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SSD news - December 2013

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10,000 sites use DataCore

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Editor:- December 16, 2013 - DataCore - which operates at the software end of the SSD ASAP / auto-tiering / software-defined storage market - today announced that over 10,000 customer sites have used its software.

DataCore's stance re enterprise SSD architecture is that most users can (for the time being) resist the siren calls of SSD makers towards all flash enterprise storage - because "only 5% of workloads require top tier performance. And businesses have turned to auto-tiering software to make sure applications are sharing flash and spinning disk, based on the need to optimize performance and investment."


Avago acquires LSI

Editor:- December 16, 2013 - LSI today announced that it has agreed to be acquired by Avago Technologies Limited in an all-cash transaction valued at $6.6 billion.

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Editor's comments:- like most of you I hadn't heard of Avago before either. But I had heard of Agilent Technologies - the former name of this company - which was a spinoff from HP. Avago was a semiconductor spinoff from Agilent.

Part of Avago's rationale (they're a semiconductor company with over 1/2 their business in wireless technology) is to get into the enterprise storage market and become a leader in this market "overnight".

A big chunk of the investment - about $1 billion is coming from Silver Lake - a VC company - which a few years ago reintegrated another company in the SSD market - SMART. The rest of the funding is coming from bank loans.

See also:- Hostage to the fortunes of SSD, Imprinting the brain of the SSD, 3 Easy Ways to Enter the SSD Market


Wanted! - New CEO for Violin

But before you sign up for that audition - check out the SSD market acoustics first


Editor:- December 16, 2013 - Violin Memory today announced the company has terminated the employment of its CEO Don Basile - who had been CEO of the company for the past 4-5 years.

"The Board believes this leadership change is necessary to enhance the management team's operational focus and ability to execute the Company's plans for profitable growth" said David Walrod on of the Board of Directors.

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Editor's comments:- Having restructured Violin and managed it through a rapid uncontested growth period in the enterprise SSD market when there were only a small number of credible competitors - Don Basile's problem was that he took the company public at a time when no-one without a broadly spread customer base can have any high degree of confidence about revenue projections. There are simply too many surprising and disruptive SSD competitors out there - especially in the exciting rackmount SSD market.

Last year I identified weaknesses in Violin's flash technology roadmap - and said I thought their best long term strategy would be to consolidate within their established niche of high availability fast systems. Instead the company has expanded into too many different enterprise segments.

While it's not impossible to achieve success in so many different application roles - in each one Violin was competing with vendors for whom it was their primary business and for which purpose they were leveraging as much investment towards a single purpose as Violin was using spread across all its product lines.

It probably didn't help that Don Basile was reported to have told Business Insider at an awkward moment - "What the market does on any given day is not really a concern of ours." But that wasn't the real problem.

Aiming to be at the top of the enterprise SSD class is harder than it used to be - even in specialist chosen topics. Trying to master the whole enterprise SSD curriculum at this point in time is unrealistic because this is a body of knowledge and user-lore which is still evolving in shape and character. That won't stop other vendors from trying as part of the risk / reward game of competitive markets. But while some will succeed - most will fail.

Users are the only predictable winners here - because SSD systems are getting so much creative talent and raw brainpower and energy directed at improving their designs.


reasons to expect more PCIe SSDs in 2014 PC Market

Editor:- December 16, 2013 - A new article in DRAMeXchange discusses the issue of SATA 3 SSDs being replaced by PCIe SSDs in the consumer SSD market in future designs of PCs. ...read the article


1st day for NMBL

Editor:- December 13, 2013 - Nimble Storage today joined the list of recent IPOs on NYSE - trading as NMBL.

Editor's comments:- in SSD times gone by - the traditional things that companies would aim to spend their new money on would be activities like:- hiring more people, increasing sales and marketing activities and financing scaled up manufacturing logistics. But another new cost center for SSD systems companies in IPOs which haven't happened yet may be - legal fees.

Recent examples of litigation centered around the SSD market have become so numerous that perhaps an enterprising blogger out there might find it worthwhile creating an educational site to cater for all the new people - with legal backgrounds - who now have to scramble their way through the enterprise SSD jungle.

