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SSD news - December 2012

1/3 of Micron's nand flash trade sales go into SSDs

Editor:- December 20, 2012 - Micron today announced that revenues from sales of its NAND flash products were 4% lower in the quarter ended November 29, 2012 than they had been a year ago.

Sales volume of the company's nand flash decreased by 9% - but average selling prices increased 5%. Overall Micrion reported a net loss in the quarter of $275 million on sales of $1.8 billion.

In a conference call Micron said that SSD shipments had grown 20% compared to the previous quarter. SSDs are 17% of Micron's nand business and the company estimates that 35% of the nand flash it supplies to trade customers end up in SSDs. MLC was about 80% to 85% of nand flash wafer production with SLC and TLC making up the rest.

See later:- an SSD guide to semiconductor memory boom-bust cycles

OCZ starts beta testing SSD cached Linux accelerator

Editor:- December 17, 2012 - OCZ today has begun a beta test program for its Linux Acceleration (LXL) cache software which the company says can intelligently reduce external traffic by upto 90%.

LXL - which supports the company's own enterprise SSDs across a range of interfaces - splits the caching policy engine between the core mechanism running in the Linux kernel and an advanced statistical out-of-band analysis module that optimally determines which data needs to be placed in the local SSD cache. General availability is anticipated to be Q2 next year. See also:- SSD caching / tiering

Proton's DSP flash IP now available on eASIC for enterprise SSD controller designs

Editor:- December 17, 2012 - Proton Digital Systems today announced the immediate availability of an LDPC ( Low Density Parity Check) NAND FLASH read channel for enterprise storage applications compatible with implementation using eASIC which enables enterprise storage vendors to double the throughput performance at approximately half the power that can be achieved using state-of–the art FPGAs.

The Proton Digital Systems LDPC read channel enables enterprise FLASH storage system companies to leverage low cost MLC flash devices and increase its longevity to 45,000 program/erase cycles, compared to only 5,000 program/erase cycles with traditional BCH algorithms.

"We were keen to work with eASIC as we are increasingly seeing eASIC devices being selected as platforms for enterprise grade customized flash controllers," said Dr. Andrei Vityaev, CEO at Proton Digital. "In enterprise storage systems, production volumes are often not high enough and the market changes are too dynamic to justify cell-based ASICs but performance and low power requirements are beyond the capability of FPGAs. This makes an eASIC flash controller solution ideal for this space."

Editor's comments:- this adaptive flash DSP technology enables oems to do the kind of things which SMART and STEC already do in SAS SSDs, and which Skyera does in its rackmounts. This type of technology will become essential for fast-enough SSD makers to remain efficient and competitive in the next few years. The only other game in town for licensing something similar right now - is DensBits.

SSD revenue data from - Forward Insights

Editor:- December 17, 2012 - I've lost track of how many new SSD reports and updates have been announced recently by Forward Insights - but one of them - SSD Insights Q4/12: Client Down, Enterprise Up - includes data and revenue forecasts for the enterprise SSD market.

Author Gregory Wong told me that his estimate for enterprise SSD revenue in 2012 - which includes enterprise drives and modules (SAS, SATA and PCIe) but excludes rackmount systems and therefore also excludes proprietary SSDs built for use within racks from companies like Violin and Texas Memory Systems - is $2.9 billion.

Samsung acquires an SSD software company

Editor:- December 17, 2012 - SSD software sells more SSDs. And that idea has been behind many of the SSD company acquisitions in the past year.

On Friday Samsung announced that it has acquired NVELO whose SSD ASAPs (caching) technology is designed for the notebook SSD market.

are you happy with how enterprise SSD benchmarks relate to real-life? - user survey results

Editor:- December 14, 2012 - Virident Systems recently published the results of a survey of 145 enterprise IT professionals regarding their requirements for flash-storage purchases. to see graphical summary (pdf)

Among other things:-50% said they have difficulty finding benchmarking tools to accurately evaluate flash-storage performance.

