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SSD news - January 15 - 31, 2013

Companies mentioned on this page in stories include:- BiTMICRO, Diablo Technologies, Foremay, Fusion-io, GridIron Systems, iSuppli, Micron, Nimbus Data Systems, OCZ, Proximal Data, RunCore, Seagate, Skyera, STEC, Violin, Virident, Virtium, WhipTail
Virtium ships 512GB industrial Slim SATA SSDs

Editor:- January 30, 2013 - Virtium today announced it's shipping true industrial 512GB SSDs in the Slim SATA (MO-297) form factor - which is just 15% of the physical volume of a standard 2.5" drive.

Editor's comments:- it's interesting what you can do with numbers - and I admit I hadn't thought of that 15% volume comparison thing even though I've been writing about tiny (and not so tiny) SSDs for a while.

But seriously the comparison breaks down if you need more capacity - because if you need 2TB (say) then 4x MO-297 is 60% of a 2.5" drive which reduces the strength of the argument. On the other hand - the common applications for these smaller embedded drives - networking and ATCA blade systems - according to Gary Drossel at Virtium - don't need such big storage capacities (yet).

RunCore is 1st to announce BiTMICRO OnBoard

Editor:- January 29, 2013 - today announced that RunCore will use BiTMICRO's Talino controllers in its new Kylin III MAX family (fast PCIe SSDs).

Diablo sets up compatibility team for new SSD interface

Editor:- January 29, 2013 - Diablo Technologies today announced it has set a compatibility advisory team for its new SSD interface - which the company is apparently positioning as a faster alternative to PCIe SSDs.

"As we prepare to launch our line of Memory Channel Storage products that enable next-generation enterprise server and storage system designs, we have set our sights on unprecedented levels of performance for current and future applications To that end, we have assembled a group of top industry innovators to help refine the development of our revolutionary NAND-flash system solutions..." said Diablo's CTO - Maher Amer.

See also:- how will Memory Channel SSDs impact PCIe SSDs?

Seagate turns to Virident for big SSD architecture

Editor:- January 28, 2013 - Seagate today announced it has made a strategic equity investment in Virident as part of a new collaboration agreement which includes remarketing Virident's PCIe SSDs and working together to design new SSDs for the enterprise market.

"Seagate is thrilled to team with Virident, a technology leader in one of the fastest growing markets in enterprise and cloud computing," said Gary Gentry, senior VP and GM, Solid State Drives at Seagate. "Together, we are working to develop the next-generation hardware and software solutions in the PCIe space."

Editor's comments:- it was obvious a year ago that Seagate's earlier marriage of SSD IP convenience with LSI wasn't going to last long or remain monogamous - as LSI and Seagate would be competing for the same oem design slots in the enterprise market and furthermore LSI's small architecture SandForce controller isn't efficient for multi-petabyte scale fast SSD installations. (And in the consumer market LSI didn't have the adaptive controller IP - which is what led to Seagate's stake in DensBits)

Virident - a top 10 SSD company - has a roadmap scalable big architecture enterprise SSD controller and drive family which has been developed in a cleanroom environment - where all the critical IP has been devleoped by the company.

The obvious gap in the Seagate / Virident product line is a 2.5" removable PCIe SSD (to compete with Micron) - and it's a no brainer to see that Seagate's experience with this form factor - coupled with Virident's SSD design skills could quickly result in viable products for this new market - which will replace upto 25% of the projected market for fast SAS drives.

Proximal Data - case study

Editor:- January 28, 2013 - Proximal Data today announced details of a new case study (pdf) re the use of its SSD ASAP software (AutoCache ) to trim 30 hours off the monthly SAS analytics report for a financial customer which used to take 36.5 hours.

Editor:- when SSD software companies start talking about real customers - the acquisition press releases follow not long behind based on recent SSD history.

STEC launches 2TB SAS SSD

Editor:- January 28, 2013 - One of the oddest linking ideas I've ever seen in an SSD news story appeared today in a press release from STEC which suggests that anyone should care that the company is the first in the market to launch both a 2TB PCIe SSD ($9,425) and a 2TB SAS SSD ($7,995).

This marketing communication undervalues the true achievement of a 2TB SAS drive (assuming it fits in a standard height - unlike a previous model).

Also nearly lost in this mixed up marketing communication is the idea that STEC is offering "Unlimited Writes" on some variations of these products. (Which endurance goal is possible using a variety of different techniques - at the extremes being slower performance, using more expensive flash or RAM caching - I haven't asked which of these applies.)

OCZ's new VP of Global Sales

Editor:- January 23, 2013 - OCZ today announced the appointment of Wayne B. Eisenberg as Senior VP of Global Sales.

