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SSD news - June 15 - 30, 2013

SSD market history
animal brands in the SSD market
perspective - comparing the SSD market to earlier tech disruptions
does POS = Point Of SSD?

Editor:- June 28, 2013 - InnoDisk recently published a case studies article which describes how its SSDs are being used in point of sale terminals.

The well known advantages of SSDs compared to HDDs in these POS systems (InnoDisk specifically mentions lower vulnerability to overheating so they don't need fans, which reduces noise and failure-prone moving parts) aren't the only reason POS makes are turning to industrial SSDs.

The higher operating temperature of some SSDs means that POS terminals can be used in "weather exposed outdoor locations" (as in the scenic pictures shown in the article).

From what I could see in the examples mentioned - it seems that pretty soon if you if you squeeze past a supermarket checkout or eat at an outdoor bar / restaurant - you won't be too far away from a 2.5" SSD. Which reminded me about my 2008 article - You're Never More than 20 Feet Away from a Rat (or a hard drive). Maybe it's time to rewrite that one.

SanDisk invests in Panzura

Editor:- June 27, 2013 - SanDisk today announced it has invested in Panzura - which makes auto-tiering (from NAS to the cloud) rackmount SSD ASAPs.

"Panzura is another excellent example of the important role flash memory is playing in the transformation of the enterprise" said Sumit Sadana, executive VP and chief strategy officer of SanDisk.

See also:- VCs in SSDs

LSI's enterprise PCIe flash - what I learned and had confirmed

Editor:- June 26, 2013 - I had a useful conversation last week with Rob Callaghan who manages outbound marketing in LSI's Accelerated Solutions Division.

When I say "useful" - I mean - useful to me - because I haven't spent much time looking at the details of LSI's family of PCIe SSD products - due to my impression that it won't tell me anything new about the long term architectural direction of this class of product. Having said that LSI's PCIe flash products do provide a relatively pain-free entry point for many users into the world of enterprise SSD storage - and will generate lots of revenue for the company in the short to near term.

Not too bad for a company which I described as "approximately the 163rd company to enter the SSD market" - when LSI announced its entry into SSDs in January 2010.

In that same 2010 news story - I used the headline - "LSI will Compete with Fusion-io" - because it was a useful shortcut to my guess-ahead at what LSI might end up doing. But with the benefit of hindsight - that headline statement isn't strictly true. LSI doesn't compete at all with Fusion-io on a slot by slot level. And at root is the growing fragmentation within the PCIe SSD market itself.

I started to warn about this 2 years ago in an article - don't all PCIe SSDs look pretty much the same? And so the fragmentation within PCIe flash products due to the different roles these products can play within the enterprise - was an obvious place to start my conversation with Rob Callaghan as LSI already has 3 functionally distinct types of products within its Nytro PCIe flash card product line.

Having said that - there are another 3-4 classes of PCIe SSDs for which LSI doesn't have any products at all.

It's a no-brainer to expect that LSI will launch products to fill some of these other gaps too. But it's also clear to me that due to the LSI's preferences and its business comfort zones with controllers, leveraging its RAID and HDD legacy and the need to provide a simple SSD educational interface to channel partners - the company isn't capable or doesn't have the inclination to go after the same kind of high end dark matter user apps which other vendors like Fusion-io and Virident etc can reach - and even if LSI wanted to - they can't get there - because of differences in philosophy in the sizing of their SSD controllers and assumptions about the SSD software operating environment which are conditioned by fundamentally different beliefs about the co-existence of SSD and HDD in the future datacenter.

Anyway - back to my conversation with Rob Callaghan who had been talking to streams of editors etc about LSI's upcoming product announcement (June 24) about more new Nytro stuff. I learned 3 things.
  • the new thing - LSI's Nytro Elastic Cache. One part of flash can be configured as read cache while another part can be configured for write cache and for semi-permanent storage of often used data such as golden images of desktops in VDIs. As a reliability feature - the write cache and permanent data is mirrored on 2 separate regions of flash on the same card.

    I said - that could significantly reduce the amount of flash capacity you need on the card - while offering some of the reliability benefits of mirroring - because you don't need to mirror data which you can easily read again.