Of these respondents, 41% find it difficult to recreate close representations of real-world application environments, 39% indicate existing benchmark tools do not accurately represent real-world application workloads, and 20% do not believe benchmark tools exist.

Editor's comments:- 4 years ago I published an article - Can you trust flash SSD specs & benchmarks? - and I've updated it from time to time over the years - so it's become a diary of market responses to this issue of benchmark authority.

I know from my conversations with Virident that their (not so) hidden agenda with performance benchmarks is that their product is benchmark agnostic and maintains good performance and age symmetry across a wide range of workloads you can throw at it. That's why they would like the industry to adopt a set of more revealing benchmarks which they have developed. But you can understand the resistance to that idea. I wrote about the problem that different SSDs look best in different benchmarks in - the 3 fastest PCIe SSDs list or is it really lists?

I think this problem is going to stay with us for many more years. That's because - even if every SSD vendor agreed that a given benchmark was the most valid today - there are many new technology and architectural features creeping into SSDs which could introduce new weaknesses and vulnerabilities which don't show up on current tests.

And that's before you even introduce apps and software related optimizations. Customers may say - I don't care if this SSD's performance drops off in an application which I don't have - because it's the best in the app I use on most.

It always comes back to better SSD user education - and the ability to pick out the points which are salient to your situation and ignore stuff which may be more important to someone else. Even if it's good for you - not everyone likes broccoli.

SanDisk invests in WhipTail

Editor:- December 13, 2012 - WhipTail today announced it has secured $31 million series C funding from a group of investors which includes:- SanDisk (as part of an ongoing strategic priorities investment initiative), an unnamed "Silicon Valley industry titan" and some other (named) private equity companies.

CRN's cool SSDs list

Editor:- December 13, 2012 - The 10 Coolest SSD Products of 2012 is a new pictorial article in CRN.

Listed in alphabetic order there are a couple of random / odd selections here.

LSI pins hopes for SSD controller boom on ultrabooks

Editor:- December 13, 2012 - An article today in DigiTimes relays LSI's views which anticipate better SSD adoption in ultrabooks next year and - if that really happens - more business for the consumer facing controllers within its SandForce processor range.

Editor's comments:- within the enterprise SSD market - the choice of viable competitive options of controllers and IP is much greater now than it was 3 years ago when SandForce rocked and seemed to take over this part of the market.

As we approach 2013 anyone looking for a fast or fast-enough enterprise SSD component - whether it's SAS, PCIe or SATA - now has 4 or 5 strong contenders to choose from - which don't have SF inside. So even if the enterprise SSD market doubles - the cake is being sliced in more ways.

This analysis isn't new. I said something very similar on these pages last year - when the number of competitors in each category at that time was closer to 2-3.

On the other hand if you consider any of the projections for continuing enterprise SSD growth - fighting for control of the cake slicer is really worthwhile.

who are the ideal customers for BiTMICRO 's new (but late to market) Talino based maxIO PCIe SSDs?

Editor:- December 12, 2012 - BiTMICRO today said it's begun manufacturing its pre-announced maxIO (PCIe SSDs) which use the company's Talino (means "talented", big architecture, SSD controllers).

The first product in this range will be a full height, half-length 400K random IOPS (4KB), 4.5TB (eMLC) PCIe SSD.

Editor's comments:- A few weeks ago I asked BiTMICRO's new VP of Marketing Zophar Sante (who among other things founded SANRAD) what the company's plans were for leveraging the Talino controller - because it had seemed to me that BiTMICRO didn't have the resources to exploit this technology in all the markets where it might be applicable.

Zoph said BiTMICRO plans to offer the chip set to other companies in what would be in effect - a "BiTMICRO onBOARD" kind of program.

The company's target market for the maxIO product line includes what I call dark matter enterprise end users in addition to the usual enterprise channels such as oems.

Architecturally the closest product to the maxIO is the RamSan from Texas Memory Systems - which is now part of IBM. Closest insofar as it's got one or more ultra fast central controllers which expand via data movers / intelligent I/O peripherals which fan out to more flash.