If you know of such a site - such as www.enterpriseflashmadeeasyforlawyers.com - just send me the link and I may mention it on these pages.

Recent examples of leading SSD companies being the objects of lawsuits include:-


OCZ talks about a new small form factor RAM SSD

Editor:- December 13, 2013 - It's been ages since I last heard any SSD makers talking about launching new 3.5" RAM SSDs - but the idea has resurfaced in a blog - SSD Powered Clouds – the Times They are a Changing - by Ravi Prakash, Director of Product Management - OCZ - who says such devices might be useful in write intensive applications such as a ZFS intent log (ZIL).

Ravi said he's interested in hearing from anyone who might be interested in a future RAM SSD concept - he calls Aeon - which "will deliver 140,000 sustained IOPS with 4KB blocks and media latency of less than 5 µsec in a familiar 3.5" drive form factor." ...read the article

See also:- on the subject of the name Aeon - and more like this - take a look at Inanimate Power, Speed and Strength Metaphors in SSD brands


enterprise flash storage - the 1st decade

Editor:- December 11, 2013 - as we approach the end of another year - it's interesting to note that this also marks the end of the 1st decade of flash storage arrays in the enterprise.

This decade was an unruly period in SSD history - accompanied from the very beginning by early doubts that flash could ever be as reliable and capable as DRAM SSDs.

Indeed - every few years - the reliability debate was re-opened by the desire to use newer, cheaper and intrinsically less reliable types of flash memory to increase competitiveness - which relied on ever more complicated internal architectures to manage the growing raw technology deficits.

Most other IT related markets would have reached some kind of predictable calm by now. But there's no sign of that here in the SSD market. Instead - all the debates and architectural upheavels which accompanied enterprise flash before now seem quaintly simple by modern standards. To get an idea of what happened see my classic article - "Sugaring Flash for the Enterprise".


what changed in SSD year 2013?

Editor:- December 9, 2013 - unlike the hard drive market where the basic ideas haven't changed much in recent decades - the important ideas in the SSD market seem to change every year.

To avoid making bad decisions you not only have to learn new SSD ideas each year - but you also need to identify which old SSD ideas to forget because they're no longer helpful.

Reviewing what those ideas are - (which to assimilate and which to forget) is the theme of my new home page blog.


how to avoid hot pluggable PCIe SSD failures

Editor:- December 3, 2013 - What happens if you test PCIe SSDs for their sensitivity to data corruption or even failure - in the event of sudden power loss?

You'd think that with more hot pluggable products coming into the market -especially in the 2.5" form factor - that the experimental outcomes would be known by the designers and problems debugged so that users wouldn't have to worry.

In August 2013 Quarch Technology launched some special test equipemnt to inject power related faults into PCIe SSDs - and the company today announced it has extended this range to automate power line error testing of PCIe SFF SSDs.

Andy Norrie, Technical Director at Quarch Technology told me today that "Almost every combination of test kit we have tried in Quarch (a number of friendly customers lent us kit and eval drives to get the new module up and running) has failed in some way. Sometimes failing to come back up again nicely, sometimes with a full BSOD which will almost certainly have risked data loss."


more details emerge about OCZ and Toshiba

Editor:- December 2, 2013 - As previously flagged - OCZ today announced that Toshiba will acquire substantially all OCZ's assets in a chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding for $35 million.

Under this agreement Toshiba will acquire OCZ's client and enterprise solid state drive business. OCZ will continue to operate and serve existing and future customers during this process.

Toshiba has agreed to provide OCZ with Debtor-in-Possession financing to ensure that there is adequate capital and flash supply to support the business during the contemplated sale period. The consummation of the asset purchase agreement is subject to an auction and approval by the bankruptcy court in the Company's bankruptcy case.

This acquisition will provide Toshiba with access to OCZ's proprietary controllers, firmware and software, as well as the teams responsible for bringing these solutions to market, in addition to OCZ's established brand and sales channels.