    Rob said - you're the first person I've spoken to who got that. (The people I speak to in these interviews know how to schmooze editors.)

    I said - there are so many ways of getting SSD efficiency - each time a company does something like this it means they can make money in the market at a price point where a competitor - using more flash to solve the same problem - is just bleeding their VCs.
  • the thing which LSI's PCIe SSDs don't do yet. I asked if LSI supports low latency automatic mirroring - clustering across multiple PCIe SSD cards - like some of the high-end products from other vendors do.

    Rob said no - they don't. It will come in future LSI products - and Rob hinted that the way they do it may use a different physical mechanism than the method I would have expected. (For me - the norm is PCIe chip level failover supported by PLX).
  • the thing I already thought I knew. The conversation confirmed to me my earlier assumptions about LSI's positioning in the PCIe SSD market - and limitations of their products. (For example LSI's Nytro WarpDrive doesn't have scalability symmetry.)

    Rob said the typical end user of this product would mostly have just a single LSI PCIe SSD card installed in a server. It would be rare for them to have 2. (Editor - So if you want an environment in which every slot can be a PCIe SSD - then you're looking at a different class of product, and different software and a different bunch of vendors.)
Editor's comments:- As I said above - my gut feel is that LSI will do well in the market with revenues from this generation of enterprise PCIe SSDs - in user systems which can be satisfied by fast-enough SSD acceleration in HDD heavy environments. But the company will have to change cars - rather than just switch lanes in the future with both its controller architecture and software base - if it wants to provide efficient solutions for SSD-centric datacenter installations. My guess is - if that does happen - the only viable route would be another significant SSD company acquisition - maybe in 2 years time.

For a company - like LSI - which has already demonstrated that it can successfully leverage a significant SSD IP acquisition - which it did with SandForce - at technical, marketing and business levels - that shouldn't present a fundamental problem. But until it happens you're going to see a lot of confusingly different but parallel courses being taken by vendors in this market - which aren't inter-compatible.

And that will lead to the paradoxical oddity that maybe 2 of the top 3 companies in the PCIe SSD market don't really compete with each other at all.

Stec to be acquired by WD (that's all about the enterprise) - but what will happen to Stec's military SSD business?

Editor:- June 24, 2013 - WD today announced it has agreed to buy Stec for approximately $340 million. Stec will be acquired by WD's subsidiary HGST - which is already active in the enterprise SSD market.

Editor's comments:- Stec is a company which knew how to design some types of enterprise SSDs - but didn't have the know-how and channels to sell them and adapt them better to market needs.

WD knows how to sell drives - but even with its HGST subsidiary - only has a weak SSD product line. So in that sense there's a good fit.

In the hard drive world WD has often talked in the past about the importance it attaches to business value and efficiency. And if you look at the price it paid for Stec - the valuation it has placed on Stec - with its ongoing business, people and brand was probably less than half of what Stec's controller IP (on its own) would have been worth a year ago.

My guess is - it's only because WD / HGST already has enough people with a good understanding of SSD IP that they can tolerate the high risk of acquiring Stec - and filtering out the good bits of technology while having the focus to discard dead-end products and pie in the sky thinking.

It's easy to see how enterprise users would benefit from this acquisition - but less clear is the future of Stec's military product lines. The acquisition related faqs document (pdf) doesn't mention Stec's non enterprise SSD products at all. It merely indicates that the status of all products will be reviewed in the period after the acquisition closes.

My guess is that any company acquiring Stec for its enterprise assets would probably divest the military SSD product lines. (This isn't a new idea. I first touted it in a much earlier round of speculation about Stec's future.) Another possibility is that the military business might be assisted to do a management buy-out.)

the decorators move in to RunCore's new SSD HQ

Editor:- June 24, 2013 - RunCore today announced it has completed the first phase of building its new headquarters and SSD manufacturing complex in Hunan province, China which by the end of this year will have the capacity to produce 1 million SSDs / month.
Building 1 of 5 in new RunCore SSD complex - June 2013

Micron reports SSD revenue

Editor:- June 19, 2013 - Micron today announced results for its 3rd quarter ended May 30. Among other things - its branded SSD revenue grew 11% sequentially in Q3 to $178 million.

