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SSD news - January 2012 - 4th week

new to SSD? - new report from Forward Insights

Editor:- January 31, 2012 - Forward Insights has recently published a new report - SSD Technology and Applications: A Primer (88 pages $1,499).

Author Gregory Wong says - "It's an ideal guide for novices interested in acquiring a basic understanding of SSD technology and applications as well as a handy reference for more experienced professionals."

Editor's comments:- Among other things (see contents pdf for more details) Greg says the report also provides an overview of the competitive landscape for SSDs. See also:- SSD market analysts.

Nimbus does that "no spof SSD" thing

Editor:- January 31, 2012 - Nimbus Data Systems today announced its entry into the high availability enterprise SSD market with the uveiling of the company's - E-Class systems - which are 2U rackmount SSDs with 10TB eMLC per U of usable capacity and no single point of failure. Unified interface support includes 10GbE, FC, and Infiniband.

Nimbus software (which supports upto 0.5 petabytes in a single SSD file system) automatically detects controller and path failures, providing non-disruptive failover. The E-Class also supports online software updates and online capacity expansion. It has RAID protection and hot-swappable flash, power, and cooling modules. Pricing starts at $150K approx for a 10TB dual configuration system.

Editor's comments:- Nimbus seemed incredulous at my immediate reaction to the preliminary info they sent me. I said I knew of competing shipping SSDs which were denser, faster and offered more HA features too. But that's not to understate the value of what the company does. Instead of being impressed by a bunch of me-too technical metricals I was rather more impressed to learn that Nimbus is still profitable. More about that later.

SSD link appears on

Editor:- January 30, 2012 - EMC has launched an SSD link (effectively still "under construction") on its main home page.

I had no foreknowledge of this when I wrote last week about EMC's stealth mode SSD business - "When you start seeing a permament flash SSD link on EMC's home page - you'll know that the company is taking SSD more seriously."

I was asked recently if I thought that EMC would turn out to be (in the Christensen sense) - like Kodak (in photography) and Wang (in word processing) - yet another example of a company which - while being a leader in one type of technology - would fail to make a successful transition through to being leader in a a disruptive technology which would replace it. Digital electrronics replacing optical film - for Kodak, software and PCs replacing wordprocessors - in the case of Wang, and SSDs replacing HDD arrays - in the case of EMC.

The thought had occurred to me too - and it has given solace to many SSD company founders - who compete with EMC - because it has behaved like a company which is "clueless" from the SSD leadership perspective - despite having had the benefit of many intensive evaluations of leading enterprise SSDs.

Nevertheless - some of the same SSD companies which have enjoyed the ease with which they have grown their SSD petabyte market share at the expense of the SSD clueless EMC - would possibly change their tune if EMC would deign to acquire their companies or oem their products.

I told my inquirer that I hadn't quite written EMC off in the SSD market - because as long as they retained enough loot from their rotating storage empire they still had plenty of time to pursue a strategy which was a blend of home grown with oemed and acquired SSD technologies.

The name chosen for its new SSD launch is the same as that of another well established SSD brand - Lightning - from SanDisk. But that's just a confusing coincidence - because EMC's new PCIe SSD product will instead be based on LSI's WarpDrive.

HA enterprise SSD arrays

Editor:- January 26, 2012 - due to the growing number of oems in the high availability rackmount SSD market today published a new directory focusing on HA enterprise SSD arrays.

In my past 20 years of publishing enterprise buyers guides - I've developed an instrinct for judging when the market is ready for a new focused directory. Sometimes I've been too early - but with the momentum in the enterprise SSD market and the number of HA SSD vendors already dipping into double digits - I think this is exactly the right time for such a new directory.

will rental break through the indecision barrier for SSD ASAPs?

Editor:- January 26, 2012 - One of the business development obstacles facing enterprise SSD ASAP / caching vendors in the past few years has been that users have mostly thought of them as being HDD array accelerators.

And even if a user is interested right now - and even if they are happy with their try before you buy results - they often hold off making a purchase - because they think (after reading web sites like this one) that one day they'll be ripping out their rotating RAID systems and replacing them with SSDs - so it might be silly to buy an SSD cache appliance right now - if it only speeds up HDDs.