One of the problems I see for BiTMICRO though is that - because it's so many years late coming into the enterprise PCIe SSD market - it will have to focus its efforts on a very restricted set of technical customers who want to better the performance they can get from arrays of small architecture PCIe SSDs (like those in established PCIe SSD products from OCZ and LSI) and who prefer to use their own software and who don't want to get tied into Fusion-io's seductive APIs - and who also like the idea of raw brute peak performance rather than the predictable rounded performance of Virident and customers who maybe would have been satisfied with a RamSan type of product - but who either see themselves as competitors to IBM or want to retain the option of buying their critical supplier (BiTMICRO) or having large share of mind of that supplier if the maxIO product becomes strategic in the customer's own business.

SSDs are the hottest topic in enterprise IT

Editor:- December 12, 2012 - IT Brand Pulse has published results of its Q4 mini survey of hot topics in enterprise IT (pdf) - which includes - among other things:-
  • the hottest IT company in 2012?

    #1 - Amazon
    #2 - Fusion-io
  • the most game changing IT technology of 2012?

    #1 - SSD
    #2 - CloudStack
For the other lists - such as the individuals who have contributed most to enterprise IT in the past 20 years - click on the link to the free report.

Editor's comments:- one of the signs of the SSD market growing into a seriously big business has been the growing number and diversity of market data services which analyze different aspects of this market. SSDs are getting into a lot of conversations - even when the original topic - as in this case - starts out being something else.

Although IT Brand Pulse hasn't been focused on SSDs for very long - Frank Berry and his team have done a lot of SSD related surveys and business reports in the past few quarters. Their style of report can help its users have more confidence when making difficult decisions in a chaotic market where perfect information doesn't exist or would be obsolete by the time it's collected. See also:- market research, vintage SSD analysts

PS - Some of you are going to think to yourselves - "I already knew that SSDs were a hot topic in the enterprise many moons ago."

And I would say - Amen to that- and (some of you) please take note - as we approach the festive season of new marketing budgets - that next month will mark the 14th year of's publisher selling enterprise SSD advertising and the 22nd year of publishing enterprise IT guides.

But going back to the headline - isn't it nice to see that other people see the talent in our village's children too?

Violin names new VP of Sales

Editor:- December 11, 2012 - ""The datacenter of tomorrow will be much leaner and (more) efficient than what you see today" - said Richard Dyke, Violin's new senior VP of North American sales in an announcement yesterday about his appointment.

SSD HDD ratios in big data? - blog by Panasas

Editor:- December 11, 2012 - "An important piece of our research involved determining how much SSD capacity customers would need...

" and whether it would make a big enough difference in system performance to be worth the incremental cost of including SSD storage in the system. To do this, we extracted key data from production file systems in the field..." - says Geoffrey Noer, Sr. Director of Product Marketing at Panasas in his recent blog SSDs and parallel storage (part 3) - in which he also says that in HPC workloads users can get good enough results by using as little as 1.5% ratio of SSD to HDD - compared to (read his blog if you want to see the exact ratio) needed for financial and other markets.

Editor's comments:- Although I was told about the earlier episodes in this blog series - which includes an introduction to SSDs - I didn't mention them before - because I assume if you don't already have a good idea of what's an SSD? before you get to these pages - then you won't linger here very long.

Another reason for my earlier reticence about these Panasas blogs - is I think that a description of SSDs written from the viewpoint of an SSD ASAP company whose boxes average over 90% hard drives - may be subtly tilted to a perspective which I consider to be a sideline along the enterprise SSD adoption road rather than the straightest way to the final destination.

Nevertheless - to give credit where it's due - some of the other past blogs I've seen from Panasas have included valuable insights which are storage media agnostic.

I've said to a couple of readers recently (including a Panasas customer) - that if I had to make a list of the last 5 companies on this planet which I thought would still be shipping hard drives in arrays into the enterprise - then Panasas would be one of them. That's because a small group of companies have invested enough talent into new ways of managing large HDD populations in a more effective and efficient way than the small controller architecture of classical RAID systems.

