - "This devastating natural disaster has tragically taken hundreds of lives and displaced many families. At this time, Seagate reports that all of its employees in the region are safe."






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