Now in reality - most users won't replace their entire HDD storage as quickly as they might like to think - and ASAPs do have a permanent role in the pure SSD datacenter too. Some vendors' marketing materials talk about that - while others are still harping on about hard disks and the "superiority" of SSD - even when their technology roadmap works just as well for SSD.

Seemingly breaking through the user indecision barrier - Dataram today published a customer story about their "no long term commitment" - Acceleration on Demand - leasing program. It sounds like a good idea - but I don't know the exact terms and conditions involved.

Fusion-io's revenue nearly trebles, but...

Editor:- January 24, 2012 - Fusion-io today announced that revenue for its 2nd quarter ended December 31, 2011 was $84 million - which is 2.7x its revenue in the year ago period.

Editor's comments:- like many other SSD companies nowadays FIO lost money in the quarter and you can see the gory details by clicking on the links above and going to their web site.

I'm not a financial guy - but I have written an article below in which I share my thoughts about why loss making SSD companies like Fusion-io are still warming (rather than cooling) SSD interest in the VC investor climate. What follows includes pure speculation on my part which may be entirely wrong.

like the weather - VCs have changing climates

Because of their pedigree the founders of Intel had easy relatively acces to venture capital but they aimed to be profitable as soon as possible because the business culture of startups was very different in the late 1960s and early 70s than it is today. Intel's early success meant that some VCs were more receptive to the computer / semiconductor industry. But it still wasn't easy for the company which created the first mass market for PCs - Apple - when they went shopping for money in 1976 . And although the VC tech funding climate warmed up in the early 1980s - it was still tough on founders as you can see in this video about Compaq. But things were getting easier - and by the mid 1980s anyone with a good product, strong partner(s) and a business plan could get a couple of rounds of VC funding (including yours truly). It was getting almost too easy - so some VCs got picky in the mid to late 1980s with the JAW generation - Just Another Workstation.

dotcom lemmings

In the mid to late 1990s in the dotcom bubble (pdf) I saw investors seemingly lose their sense of perspective and ability to reason as they over funded too many nutty dotcom businesses which had no prospect whatsoever of being profitable - based on the wild notion that growth was worth getting if you got enough eyeballs on your site.

I was publishing a buyers guide to dot-in-dotcom compatible servers at the time - and I couldn't understand why people couldn't see that many of the startups which bought these servers and never even unpacked them - were flaky. Didn't people realize that while it was good to get visitors to your web site - it wasn't so clever if the true cost was $100 per click. I - on my part - didn't appreciate that in a bubble it's making money along the way which is the driving force for most investors - not actually arriving at the end. Following the dotcom bust at the end of the 1990s those VCs who still had money avoided most new digital investments - except Google - like the plague.

How about the SSD market?

2 years ago I said that we were starting an SSD Bubble. Nevertheless tangible benefits are being delivered to users along the way and at the end of the rainbow will be a huge market for SSDs. So there are bubble elements - but some chewy goodness too. How does this relate to the many companies in the enterprise SSD market today who are growing revenue - but not necessarily profitable - like Fusion-io?

My view about Fusion-io's rolling losses is that part of this is due to the continuing investment (in technology, sales and marketing) which any similar company has to make in a fast changing. fast growing tech market - but another factor in its profit equation may the high proportion of its business which goes to a small number of big customers. It's just a fact of life that when storage companies sell to server oems and super users they have to sell at a lower price than if they're selling to other types of customers - because there are competiutors out there who will also buy this business opportunity. But even in the dearth / absence of profit in such deals- the high sales volumes which result - speed up positive outcomes in other factors which can be healthy for future business development. It is to be hoped that at some point in the future - as the innovation curve flattens - and the technology creator's brand strengthens and the product becomes a sticky standard supported by compatible 3rd party partners - the margins in the product itself and in the channel mix may change for the better. (Licensing deals too are another possibility for extracting more profit from high volume oem customers.) There are no guarantees in any competive market but that's my way of trying to make long term sense of what's going on in some hot spots in the SSD market today.

Intel buys InfiniBand line from QLogic

Editor:- January 24, 2012 - Intel yesterday announced an agreement to acquire the InfiniBand 40Gbps (pdf) related product lines, IP and business assets of QLogic.