Software is why more enterprise users are talking to SanDisk

Editor:- June 19, 2013 - SanDisk recently announced a new version - 3.2 - of its FlashSoft (SSD caching software) for Windows Server ($3,000), and Linux ($3,500).

New in this release is high availability support with low latency SSD mirroring for "safe write-back" caching. Improvements include:- larger cache sizes upto 2TB per cache and upto 8TB cache per server. Also the number of volumes supported by a single cache has increased from 255 to 2048.

Editor's comments:- I've reported before about my many past conversations with FlashSoft and my perceptions about the company from the days when they were one of the leading independent hot enterprise SSD software companies in the 3rd quarter of 2011 through to the first indications - about 6 months after the company had been acquired by SanDisk in February 2012 - that contrary to what I had expected from earlier acquisitions by SanDisk - there were signs that FlashSoft wasn't just going to provide another demonstration of Newton's law of the conservation of SSD momentum - translated to a marketing frame of reference - in which we should not be surprised to see what happens when a small enterprise SSD pellet fired at high velocity smacks into a huge consumer SSD cannonball at rest.

So when I spoke recently to Rich Petersen Director, Marketing Management at SanDisk - who had earlier been VP of Marketing at FlashSoft - I was quickly able to pick up the threads of these earlier conversations we'd had. And I got an illuminating update on the picture of how SanDisk is changing as a result of what it's still learning about the enterprise SSD market since having acquired FlashSoft.

I can't give you all the details here - because I covered 3 pages of notes during this ideas packed dialog - more than I have ever taken in any previous SSD company interview. Hearing about what has been happening in SanDisk and what they've been learning from their customers - and how they've been adapting those ideas to their SSD plans - I started getting that sense of easy familiarity I used to get when talking to some of the leading enterprise SSD companies.

It was a weird feeling. I had to keep reminding myself - this is SanDisk I'm talking to. And they don't have much to write home about in the way of enterprise SSDs. - But despite those handicaps they've been talking to - and learning from - all these enterprise users who wouldn't give them the time of day if it wasn't for this software.

So it looks like the Trojan Horse in SanDisk's enterprise SSD infiltration plan is built from 2 main planks.
  • The FlashSoft product provided the foundations of a very capable enterprise SSD software platform.

    And instead of frittering this acquisition away - as a tactical giveaway to merely sell a few branded SSDs faster (as some other SSD companies have done) SanDisk is using the FlashSoft product as a pivotal valued product in its own right. It's being sold - not given away. It has been getting continuing investment into its development and is playing a strategic part in seeding the enterprise grain into one of the world's leading flash memory technology companies.
  • FlashSoft supports leading 3rd party enterprise SSDs including products which are - or could be - competitors to SanDisk's own SSDs. (The business case for this was discussed in an earlier article.)

    I asked if SanDisk has a list of these products online. I was told - not yet - but it's coming soon.
The result is - many enterprise SSD users - who wouldn't dream of approaching SanDisk to use its raw SSDs in their enterprise projects - seem more than willing to use their enterprise SSD software and share their ideas about enterprise SSD problems and related experiences.

In a Eureka moment I said - "If I was being cynical I could say that acquiring FlashSoft is a brilliant and sneaky marketing way for SanDisk to be having these conversations and learning first hand from users the answers to - what do enterprise SSD users want? and how would enterprise users change what they do if they were offered different options? - instead of SanDisk wasting money on buying and analyzing dozens of SSD market analyst reports which at best - can only give a disconnected. partial and dated overview of what might be happening in the minds of enterprise users."