Eisenberg's previous experience with SSD customers and technologies includes 16 years at SMART Storage Systems

iSuppli says SSD shipments in 2016 will be 6x 2012 level

Editor:- January 23, 2013 - iSuppli today predicted that worldwide SSD shipments this year will rise to 83 million units this year, up from 39 million in 2012.

iSuppli also said it anticipates that in 2016 - SSD shipment volume could be 239 million units - equivalent to 40% the size of the hard drive market.

another new VP at Skyera

Editor:- January 23, 2013 - Skyera is still fleshing out its VP team with the announcement today of new VP of NAS technologies - Amit Bothra.

See also:- SSD efficiencies, adaptive R/W, rackmount SSDs

Micron's hot pluggable SATA SSD

Editor:- January 23, 2013 - Another day, another SATA SSD - this time from Micron - a top 15 SSD company - who recently reported a significant transition in its memory to SSD company roadmap - so stop yawning at the back there! - and whose new hot pluggable, regular cached, MLC enterprise P400m SSD (rated at 10 drive fills / day for 5 years) is said to offer the same endurance as SLC at under half the price - if I have read their chart correctly.

UBER is <1 sector per 1016 bits read. Performance isn't something to write home about - but is adequate for a wide range of fast-enough array applications. ...datasheet (pdf)

See also:- the new fad in selling flash SSDs... life assurance and health care claims

Nimbus ships petabyte SSDs / month

Editor:- January 22, 2013 - Nimbus Data Systems today announced it has been shipping at the rate of over 1 petabyte of SSD storage / month.

Violin acquires GridIron

Editor:- January 21, 2013 - Violin today announced it has acquired GridIron Systems.

Editor's comments:- in October 2012 I listed GridIron as 1 of the 3 main contenders to Fusion-io in the enterprise SSD software stakes -with the qualifying comment...

"GridIron - probably has the most sophisticated SSD ASAP software in the industry. But it's a shame it has been tied (until recently) to their hardware - an SSD HDD hybrid box."

Today's announcement - which adds to the growing list of notable SSD acquisitions in the modern era of the SSD market - will enable Violin to strengthen its already established authority in the enterprise SSD rack market.

Can you guess WhipTail's revenue?

Editor:- January 17, 2013 - Sometimes you can estimate an SSD company's revenue even when they're a private company and coy about the numbers.

For example - WhipTail's announcement that its revenue grew 300% in 2012 - coupled with the statement that it has shipped a total of over 3.7 petabytes of SSD storage - and assuming the average market price per terabyte for fast enterprise rackmount SSDs - is all the information you need to make a reasonable estimate.

It's also interesting to compare those petabyte shipment numbers with disclosures from other enterprise SSD companies in earlier years.

Don't send me your answers - because there's no prize for the right answer. Just the sense of satisfaction that you can do it. (Hint - this method of calculation gives an answer which is similar in order of magnitude size to the company's recent funding round - which if you're familiar with the cash flows you need to support that growth rate provides a satisfying sanity check.) Now - the only question is - is WhipTail's revenue growth rate sustainable?

Market demand curves signal yes.

Competitive pressure factors signal no.

But even if you apply a dampening factor - and assume only 200% revenue growth in 2013 - you're still looking at another enterprise SSD company which you can't ignore. (Not that you would anyway - as the company ranks #6 in the top SSD companies searched for by our readers in Q4 2012.)

Fusion-io positions ioScale for new SSD Dynasties

Editor:- January 16, 2013 - Fusion-io has released a new PCIe SSD called the ioScale (3.2TB on a single half length PCIe slot) which is aimed at technically savvy customers who have the potential to use thousands of cards in their installations in new dynasty enterprise SSD apps. Pricing is under $3,900 / TB and the minimum order quantity is 100 units.

Editor's comments:- When you first look at this product - you might be tempted to think - So what? - isn't it very similar in capability to other products which FIO (and others) have shipped already?

In one way you'd be right. The ioScale's hardware design is based on FIO's experience in making low cost PCIe SSDs for the workstation market - which is as close to consumer market price pressure as FIO gets at the present time.

But the ioScale is aimed at a special class of enterprise super users - whose apps and companies I call:- new dynasty and dark matter respectively.