Editor's comments:- if you're not familiar with InfiniBand - it was originally proposed in 2000 as a standard for remote CPU R/W with small packet sizes and ultra low latency to support arrays of CPUs over many cards and racks. In the early days - InfiniBand evangelists and some storage analysts believed the standard would go into the commercial server mainstream.

Instead what happened was that fatter multi-core CPU chips, and faster GbE wiped out the volume market need for IB technology - because they could do the same job cheaper and incrementally for smaller clusters of CPUs. So the IB market nowadays is mainly a niche market for scientific research and high performance computing.

Some of the fastest SSD benchmarks have been recorded in IB environments. And at one time (before 2008) I thought that IB might be a significant and natural upward path for high performance SSDs. However, PCIe SSD systems also support remote array connections - so IB's role remains that of occupying the narrow turf of clustering hundreds to thousands more CPUs than Intel or others can pack into a single chip.

Another way to think about it is this. You can't have viable HPC without SSD. But you can have a healthy SSD market where HPC is a small niche.

There's no doubt that SSDs are an enabling technology which make it realistic for CPU designers to think about what they could do with hundreds of cores on a single chip and over 1,000 cores on a single server card. I discussed that blue sky concept with processor designers nearly 10 years ago. But does the mainstream market need such servers?

In the SSD data driven factories of the future - the answer is yes. But that could be another 5 years in the future - because there are still closely related standards to firm up - such as Hybrid Memory Cubes. And storage history shows that new standards take years to get into the market. In the meantime - if you're not in the HPC market - but still need very fast CPU performance - keep an eye on what the leading PCIe SSD makers do - and you won't go far wrong.

TCS ships 200GB fast erase MIL-STD-810 2.5" SSD

Editor:- January 24, 2012 - TCS today announced shipments of a rugged 200GB 2.5" SLC SSD which has has been verified by outside labs to meet MIL-STD-810 requirements for shock, vibration, temperature range, temperature shock, humidity and altitude.

The new Galatea SSD has 40K IOPS performance, includes 128-bit AES encryption and can fast erase the full drive in less than 15 seconds.

"Few solid-state drives combine the quality, data capacity and ruggedization features of Galatea," said Michael Bristol, senior VP and GM of TCS' Government Solutions Group. "It is ideal for a wide range of extreme industrial and defense applications, including oil and gas exploration, avionics and data logging in a variety of air, land and sea vehicles. Galatea combines superior access latency and power consumption performance with long-term reliability."

Editor's comments:- I hadn't heard of TCS before in the SSD market - and I feel uncomfortable when I see a significant new SSD product pop out from seemingly nowhere. But then I recognized one of the legacy products names - Triton and sure enough TCS is the new identity for Trident Space & Defense - which was acquired a year ago.

I googled "Galatea" - and I'd like to think it was named after one of the Harry Potter characters - who taught defence against the dark arts.

Later today:- - Charlie Cassidy who is Director of the Advanced Products Group at TCS contacted me to say - "I thought I would let you in on the "secret" of the Galatea name. No Harry Potter involved, we didn't even realize that connection. Our SSDs (Triton, Proteus, Galatea) are named after themoons of Neptune - paying homage to the Trident heritage."

Violin video re visibility advantages of home grown controllers

Editor:- January 23, 2012 - I commented recently that the top 10 SSD companies in Q4 2011 all had one thing in common (apart from the fact they make SSDs) - they all had their own proprietary SSD controller architecture which they could use to optimize products for some application markets (even if some of them also used other controllers too).

In a recent video - Violin's, CTO Software Jonathan Goldick talks about the benefits they get from having their own controller.

I like it because it also echoes themes I discussed last year in my big versus small SSD architecture article - and also because it's short - less than 250 seconds. Violin's SSD video

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Features which are regarded as good by vendor X are bad for vendor Y's customers - because they simply add to the cost.
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How big was the thinking in this SSD's design?
Does size really does matter in SSD design?

By that I mean how big was the mental map? - not how many inches wide is the SSD.

The novel and the short story both have their place in literature and the pages look exactly the same. But you know from experience which works best in different situations and why.

When it comes to SSDs - Big versus Small SSD architecture - is something which was in the designer's mind. Even if they didn't think about it that way at the time.
click to read the article - Big versus Small SSD  architectures For designers, integrators, end users and investors alike - understanding what follows from these simple choices predicts a lot of important consequences. the article

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