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SSD market news - November 2013

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end of the line for OCZ's investors

Editor:- November 29, 2013 - Just before the holiday OCZ announced its working credit lines had been terminated - forcing the company to file for bankrupty.

OCZ also said it has received an offer from Toshiba to acquire substantially all of its assets in a bankruptcy proceeding provided various conditions are satisfied - which preserve the value of OCZ's business including the retention of employees.

Editor's comments:- whether it ends up being Toshiba - or another company - which gets the value and benefits of leveraging OCZ's SSD assets will depend on the outcome of legally controlled auction processes.

2 weeks ago I spoke to OCZ's CEO - Ralph Schmitt, and OCZ's CMO - Alex Mei and was able to confirm some key assumptions and guesses about OCZ's technology and the demographics of their enterprise customers. For details see the article on the right.

Under new ownership some of these developments - if properly resourced and leveraged - could have a bigger market impact than would have been possible within the constraints of OCZ's financial straightjacket.

See also:- PCIe SSDs, SSD software, VCs and SSDs

what are others saying?

Jim Handy, Objective Analysis - "If the Toshiba acquisition proceeds.... Toshiba has not had as strong of a presence in the SSD market as the company would like, and OCZ would give it strong technology and a respected name in the retail market. Meanwhile, Toshiba would give OCZ something that the fledgling firm has so far been unable to attain: a steady source of NAND supply at competitive prices. (OCZ has had a difficult history of having to pay price premiums during NAND shortages owing the company's consistently-poor credit ratings.) For both OCZ and Toshiba the synergies of a takeover are good. If the deal falls together Toshiba may become a real powerhouse in the SSD business."


SSD reliability is tools deep

Editor:- November 26, 2013 - Although we often talk about SSD controllers and flash memory chips as being "hardware" - none of these devices would exist if it weren't for a rich software ecosystem of design automation and verfification tools which have evolved to enable semiconductor system design in the past 30 years or so.

So the reliability of SSDs depends not just on the interplay of physics, architecture, electronic factors and firmware - but just as importantly - reliability or more accurately the dependability and determinability of any SSD design begins with the verification and integration of all the design abstractions - in software.

A salutary reminder of the importance of this came today in an announcement from Hyperstone about its use of such tools from Synopsys in its design process for controllers aimed at the industrial and medical markets.

"Our new S8 SD 3.0 and eMMC 4.4 industrial flash memory card controller is designed to deliver the highest level of reliability and data retention when using innovative sub-20nm MLC flash technologies" said Axel Mehnert, VP of Marketing at Hyperstone. "Our mission is enabling future NAND flash and advanced technologies to be fit for use, especially within industrial, ruggedized applications. This requires the robust verification and analysis provided to us uniquely by Synopsys' VCS functional verification solution. No other technology had the capacity, performance, advanced verification features and reliability to verify such complex designs."

Editor's comments:- in reality it's never as simple as - we used these tools - turned the handles - and the design popped out. May work for simple devices like CPUs or DRAM - but not for real complicated stuff like SSDs. Imagination, true grit, magic spells and serendipity are essential elements in SSD alchemy too.


Violin's 1st quarterly report

Editor:- November 25, 2013 - Now that Violin is a public company - it has to publiicly report revenue etc - and in its first such report for the quarter ended October 31 - revenue was $28 million - which the company says was 37% more than a year ago.

"Enterprise data center storage is in the early stages of a major transformation to an Enterprise Memory based infrastructure, and Violin is at the forefront of accelerating this transformation," said Don Basile, CEO of Violin Memory.

Editor's comments:- one of the self-awareness repositioning adjustments which Violin has still yet to make - is that compared to the time when the company entered the SSD market 6 years ago - when there were only 59 companies in the whole SSD market - and only 2 of the top 10 companies at that time (including Violin) were marketing rackmount SSDs - we're now in a market where the number of SSD companies is 10x bigger. I could easily give you a list of over 100 vendors today which market rackmount SSDs or hybrids and - in the most recent quarter - 7 of the top 10 SSD companies were marketing rackmount SSDs within their product line.

All of which means - there is a much bigger market which Violin could get - if it were not for the pesky inconvenience of all those other competitors.