Rick White CMO Fusion-io told me that when they did market research into the kinds of customers who were already using their SSDs they discovered the big enterprise SSD customers could be segmented into 2 groups which superficially had similar performance needs - but were very different in the ways in which they valued issues such as:-
  • compatibility with traditional software apps,
  • how they handle reliability,
  • how often they refresh and replace their infrastructure.
  • how they assess the cost / benefit of features within SSDs
The traditional enterprise customers have the profiles which everyone in the industry knows about and aims their products at - but the new type of enterprise customers have needs which are only starting to clarify - and for this latter type of customer - SSDs are a strategic business enabler - because they can convert efficiencies in raw computing technology into real competitive advantage.

Fusion-io is one of the few companies in the world which already has a set of these latter cloud / data factory economy customers who each have already got thousands of high performance PCIe SSDs - and who have the ability to scale up substantially if their requirements are met and the SSD enabled economy grows in the directions expected.

Rick told me that these customers do want scalable SSD performance, and low cost - but they don't need many of the bundled frills which are deemed to be necessary for traditional enterprise SSD customers

When legacy apps report faulty drives they change the drive or the rack. When uber new dynasty SSD users report faults - they route around them. Then when the time comes to upgrade the CPU and storage capacity per square foot of that region in the datacenter - the whole lot is forklifted out and replaced - faulty and unfaulty racks - makes no difference.

Also - in these apps - hot pluggable drives are a frill which is simply not worth paying for.

The dark matter SSD customers - at which the ioScale is aimed - also know much more about the technical limitations of their infrastructure - and have the technical expertise to change things to suit them better - if they think it's worthwhile. So - for example - the ability to dive into SSD APIs and change their apps code to get speedups or other new functionality - is something they will do - whereas traditional enterprise customers prefer all new hardware to work with pre-existing software in a tweak-free environmoent.

During my conversation with Rick White - I referred back to the ION software (which FIO launched in August 2012 - and which enables users to convert a standard server and a bunch of PCIe SSDs into a traditional SAN compatible rackmount SSD).

My assessment of that product shared with readers at the time - was that if it satisfied the needs of a small number of super users - who could each buy maybe hundreds or thousands of such systems - that made it worthwhile for FIO to bundle the concept and launch it. I thought the analysis I had seen in other places - which compared it to traditional rack SSDs was completely missing the point.

Rick confirned my analysis was closer to the mark - and many times in our discussion we returned to the problems in the SSD market caused by faulty and incomplete market research and mistaken understandings of what the real issues in the market were.

My way of summarizing this is - that if you ask a bunch of people who go to a trade show - what do you think about SSDs? - you're going to get a different result to when you talk to people who are already deeply engaged in the SSD market, have already done a lot of SSD projects and who spend nearly all their waking hours thinking about what more can they do if they had even better SSDs?

It's not that the traditional market research gives you the wrong answers - it's more that - if you're not in the right place in the SSD market then you don't understand enough to pose the right questions - and you probably don't have access to the people who will ultimately decide the answers.

Fusion-io isn't the only SSD company who is getting value business insights by researching its strategic customers.

I reported last year that SanDisk had adapted its approach to enterprise customers by deciding to support competing hardware with its FlashSoft software. And there are many more examples I could mention if I had the time.

Foremay ships 2TB 2.5" SSDs for industrial market

Editor:- January 15, 2013 - Foremay today announced immediate availability of 2TB industrial 2.5" SATA SSDs with standard 9.5mm thickness.

Editor's comments:- In its press release for this product Foremay claims to be the first company to do this. But this is one of those situations where I think being "first" tells us more about market conditions (where things stand in the HDD replacement part of the SSD market) than about the technological supremacy - or otherwise - of any particular SSD oem.

It's been technically feasible to make 2TB 2.5" SATA SSDs for the past 2 years. The only reason you haven't seen them flooding into the market is that such products would have been unattractive before to both SSD oems and to SSD buyers.

For the SSD oem - the same bunch of memory chips used to make a 2TB 2.5" SATA drive - have been much more profitably deployed in faster SSD modules such as PCIe SSDs or SAS SSDs.

Meanwhile for SSD buyers and specifiers - 2TB 2.5" SSDs would have been very expensive - compared to the alternatives - while delivering no performance benefits (due to the slowness of the SATA interface) which means that 2x 1TB SATA drives are faster in a storage system then 1x 2TB drive.

In today's market, however, the cost differences between flash SSDs and hard drives have shrunk to the extent that for industrial equipment designers who look at the cost of reliability in a 7 year industrial product operating life timeframe - the alternative of using 1 factory fitted SSD compared to the probability of using 2-3 HDDs in the same slot (taking into account the MTBF distribution over the system population) makes high capacity SATA SSDs attractive.

This class of SSDs will also extend the market life of equipment designs which originally used HDD interface standards as a way of virtualizing and protecting against generational changes in raw flash memory - even if they never used hard drives. The extra storage capacity enables equipment designers to integrate more features and software.