Editor's comments:- here are my thoughts which come to mind from this.
  • OCZ's VXL software and sales experience in the tier 2, tier 3 enterprise segment - provide a framework which will enable Toshiba to significantly escalate its enterprise aspirations - because the skills set and IP from OCZ will provide Toshiba new channels and tools to market which are independent of oem design wins.
  • If you compare the valuation of OCZ's assets to prices paid in the past for SSD software companies and controller companies - this is an order of magnitude lower than what has been seen in the market before.

    This is probably based on a catious reassessment of just how difficult it is to plan for revenue growth and profitability - in the SSD market of today - where there are so many vendors - and in which even heavyweight traditional storage systems companies like NetApp have been struggling to get one or two percent share of the enterprise flash market - and a market in which the tone of revenue projections from longer established enterprise SSD companies like Fusion-io and Violin sound much flatter than they did a few years ago.

    Will this send shock waves through the VC community?

    I doubt it. One of the lessons of the SSD market in recent years is that just because something shone from the business point of view one year doesn't mean the same thing will be good enough the next. New SSD companies have the ability to disrupt older SSD companies in the same kind of way that SSDs have been disrupting other linked markets like servers and hard drives.
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cost per Terabyte Write?
Editor:- December 9, 2013 - "You should look at the cost per Terabyte Write ($/TBW) as 1 of 5 factors in selecting an enterprise SSD" says Esther Spanjer Director of Marketing at SanDisk in her new blog on DataCenterKnowledge.com. ...read the article

Editor's comments:- $/TBW sounds initially plausible - but breaks down at the boundary analysis where it hits RAM SSDs - at which point it can give you the wrong answer.

There are many other misleading metrics like this in the SSD cost evaluation literature. And you'd be surprised how many of them originate from leading SSD companies.

It's because the most important metrics of SSD value and ROI - as seen by users - occur at the integrated rack and app system level. The choice of best enterprise SSD depends on business dynamics not just technical dimensions. And even at the raw technical level - the system level experience is mostly beyond the scope of any single drive maker to uniquely determine - unless the system design is little more than a bunch of SSDs in a box.

Evaluating SSDs for any particular systems use is complicated.

As I pointed out in my article about SSD symmetries - there are many popular use cases in which a headline SSD metric which seems vital from one perspective - is the wrong reason to choose the SSD when viewed from another context.

Having said that - ranking superficially similar SSDs by criteria such as $/TBW - can open useful dialog into why these parameters are different.
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Woody Hutsell's enterprise SSD blog - What a long strange year it's been - is a contemplative journey
Editor:- December 19, 2013 - Nowadays there are so many people who want to talk to me about the outlook for the enterprise SSD market that it's impossible to find enough time to do it. So I prioritize and schedule in a few random reader requests as a safety check.

But it wasn't always like that.

Back in the early part of the previous decade - long before SSD companies like Violin, Fusion-io, SandForce etc were even glints in the eyes of their founders - there was a quieter and more contemplative period when a lot of important experiments were being done by users as well as vendors in the enterprise - and there were very few people engaged in thinking about the enterprise SSD market at all.

That made me really value and appreciate the regular chats I used to have with Woody Hutsell who at the time was President Texas Memory Systems and whose company was one of early advertisers of expensive rackmount SSDs here on the mouse site. They really did cost a lot of money in those days - which meant that analyzing the best ways to deploy them in an enterprise context was much more critical than it is today.

Over many years I came to appreciate the customer insights which Woody and other TMSers were bringing me. Often I couldn't write about these customer use cases - because "using SSDs" itself was seen as a really important competitive advantage by the customers who didn't want their competitors to get an easy ride off their risk taking.

What a long strange year it's been - is a new blog by Woody Hutsell - which talks about the personal changes he's seen in the past year from the perspective of having been inside Fusion-io and then moving back to the TMS family which was acquired a year ago by IBM. Woody's blog makes interesting reading and helps to tie up some loose ends about several key enterprise SSD companies. ...read the article
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"I get a lot of questions from investors and VCs - who are trying to understand the SSD market"
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