So - when the company says that the enterprise market is still at the "early stages" of adopting SSD systems - in one way I'd agree with that - insofar as the upside potential for this whole market in revenue is more than 10x more than it is today - but on the other hand - while Violin has got good brand recognition and has established a track record in some segments of the enterprise SSD market - for example in high availability and fast SSDs - I don't rate it as a strong runner in the race for some of the new technology developments which are emerging in the rackmount market.

Nevertheless - the segments in which Violin is already arguably a leader - are big enough.

I often say to CEOs in enterprise SSD companies that an important business strategy for surviving to play in the bigger SSD market of the future - is to get better at what they do now - and to focus on just one or two strategic product types which they can execute well and be the #1 or #2 - rather than making the mistake of enlarging their product lines - and being an "also compete" company which is never quite good enough to get the business - because it operates in too many diverse application segments in which it can't possibly be the best solution.

what are others saying about VMEM?


NetApp has shipped 59PB of SSDs in past 3 years

Editor:- November 19, 2013 - Among other things - Network Appliance today disclosed it has has shipped over 59 petabytes of flash storage in the past 3 years.

Editor's comments:- What NetApp actually said was "over 60PB to date".

My calculation goes like this...

The company shipped 1PB in its first year in the SSD market - which ended in the 3rd quarter of 2010.

So it's shipped approximately 60PB in 3 years. Probably more than 1/2 of that will have been in the past year.

How does that compare with others?

It doesn't sound like a lot in the context of today's market.

According to a (quirkily pro-HDD) blog by Toshiba - the analyst data which they have aggregated projects that 8,000 PB of enterprise flash SSDs will ship in 2014.

I think the likely figure (PB of enterprise flash installed in systems) will be much higher than even that - because Toshiba's data probably doesn't take adequately into account the ability of some systems vendors to ship enterprise grade SSD racks using consumer grade flash chips (rather than using enterprise SSD drives) due to technologies like adaptive R/W - and the increasing appetite for enterprise SSDs. See also:- petabyte SSD shipment milestones.


SSD companies named in Fast 500 list

Editor:- November 19, 2013 - I found 2 SSD companies in the Technology Fast 500 List (pdf) published today by Deloitte LLP.

#4 - Fusion-io - 832x growth

#445 - OCZ - 1.6x growth

The ranking is based on revenue growth in the period from from 2008 to 2012 - for companies above a threshold level and which satisfy some other criteria. More info about the list here (pdf)

Editor's comments:- I read through the list fast - so if I missed an SSD company let me know. 2013 - wasn't such a good year for revenue growth for the companies named above - so it's unlikely they would do so well in next year's edition.


LSI integrates "SSD market on a chip"

Editor:- November 18, 2013 - LSI today launched its 3rd generation SandForce SSD controller family - the SF3700 which - based around a single chip design - spans a wide spectrum of SSD market applications (from consumer to enterprise) - includes native jumper-selectable SATA or gen 2 PCIe interfaces - and incorporates adaptive R/W DSP ECC management.

Editor's comments:- The SF3700 (now sampling) is the most ambitious design of a single chip SSD controller in SSD market history.

Its 14 core design integrates many impressive design and architectural features including:-
  • the ability to efficiently configure as either a small architecture or big architecture SSD controller.

    The SF3700 design can be configured with as little as 3 flash chips in entry level consumer SSDs - or as many as 129 chips when maximally configured in a 9 channel enterprise design which can recover from the complete failure of a memory chip as well as partial failures in other memory chips in the array.
  • dynamically adjusted power islands within the chip - enable a single silicon design to support both the low requirements of deep sleep mode in SATA notebooks as well as the performance requirements of entry level PCIe SSDs.
I recently spoke to Kent Smith at LSI about this new product.

Our conversations about SandForce SSD controllers go back more than 4 years - so we skipped a lot of stuff.

One of the first things I said to Kent - was - I've been nagging you for years and asking - when are you going to do a native PCIe SSD controller?- and for nearly 2 years it's been clear that another big hole in LSI's SSD IP bag has been adaptive R/W - and now you've finally done both at the same time in a single product.