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and the problems of trying to unstick a sticky SSD platform

Editor:- January 30, 2013 - Fusion-io's results will be announced when the markets close today, and because of FIO's position in the SSD market - it seems like many people just hold their breath and wait to see what happens.

I wrote about this tense waiting period for investors, customers and (even) competitors in an article 3 months ago called - SSD investments, x8 flash, and ETs - which may calm you down if you're feeling anxious.

...Later:- January 31, 2013 - the results reported were:- revenue of $120 million in the recent quarter, up 43% from the year ago period.

For any other company that would be a great result - but FIO had to explain to stakeholders why its revenue growth apparently slowed down. More details in their press release.

Even before looking at what FIO said I wasn't surprised to see a small slowdown in growth. With so many different ways to do the same type of acceleration now in the market - and so many complex new SSD software options available - I suspect it's taking even dedicated FIO customers a bit longer to evaluate and optimize the exact configuration of the solutions they need - even when they have already bought into the idea that they want more of something that's nearly the same.

Customer pragmatism comes into it too. The SSD platform decisions being made now - will have to make sense in 5 years time too.

...Later still:- February 1, 2013 - a reader asked me to expand on the above point - particularly given his concern that FIO is suggesting that revenue may be even lower in the next quarter.

Please bear in mind that this is my own analysis and speculation of what may be happening in the market right now. Most of the text below is cut and paste from an email I sent to a reader shortly before putting it on this webpage.

re - what could cause big enterprise SSD users (in new dynasty apps) to slow down their uptake of SSDs for a while - given that analysts like me have projected that the total adoption in this market will grow a lot this year?

The dynamics of big SSD customers go like this...

They like SSDs.

They've seen details of new upcoming products or memory technologies which look cheaper than what they're buying but maybe the software for the new stuff isn't what they want yet.

If they're a big Fusion-io customer they obviously like FIO but if the customer isn't careful how they fit the FIO stuff into their company framework they know they'll be locked into FIO just as much as previous generations were locked into IBM360 or VMS or Solaris so they're looking at all the other things in the market - including other suppliers and ways of doing things - and trying to figure out - is there a way to use more of this FIO stuff easily without getting locked in?

And how about the other SSD silos in the enterprise where FIO isn't a supplier - but somehow it all has to play together?

There are many variables to optimize - and it's naiive to pretend they can all be kept separate and managed independently forever.

THE SSD SOFTWARE PLATFORM will become the way that users will interpret all SSD purchases in future. I think about 5 different companies have a viable prospect of owning that enterprise front end and being important gateways in the enterprise SSD world. I've talked to most of them and to other companies who want to be the SSD platform.

Prospects for users are scary as they realize SSDs are not a short term fix but will become the biggest place they put their future server budgets in. It means that users will wait and try and figure things out. But if they wait too long their infrastructure slows down. gets less competitive.

The odds are if you've already got FIO (or some other vendor's key SSD tool which works) you are already locked in but just don't want to admit it.

Are you safer using FIO through a 3rd party - SanDisk / FlashSoft platform? yeah maybe - if that's possible - but then you lose the performance - you could get from embedding Fusion-io's APIs.

And BTW SanDisk has only been in the software business for a handful or quarters.

ditto comments re - OCZ's VXL

Customer navel gazing and SSD software lock-in concerns are real and serious. But not easily solvable.

Once you start using SSDs you can't stop using more.

The future SSD purchases will have to be made (with someone). Some problems have no tidy solution. Figuring out the best way to architect SSD datacenters and creating internal standards takes time. But there isn't any time.

Another simpler answer - given in FIO's own conference call - but which I hadn't heard till after writing this piece - is that if the customers are getting cleverer at using SSDs - what CEO, David Flynn referred to as their increased efficiency - then in the short term they can do the same workload they planned earlier with less SSDs - for now. But it's reasonable to assume that will simply lower the viability threshold for using SSDs in other new functions too - because the SSD cost per added business customer value is better. Which means even more SSD demand from new apps down the road.

Meanwhile users who have stuck rigidly with legacy SSD architectures - think they don't have to worry so much about these issues - because the SSD fits into their pre-existing schema for doing things. But even the legacy SSD solutions have started to add personality traits. And even legacy architecture SSDs will have to fit into your future SSD software platform.

Legacy apps users can delay for now making these decisions and still avoid getting too stuck into any single supplier - but they will have to go through the same tortuous company-wide SSD needs analysis themselves too - in the next year or so too - in order to get the best value for what they're doing.
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