Here are some of the other new things I learned.
  • SanDisk eats its own dog food. Being acquired by a Fortune 500 Company gave FlashSoft an entree into many new applications within SanDisk itself. SanDisk has been using FlashSoft cached SSDs to enhance its own servers which are used in many critical parts of the business.
  • SanDisk wants the enterprise to be a bigger part of its SSD business. And while the company still has a very thin hardware enterprise SSD product line - it's been using the FlashSoft product - aligned to partnerships with other enterprise vendors such as NetApp, Dell and Virident etc to help build awareness of SanDisk in the enterprise SSD market.
  • SanDisk has learned that people often like the storage they've already got. And so while they can't easily justify ripping and replacing their SANs - the leveraging power of an SSD cache - which can deliver 3x as many VMs per host - makes a much easier SSD economics use case.
  • SanDisk says they've seen users re-evaluating and reviving once abandoned VDI projects based on the efficiencies and performance they can now see being promised by FlashSoft accelerated virtual desktops.
  • While the standard SSD workhorse of the FlashSoft environment will usually be PCIe SSDs or SAS SSDs - the ability of the product to concatenate separate devices of different types into a single logical volume coupled with the ability to assign different cache priorities to different SSDs means that users can also mix and match lower cost enterprise SATA SSDs into the mix.
  • Final quick notes... The FlashSoft caching engine is the same on all platforms. This release brings the Linux and Windows FlashSoft feature sets up to the same level. SSD capacity is dynamically allocated - which simplifies scalability. Writes to flash devices are disciplined by filters which reduce random write amplification - which - coupled with read caching has the beneficial spinoff that some SAN users can see upto 90% reduction in their SAN I/O traffic.
What's it all about? - Can SanDisk - a leading consumer semiconductor company - really transform itself into an enterprise SSD heavyweight? If you'd asked me that question 16 months ago - I would have said (and did say on these pages) an emphatic no!

When I learned that FlashSoft had been acquired by SanDisk I thought (and wrote here) - that would be the last we would hear of that particular enterprise SSD software company. I was wrong about that.

Can the tiny FlashSoft inject enough raw enterprise intelligence back into the giant which swallowed it - in a way which is both palatable and can change the way the giant thinks and behaves?

It looks like there's a lot of creative energy and resources going into that. And with the help of its business partners and customers there's a growing enterprise eco-system attaching itself to the SanDisk core.

You could say - all that's missing now is a full spectrum enterprise SSD product line. (And a track record.) But unlike other new companies who also want to get into the enterprise market - SanDisk doesn't have to rely on what the analysts say. They've now got their own unique window into the enterprise SSD user deep thought stack.

Samsung enters PCIe SSD market

Editor:- June 17, 2013 - Samsung has entered the PCIe SSD market with an M.2 form factor model (80mm x 22mm) aimed at notebooks. Samsung's XP941 - which weighs less than 6g - has a sequential read performance of 1,400MB/s, and capacity up to 512GB.

Editor's comments:- the SSD notebook market began the year before PCIe SSDs started being used in the enterprise.

But in the first 5 years of its history (2006-2010) the notebook SSD market was a disappointment to SSD evangelists like me - because integration with PCs was so bad. And for years on these pages I ranted that notebooks using SSDs would never be able to reach their true potential as long as they were still wasting their inherently light CPU resources and latency advantages by talking to the CPU via old fashioned hard disk interfaces like SATA.

The exciting thing about today's announcement by Samsung is that consumer grade PCIe SSDs for notebooks will enable a dramatically different user experience which will help to create new markets.

Will there be a crossover into the enterprise market?

It's inevitable that some people will ask - what would an array of consumer priced PCIe SSDs look like in a box? And no doubt you will probably see such products coming onto the market. And that might lead to a temporary state of user confusion about expectations for PCIe SSDs.

But setting aside for the moment the obvious considerations at the single drive level of differences in endurance and performance characteristics - I think the key differentiators of enterprise PCIe SSDs compared to consumer PCIe SSDs are the different degree of data integrity (higher for the enterprise), power fail management and support for fault tolerance.
Hmm... it looks like you're seriously interested in SSDs.

Take a look at these resources.

SSD market history

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About the publisher - 21 years guiding the enterprise market

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the Top SSD Companies
can you trust SSD market data?
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Ratios of SSD capacity - server vs SAN
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how long for hard drives in an SSD world?
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Adaptive R/W and DSP ECC in flash SSD IP
Efficiency - making the same SSD - with less chips
how will Memory Channel SSDs impact PCIe SSDs?
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Heck no! - whatever gave you that silly idea?
Can you trust SSD market data?
Who competes with this SSD company?
Editor:- June 20, 2013 - Almost the first question you'll ask yourself when you start getting seriously interested in any particular SSD company is - who are its strongest competitors?