I was also really impressed by the quality of LSI's briefing document on the LSI SandForce SF3700 (pdf) - which explains just about everything you need to know. So I asked Kent - why does he need to waste time talking to editor's like me? - why doesn't LSI just publish the document on the web and let it speak for itself?

I said a lot of publications will simply copy some of your pictures without attribution - and I think readers would find it valuable seeing them too - but I think it would be fairer to the work you've done if I could just make the whole document available - so there was no doubt who had done the hard work of communicating what the design was all about.

He agreed to that - and you can click on the link above to see the original info which I got from LSI.

Some other things I learned from this conversations were:-
  • The SF3700 is a completely new design. - It leverages all the flash related design concepts related to endurance and array level fault management which have been proven in earlier designs and extends them too.

    For example RAISE has been enhanced so that for high-end configurations it can protect against a full memory chip failure as well as multiple block faults - whereas entry level SSDs which need some RAID like features but can't afford an extra memory chip can use fractional RAISE.
  • One of the reference designs which LSI offers for this controller is for an M.2 form factor - which is goiing to be the game changing SSD for the consumer market next year. The card design is the same whether the SSD is being used as a SATA or PCIe SSD. A single jumper sets the configuration at assembly time.

    LSI's 2.5" reference design will also make it easier for oems to produce products for enterprise arrays in the 2.5" PCIe SSD market.
Overall I think the SF3700 is a very ambitious and outstanding SSD controller design - which will elevate LSI's reputation within the SSD industry.

For the past year or so I had been wondering if the glory days of LSI's SSD controller technology lay mostly in the past. But I can now understand why it took them so long to integrate this new design - which is almost at the integration level of "SSD market in a chip".

A design which integrates so many architectural features which are optimized for so many markets wouldn't have been feasible for a small SSD start up.

Below you can see one of the many pictures I spoke about in LSI's paper. If you click on it you'll see the whole thing.
briefing doc on new SF controller
PS - I almost forgot to mention one funny marketing thing I learned.

Kent told me that they used to call the SandForce products "SSD processors" but then found that didn't show up too well in web searches - because people were looking for "SSD controllers" instead. So LSI has changed its parlance and is now calling them "SSD controllers" too.

As I said above - Kent draws some great pictures which illustrate the functional blocks within SSDs. He also writes a lot of SSD blogs too. So I was relieved to hear that he gets paid on an SSD marketer's pay grade rather than that of a writer. That means SSD editors and bloggers don't need to worry that he'll be tempted to come and replace us.


Everspin's MRAM caches Buffalo's industrial SSD

Editor:- November 18, 2013 - 18 months ago it was reported that Buffalo Technology was designing MRAM as the cache in a "soon to be shipping" new SATA 3 SSD aimed at the industrial market. Bringing that up to date - the identity of the MRAM supplier is now known to be Everspin Technologies - which today said more about this application.

""As an early adopter of ST-MRAM, Buffalo Memory is taking a bold step to continue as an innovator in the SSD market," said Phil LoPresti, president and CEO of Everspin. "Spin-Torque MRAM technology will give Buffalo Memory a strong differentiator in the market for high-performance industrial SSDs."

Editor's comments:- Everspin's 64Mb DDR3 ST-MRAM (pdf) obviates the need for supercaps in sudden power fail situations while providing very fast write latency (compared to flash). Other past applications for these chips include flight recorders and write logs in RAID systems.

Although skinny flash SSD controllers can also solve some of the same problems - and also don't need supercaps - they do need more complex data management within the controllers to work dependably.


Phison controller inside Chromebook

Editor:- November 14, 2013 - Phison Electronics today announced that its PS3109 controller is being used in an SSD inside the C720 Chromebook launched recently by Acer.


Maxta joins the elite set of enterprise contenders who are vying to own the next generation SSD-centric platform

Editor:- November 13, 2013 - This week Maxta completed its staged emergence from stealth mode and launched its first product - the Maxta Storage Platform - a hypervisor-agnostic software platform for repurposing arrays of standard servers (populated with cheap standard SATA SSDs and hard drives) into scalable enterprise class apps servers in which the global CPU and storage assets become available as an easily managed meta resource with optimized performance, cost and resilience.

Editor's comments:- I spoke last week to Yoram Novick about this new product, his company and what customers have been doing with it.