It will be lonely for the HDD array sales guys when that happens though - just as it has become quiet lately in the tape library industry conferences.

Happy 7th birthday Fusion-io

Editor:- December 10, 2012 - 7 years ago this month - Fusion-io was founded. (Although it was called something else at the time.) So much disruption already - and only 7! What will it be like as a teenager? I wrote about one of Fusion-io's several historic disruptive impacts today on our home page and then later moved it to a new permalink in December 2005 news. the aticle

LSI moves to NASDAQ

Editor:- December 7, 2012 - LSI today announced that it will move its stock listing from NYSE to NASDAQ later this month.

A Better Mousetrap or Better Mice?

Editor:- December 7, 2012 - Sounds a bit scary to me - but that's one of the many sessions on the agenda at Storage Visions next month.

See also:- Animal brands in the SSD market

An early shareholder valentine for STEC's board? - we love your IP assets but not how you manage them

Editor:- December 6, 2012 - A company called Balch Hill Capital - which apparently owns about 9% of STEC's common stock today sent an open letter to STEC's board of directors urging them to conduct a "hard-nosed review of its spending patterns" and to consider other business options (to wit - reduce costs, sell IP or sell the company) which the letter's authors imply might yield better outcomes for all shareholders.

Editor's comments:- the full text of the letter contains analysis - very similar in tone to many of the peer comparison based criticisims which I've made about STEC in past quarters.

There are 2 months still to go till next Valentine's Day... - but if you ignored the dates and and some of the data in this letter - it would be hard to judge - merely from the sentiments expressed within - whether it had been posted too early - or had already been delayed 10 months in the mail.

Nimbus blog seems fixated on EMC's XtremIO

Editor:- December 6, 2012 - when it comes to blogs written by SSD vendors - there's a huge variation in the frequency and quality of publishing content - even among leading SSD companies.

I had noticed during the 2nd half of this year that the blog written by Nimbus's CEO, Thomas Isakovich - never changed.

For over 6 months it was stuck in a time warp of May 2012 - commenting on EMC's acquisition of XtremIO.

Then I got an email this morning saying Tom had written something new.

Imagine my surprise when I looked and found it was fixed on exactly the same core topic - but from a different angle - in which he critiques the scalability and efficiency of XtremIO's architecture. (His timing was apparently prompted by earlier blogs this week by Robin Harris who interpreted a recently published interview (elements of which it now seems may have been misunderstood) with EMC's Chuck Hollis - none of which I had read before today - because I don't expect to see SSD thought leadership to come from that direction (EMC).

Which isn't news to regular readers. But if you've missed the last N years of my SSD ramblings and want me to clarify this stance - it's simply because EMC's response to the SSD business model - in the modern SSD era - has been reactive and therefore has been pragmatically weighted towards acquisition, badge engineering and software integration - which if you know the company's history - looks a lot like what they were doing since the 1990s too and which was a very successful business strategy for them. When all the hardware components are the same for everyone (as they were for 20 years in the HDD array market) then it's the software and services which make the enterprise difference. We haven't got to that level of stasis yet in SSD hardware (and are nowhere close to fossilization) - which is one of the reasons that leadership in the SSD software market is still up for grabs too.

Going back to Nimbus's new blog - Thomas Isakovich says - "There are numerous limitations with the XtremIO design."

If the past is any guide to the future in this respect - then that link - which is to the home page of Nimbus's blog - rather than a permalink for that specific post - may still be stuck in that groove in another 6 months time too.

To my mind - when SSD vendors compare their products to those from EMC - it's almost as regressive as comparing SSDs to HDDs.

...Later:- on December 13, 2012 - Jean-Jacques Maleval, the editor of - who had conducted the original interview with Chuck Hollis (EMC) - published a new article in which he utterly refutes the implication that he didn't understand what was being said. And to emphasize his point Jean-Jacques also posted a an MP3 recording of the said interview (which I don't have the time or inclination to listen to) but which some of you might be curious enough to sample.