If you're buying SSDs it helps you get the best products and the best prices.

If you're trying to understand what a company is doing or how it fits into your map of the SSD world then identifying the placeholder of "most similar to" is helpful.

And if your interest in an SSD company is because you're looking for channel partners or investment opportunities - then knowing the competition and seeing what they're doing tells you more about the upisde potential and limiting factors bounding your selected company.

Answering the questions:-

who makes this type of product?

closely followed by...

and who else does something similar?

- have been at the root and core of my work in the last 20 years or so. Luckily the products have changed - and so the answers have changed too. Otherwise it would get very boring.

Going back to the "who else does this stuff?" type questions for SSD...

As a 1st level filter - looking at the top level directories and news pages for topics like - SAS SSDs, PCIe SSDs, 2.5" SSDs, industrial SSDs etc can be a useful starting point.

But - as some of these markets themselves start to fragment into distinctly different segments - the problem for someone like me is deciding when is the right time to open up a new category.

Too soon - and not enough readers may care. But if the topic is important enough I'll do it anyway - which is what I did last year with adaptive R/W & DSP ECC flash IP.

Too late - and such a list gets populated with so many companies that the list itself becomes almost useless.

For that reason - you'll often see a note in the profile pages of each SSD company on this site which says something about where you can look to find alternative competitors.

And when the comparisons become interesting - because they reveal different technology or market approaches - then this is discussed either in a technology article, or a news story depending on when the difference became clear.

In the enterprise PCIe SSD market - for example - it can take a lot of research to answer the question of who really competes with whom? Partly because things are changing so much and partly because the definition of what is really a true alternative is relativistic and depends on where you're starting from - not just on the raw technical specs and price of the SSD.

The more significant the company - especially if they're in the Top SSD Companies List - the more likely you are to find a recent analysis about what they're doing and who they compete with.

My assessments may not always agree with yours. And even my assessments have been known to change with time - as companies change what they're doing or if I learn something new about them.

Try it yourself and see if you find it useful.

And those other links - which appear in most of these company profile pages - which are called "editor mentions on" - do a simple site search on the company name - can also lead you to closely related analysis from archived news stories too.

Recently in the - who competes with who category - I've updated my profile for Virident.

Although there are over 40 companies in the enterprise PCIe SSD market - there are only maybe 4 to 6 which make sense to look at if you're interested in this high-end level.

I referred to this example earlier today for a reader who I know is really more interested in Micron.

The Virident "competes with" list isn't the same list as I would have created for Micron - but at the PCIe SSD product line intersection there is a common set of competitor overlap. So that's the best I can offer today.

On this web site - you'll find a lot of valuable information below the "fold" as marketers like to put it. (The fold is the top part of the web page which you can see before you start scrolling.)

When you're interested in a subject like SSDs - as I've learned from readers who've told me they spend nearly as much time on the site as I do - the important thing is the quality of the information and the usefulness of the concepts - rather than the exact choice of typeface.

And it's unrealistic and futile to imagine that complex products like SSDs can be described in a single sentence or parameter. There's a lot more to it than that.

But knowing who the competitors are - is a useful shortcut in understanding any company.
headlines from earlier SSD news
May Fusion-io's CEO and CMO both resign

Micron samples new hot-swappable 2.5" PCIe SSDs

LSI is #2 in PCIe SSD shipments in US
April Diablo names SMART as flash partner for memory channel SSDs

Fusion-io and Astute Networks make (different) moves to make solid state cheaper in the iSCSI storage market
March Violin entered the PCIe SSD market

InnoDisk's iSLCT technology repurposes MLC cells to SLC
February remote PCIe SSD data sharing / caching introduced separately by Virident and Intel
January Skyera entered the top 5 SSD companies list

Seagate turns to Virident for big SSD controller architecture
December Samsung acquired NVELO

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