Before you dip into my bullet points below - here's a header note of orientation.

We've all seen new companies launching SSD software and pitching for the enterprise with products which are little more than spruced up versions of "hello SSD world!"

Then a year later - some essential compatibility features get added, and later still some degree of better or worse high availability.

It didn't used to matter much if everything wasn't in place at the start - or if these new companies didn't have sustainable business plans - because there was an appetite for acquiring them.

From my perspective I'd say that many companies have regarded the launch of their SSD software is simply an invitation to attract users who could provide the market knowledge they needed to flesh out the feature set.

In these important respects Maxta is different because:- prior to this week's product launch they've already had a group of 10 or so advanced customers in different industries who have been using the product and also the enterprise features - like manage-ability, scalability, resilience and data integrity are already in the product today.

Maxta's technology and business architects have done enterprise storage software before - as you can see from their linkedin bios. Yoram told me that he and Amar Rao (Maxta's VP of Business Development ) used to compete with each other in earlier storage startups and the companies which had acquired them.

So it soon became clear to me in the details I saw and asked about (not all of which are listed here) that a lot of careful planning and up front thinking and problem solving has already guided the "launch".

Here's some of what I learned.
  • market scope

    MxSP is the software glue for enabling easily managed SSD enhanced storage pools in VM environments which scale from the ROBO upto cloud infrastructure.

    The base level configuration which provides HA features starts as low as 3 nodes. This is attractive for enterprises with remote offices because it's a small footprint. But it's also attractive from a running cost point of view too - Yoram said because of the special low price point for associated software.

    Maxta has a customer who started with these 3 node configurations for remote offices but liked them so much that their bigger arrays are now built mostly from arrays of 3 too.
  • the problem it solves

    The evolution of enterprise CPU and storage resources have followed different tracks in the past decade - leaving users in the position today where it's easy and economic to deploy more CPUs but relatively awkward, expensive or error prone to map these CPU resources into virtual storage which scales with the same ease and which takes advantage of the low cost and high performance of commodity enterprise SSDs.
  • the storage pool

    Maxta's architecture aggregates the SSDs and HDDs in the server pool into a single globally accessible, fault tolerant SSD accelerated virtual storage pool.

    Within Maxta's software - all the SSDs are collected together as 1 super SSD resource and another big resource is created from the HDDs.

    Internally Maxta's software knows that SATA SSDs and SATA HDDs have different personalities for example:-

    • HDDs have low cost per unit of capacity but slow random read latency
    • SSDs have fast random read, and fast sequential write

    Not every node in the array has to have an SSD or HDD inside but it's not sensible to have a system which doesn't have any SSDs at all.
  • fault tolerance, data integrity, VM snapshots, cloning etc

    Yes they're all in the product now.
  • software? - it's a virtual world view

    Everything about MxSP is virtual. And it doesn't require new management tools. The operational aspects will clarify in customer case studies and white papers.
  • Maxta's business plan

    I told Yoram how disillusioned I had become about the sustainability and viability of new storage software companies - given my experience of having tracked over 1,000 storage companies and terminating the list of gone-away and acquired companies in a single decade at the 500 company level. (That's before I started the gone-away SSD companies list BTW - which is well on its way to 100.)

    Jaundiced by that experience it seems to me that over 95% of storage software startups don't have much of a clue about how to translate their IP assets into any sustainable business value and are mostly founded at the outset with the fervent desire that before the VC and IPO money run out - they will get acquired. So I asked him if Maxta would be any different to that?

    Yoram told me some of what Maxta has been doing in laying the foundations for growing the business to become a significant storage platform (in his words) a significant software company like Microsoft or Veritas.

    I won't say more here because this is too long already - despite having not even mentioned most of the notes I made during our conversation.

    Looking back on this nearly a week later (and having seen some of their documents before) I'm left with the impression that maybe indeed Yoram is right and his company could become not only one of the rare storage software companies which are sustainable as a business. But going further than that - maybe too it has the makings of a company which could be one of the five to ten companies which will dominate the SSD software platform market of the future.

    Who are the other contenders?

    I've given you lists before - but this list is evolving because 4 of the 10 companies were still in stealth mode last time I did that.