Lite-On made 1.5 million SSDs in 2012

Editor:- December 5, 2012 - Lite-On IT says it could make in the region of 4 million SSDs next year - according to a report in DIGITIMES.

IBM paper on SSD's data challenges

Editor:- December 4, 2012 - I've been browsing the online papers from last week's Server Design Summit.

If you can only read one - it should be this:- How do we handle all the data? (pdf) - by Andy Walls, Distinguished Engineer, Storage Hardware Chief Architect, IBM.

I won't give away the plot - because I think you'll enjoy it more if you read it yourself. But here are a few bullet points which resonated with me.

Among other things - Andy Walls says...
  • "90% of all the data in the world today was created in the last 2 years."
  • "Flash is starting to free up the IO bottleneck - but the bottleneck is more complicated..." the article (pdf)

See also:- future SSD capacity ratios , SSD bottlenecks, where are we now with SSD software?

SSDs are eBay's site acceleration helpers

Editor:- December 4, 2012 - ""SSDs have been around for a long time... and are no longer being seen as an exotic technology, but as an enabling technology that allows companies to achieve a competitive advantage, as is the case with eBay."

That sounds like it could be a headline from today doesn't it?

But it was said on this very news page 12 years ago by Robert David who was - at that time - VP of sales and marketing at an enterprise SSD pioneer company called Imperial Technology - which was announcing that eBay was using its SSDs to speed up transaction processing in the busy online shopping ramp to Christmas.

For the full archived story see Imperial's profile page. For the context - and other storage news in that week - click here. For hundreds of similar stories - see SSD market history.

$1 / year salary for STEC's CEO

Editor:- December 3, 2012 - STEC today announced that the company's interim CEO, and former CEO and founder Mark and Manouch Moshayedi have reduced their salaries to $1 and they have also recently purchased approximately 275,000 shares of STEC common stock (each) on the open market to show their continuing confidence in the future of the company and to help the company reduce its operational costs.

Editor's comments:- Re the $1 salaries - I don't think we're going to see this hair shirt idea become the new fashion for SSD CEOs.

Re - the stock purchases -I don't think that's relevant in the places where it can really make a difference. The real voters in STEC's future gameshow are its potential customers and not investors.

new benchmarks from Violin and Fujitsu

Editor:- December 3, 2012 - Violin today announced that its SSD racks were used as the storage in recent VMware benchmarks posted by Fujitsu.

experimental technique eliminates flash endurance limit

Editor:- December 2, 2012 - An article in IEEE Spectrum - Flash Memory Survives 100 Million Cycles - summarizes a recent research paper by Macronix - which described an experimental technique to redesign flash cells to improve endurance.

The technique - which does not think is feasible to scale for commercially competitive memory densities - involves designing addressable heaters in the memory array which can pulse upto 800 degrees C for a few milliseconds. This thermal "refreshing cycle" anneals the chip material and heals common wear-out defects while also enabling the cells to be run faster.

"Afterward, we realized that there was no new physics principle invented here, and we could have done this 10 years ago" said Hang-Ting Lue, the project director at Macronix
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IOPS / $ as a value of SSD goodness is bad
Editor:- December 5, 2012 - The cost of SSDs is one of the arguments most often cited by antis to explain why (in their view) the transition to a pure SSD storage market can't happen.

I guess the designers of the first ships made from iron (which unlike wood doesn't float) and the first airplanes (which were heavier than air) must've got used to hearing similar objections.

In the past 10 years in various articles I've described what I thought were the real user value propositions for SSD adoption in different markets. And I've got so used to filtering out the inappropriate arguments about the cost per gigabyte of SSDs which come from anti-SSD vendors and from those many storage market researchers who still don't understand what SSDs are about. These nonsensical blog posts and white papers about SSD cost justifications don't upset me as much as they used to - because there will always be crazy stuff on the web.