    If you're interested in the SSD enhanced storage platform idea (and who wouldn't be) then another good place to look is the list of competitors which I've compiled in Maxta's profile page.



Rick and Dave's new stealth mode enterprise SSD company - Primary Data - gets $50 million initial funding

Editor:- November 11, 2013 - you may be asking yourself - how does a company founded less than 6 months ago - and which doesn't say anything much on its web site - manage to attract $50 million in its first external funding round?

The answer is given by one of these investors, Ping Li at Accel Partners - who - in the recent funding press release - said "Primary Data's biggest asset is its team of recognized pioneers in the storage industry. Their technical strength and remarkable experience in successfully bringing disruptive technologies to market will help to solve a number of data virtualization and mobility problems."
  • who's Primary Data? - Primary Data, founded in 2013 and with operations in Salt Lake City, Silicon Valley and Israel - says it is "developing next generation data virtualization and mobility technologies to manage how information is stored and shared globally."
  • what are they up to? - (best guess) SSD software which will change the economics of cloud servers and storage by disruptively improving the utilization efficiency and performance of virtualized apps servers.
Editor's comments:- now if you've been researching this - you'll see that I haven't actually told you any new details about Primary Data which you couldn't already have learned from seeing the public statements which the company has dispersed in various places on the web.

One of the peculiarities about stealth mode companies is they do need to talk to people to get things done - but they also need to control the flow of information about what they reveal for various reasons - not least of which are:-
  • they don't want to alert competitors
  • they might change the details and direction of what they do
Last week I was talking to the founder of yet another stealth mode SSD company* - whose web site says a little bit more than that of Primary Data - but I can't say who he is yet either.

I can tell you what he told me, however, which is this...

He had to launch his minimalist web site some time before he would have ideally liked to - because some of his early customers have policies which mean they can't make payments to a company which doesn't have a web site.

Going back to Primary Data - I can tell you this.

I confidently predict that when Primary Data does formally exit stealth mode and launch its new products - it will join an elite band of SSD companies (Fusion-io, SandForce, DensBits and Skyera) in entering the Top SSD Companies List within a single quarter. (If not before).

* - later note added - November 12 (Tuesday) - I can now tell you this other conversation (about the web site thing) was with Yoram Novick, founder of Maxta - which is coming out of stealth mode today. There will be much more about this soon.


memory channel SSD vs PCIe SSD write latency - 3rd party benchmarks

Editor:- November 7, 2013 - Although it's possible to make estimates of how a new type of SSD interface will perform compared to what already exists - the interplay of applications software, systems software and a new controller design - means that initial assumptions can easily be out by a factor of x2.

And even if you have accurately guessed what the weak points and the strong points are in the product's performance symmetries - it's only when you start to see benchmark results that you can have more confidence in your models of what's happening inside.

So if you've been wondering how Diablo's memory channel storage compares with PCIe SSDs - click here to a new whitepaper (pdf) which includes some useful data. The application isn't important but it's the first public glimpse which goes usefully beyond the graphs shown in the product launch documents.

The highlight for me is - a mean write latency of about 30µS for MCS compared to about 100µS for PCIe SSD- at a particular R/W ratio which may of course look nothing like your own setups.
latency MCS vs PCIe SSD - click to read more
When you stop and think about it - we might see just as large a difference between different models of PCIe SSDs - and as we don't know the identity of the mysterious "PCIe SSD" in this paper - and as we've only got a very limited view of the comparison - you might say this whole paper is null data.

On the other hand - being able to show that in one situation an MCS SSD can be 3x faster than a hypothetical PCIe SSD - suggests that the new MCS SSDs aren't slouches either.

My best guess back in April 2013 was that there would be no material performance difference between an MCS SSD and a best of breed PCIe SSD - when working with best of breed VM optimized software APIs.

I think the differences between memory channel and PCIe for server SSDs shouldn't be seen simply as performance differences (which may indeed not be that significant) but as different integration approaches which offer a different set of branching out directions depending on the software environment and the high availability framework. The 2 types can even work together in the same server in different roles.


InnoDisk's new FlexiArray

Editor:- November 6, 2013 - Until today - if anyone had asked me - what do you think about InnoDisk? - I'd have said - they're an industrial SSD company which has done some noteworthy permutations on MLC flash care and adaptive controller IP.

I was surprised therefore to learn that they've got aspirations in the rackmount SSD market too. Or that's what they think they're doing. The company will demonstrate its FlexiArray 1U and 2U racks later this month at the SuperComputing 2013 conference.

Editor's comments:- Personally I suspect this may be one of those embarrassing marketing episodes when a company which knows a lot about one technology - mistakenly believes this is enough to make it a significant participant in another market - which it really doesn't understand at all well.

You may think differently - but InnoDisk's 1U SSD boxes sound underwhelming to me - and appear to bear a closer resemblance to some naiive products I saw being offered in 2006 - rather than the much more cunningly engineered rackmounts of today.

It's always possible I'm wrong and that their SSD software is more capable than it seems in their online documents.

Component makers yearn to get into the rackmount SSD business - because that's where the real money is. But it's a very sophisticated market and you need more than just a bunch of 2.5" drives in a box and some firmware to impress anyone that you're serious.

...Later:- - It turns out I was wrong about this product.

In 2014 - I learned why this apparently bland system is ideal for some types of customers - and I also learned that the firmware inside owes more to modern controller thinking.

See:- Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs


EMC really doesn't like Pure Storage

Editor:- November 6, 2013 - EMC is suing Pure Storage.

There's a good report on this in AllThingsD.com.

EMC's premise is that it can't understand how Pure could have been so successful in picking up EMC customers in any other way than by leveraging the detailed knowledge which former EMCers brought to Pure when they were recruited.

Pure's CEO - Scott Dietzen - tells the world what he thinks about EMC's move in a blog in which he says - "While I have no insight that would allow me to comment on EMC's motivation, I would say in general more mature companies risk forgetting the golden rule - they are happy to recruit great people to join their companies from competitors (indeed they aggressively solicit such hires), but then resort to onerous non-compete agreements and lawsuits to deter the same employees from exercising their freedom to seek employment elsewhere..."

Editor's comments:- I was talking to the founder of another enterprise SSD company earlier this year about something different - but as a part of that conversation he told me about how upset companies like EMC, HP etc really are about what they regard as SSD upstarts causing them huge business pain.

I can't remember the exact ratio he used - but the gist was that from the big incumbants' point of view - whenever they see an upstart SSD company get one million dollars of business say - that effectively loses the big company maybe five to ten million dollars of business which they believe they would have got if these SSD companies didn't exist.

For most of us - that big company viewpoint is ridiculous.

Because in the same way that any rational customer in the late 1980s was going to buy a PC instead of a minicomputer to do their wordprocessing, or in the early 1990s - a Unix based server from Sun etc to do their departmental database and email instead of a mainframe from DEC or IBM.... customers today know they can save tons of money and do more stuff by switching to new SSD companies for their server and storage needs.

The main thing slowing them down switching over to the SSD highway is the bewildering array of SSD route maps on offer. (Not all of which have pavement and gas stops.)

Knowing these self evident truths about technology transitions doesn't stop the pain for the big companies like EMC who feel like they have been coerced into playing a game - which they don't like or understand.

This legal move by EMC reminds me of another pivotal moment in SSD history - in April 2008 - Seagate fights SSD Market Challenge - with lawyers - instead of engineers - when Seagate hoped to crush STEC using the same tactics which had worked before with several inconvenient hard drive startups. That didn't work for Seagate in 2008. It couldn't wish the SATA SSDs away.

In 2014 - the rackmount SSDs and PCIe SSDs aren't going to disappear either.

You could argue that if EMC's proprietary knowledge of what do enterprise SSD users want? was such a valuable business asset - how is it that EMC itself didn't do a better job in the SSD market while the talent was still on the payroll?

Is LinkedIn going to be the next target for the SSD lawyers? - After all - that's where you can advertise what you know.

Or how about the storage conferences and trade shows? Are the stars from EMC going to be forced to present their papers anonymously - so they can't be grabbed by competitors?

One the other hand - if it wasn't for the lawyers - we wouldn't have all those great books to read by John Grisham. I'm currently rereading - A Time to Kill.