But the broad sweep of principles which govern SSD adoption in the enterprise still leaves much room for misleading analysis from those who should know better,

And when that mistaken analysis comes from leading SSD vendors - then I feel it my duty to show that it's plain wrong.

So be wary of arguments for enterprise SSD adoption which cite IOPS per dollar (or the other way round) as a justification for filling a gap in some cleverly drawn curve.

I've seen this recently from leading SSD companies who should know better.

As human beings we feel comforted when we think we see new patterns. But they don't always reflect reality. SSDs fitting gaps in IOPS vs dollars charts isn't a sufficiently good reason to buy SSDs. Just as buying stocks based on past performance charts isn't a good idea either. The future isn't a tidied up remake of the past.

If you think about it for more than a microsecond you'll see that the IOPS per dollar argument - which sounds plausibly eco-technical when you first see it written down - doesn't lead to any safe conclusions at all.

the zero cost but slow SSD fails this test

Apply some boundary analysis to the situation and imagine an SSD which costs zero dollars. According to the IOPS/$ advocates - this is your perfect enterprise solution and at this cost it should even replace hard drives. But if the IOPS of the SSD is considerably less than that of the hard drive - you'd be nuts to use it - because you wouldn't get useful work done on your apps. (The model has broken down in this direction.)

ultrafast SSDs with low capacity fail this test too

At the other end of the scale - it's easy to picture ultrafast SSDs which could score very well on the IOPS / $ scale - but whose capacity or electrical power consumption or or physical size or reliability doesn't make them scalable or attractive solutions.

I said recently on these pages that if you're going to try and come up with a single, plausible-sounding eco-technical marketing-jargon metric for SSD adoption in virtual server environments - then a better suggestion is "cost per happy virtual user". That's the total system cost BTW (TCO) - which includes all the servers and software licenses and service costs etc etc.

IOPS per dollar is a useless metric

Once you start looking at complex real-world systems - which run more than a single type of app - you'll see that the only way in which users can optimize their total economics is by mixing and matching different speeds of SSDs in what I call different silos in their apps server architecture.

Even if you haven't read that read that article it's easy to grasp why I say you can only get the truly lowest system cost by using different types of SSD with different speeds, different capacities and different operating characteristics (and certainly different $/IOPS) - within ratios which make sense for that type of app mix and user load.

$/IOPS is an illusion which doesn't take you anywhere far.

Now - everything above - up to this point here - is something I've already said or implied before - so what can I leave you with on the SSD news page today which is new?

Well here's something I've been thinking about.

Faster SSDs may reduce the amount of SSD capacity you need in a well designed VM environment - compared to using slower SSDs - for the same number of users. The reason is that while there is some overhead in capacity which you can't avoid - on a per user basis - such as their unique data - there's also a lot of transient system storage capacity which gets allocated and deallocated dynamically to get their work done.

As we know in the hard drive VM world - at the threshold of usable performance you need more capacity (really - more drives) simply to get enough IOPS performance. The HDD experience is the best sales person for introducing SSDs.

But when you're comparing different types of SSDs in a VM situation - then the software makes a big difference too. If an SSD from vendor X is twice as fast as that from vendor Y - it means that SSD-X frees up some of its capacity faster than SSD-Y and can therefore handle more users for the same purchased capacity within the same elapsed time.

How big is that percentage difference?

I'm sure we'll see more competing claims coming out from the SSD software industry in the months ahead.

...Later:- several years later - due to difficulties of advocating enterprise SSD adoption to users in who often had high uncertainty about how their installations worked, uncertainty about their future workloads and business directions coupled with doubts about vendor claims - a new phenomenon in SSD pricing arose which bypassed ration justifications altogether. I discsussed this in Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing

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"Thanks for the offer, but...
we don't want to deploy any new hard drive arrays.
Not even if you're giving them to us free!"
This classic article described the pivotal future storage market climate in which enterprise users will cease to regard hard drive arrays attractive or usable - even if the cost of buying a new hard drive array drops away to ZERO! - this way to the petabyte SSD

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