Coho Data gets $25 million for 2U SSD ASAPs

Editor:- November 5, 2013 - Coho Data (which recently emerged from stealth mode and operates within the hybrid systems - SSD ASAPs market with a cloud market focus) - today announced it has got $25 million in Series B funding - led by new investor, Ignition Partners, and also including existing investor, Andreessen Horowitz.

The funds will accelerate Coho Data's R&D and go-to-market efforts as the company prepares for general availability of its Coho DataStream system later this year.

Editor's comments:- What I like about Coho Data is the clarity about what it offers:- "Build your own high-performance Amazon-style storage for all your data."

What I'm less gung ho about, however, is the apparent efficiency.

For example - one of the "difference" features which Coho talks about on its website is the easy way that users can scale to multi-petabyte installations - using its 2U building blocks which have Intel PCIe SSDs inside and some hard drives.

The example shown on this Coho page says you can build a 190TB hybrid apps server which does 900K IOPS in 11U of rackspace for $530k list. That may sound good compared to museum grade alternatives - but Coho's solution takes 2x to 3x the rackspace of leading pure SSD HA based systems to do the same thing.

Now - size isn't everything. And neither is scalability. And for many users the ease of managing incremental growth might be compelling reasons to look at this type of product. But most of you pay more per square foot for your floor space than Amazon - so an "Amazon style" product proposition may not be the best for you.


new blog by PernixData describes the intermediate states of play for its HA clustered write acceleration SSD cache - from fault discovery to recovery

Editor:- November 5, 2013 - In a clustered, SSD ASAP VM environment which supports both read and write acceleration it's essential to know the detailed policies of any products you're considering - to see if the consequences - on data vulnerability and performance comply with strategies which are acceptable for your own intended uses.

In a new blog - Fault Tolerant Write Acceleration by Frank Denneman Technology Evangelist at PernixData describes in a rarely seen level of detail the various states which his company's FVP goes through when it recognizes that a fault has occured in either server or flash. And the blog describes the temporary consequences - such as loss of acceleration - which occur until replacement hardware is pulled in and configured automatically by the system software.

Stating the design principles of this product - Frank Denneman says - "Data loss needs to be avoided at all times, therefore the FVP platform is designed from the ground up to provide data consistency and availability. By replicating write data to neighboring flash devices data loss caused by host or component failure is prevented. Due to the clustered nature of the platform FVP is capable to keep the state between the write data on the source and replica hosts consistent and reduce the required space to a minimum without taxing the network connection too much." ...read the article

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So - you think you already know this leading SSD company? (OCZ)

What can I say to change your mind?
Editor:- November 21, 2013 - You'd think that in this age of SSD rumors, tweets and superbloggers - and particularly given the nature of the SSD market itself being - as it is - so intimately bound up with the sub-atomic technologies of disseminating information quickly around the far corners of the internet - like some kind of higs-boson data-quark on steroids - gathering in the distant CPU server clan atoms while concurrently pre-accelerating their local impact by collapsing space-time - that it would be remarkable indeed not to know everything it's important to know about the recent achievements of a leading SSD company - which has already been stared and glared at publicly for longer than seems decent or comfortable - and which is rarely out of the news - even when the company itself is trying to have a rest day in the SSD PR factory.

You could say - more than enough has been written about this company already. And it's almost certain you've engaged with them in some way - or thought about them. You've got your views safely tucked away in the mental box which holds a small bunch of SSD companies whose names you can remember - and about which you can recall some interesting stories - without having to look at a web page.

If anyone were to ask you - what do you think this company might be doing next year? - compared to where the company thought it was heading a few years ago - you'd probably say - it's like one of those high flying rockets where the engine misfired or the wrong numbers were typed into the navigation system. We're seeing a lot of those in the SSD market. - And maybe one day one of those rumor vapors which have been misting around the company for the past few years might come true. But you don't think they are the force they used to be - and while their products retain a firm foothold in the market - you see that more as a consolidation of what they did before - rather than as a springboard to new greatness.

Like you - I have those attitudes too about a lot of SSD companies.

Unlike you - I'm observing more companies - so the number of seconds or minutes (each year) that I can devote to thinking about any individual company (easily calculable) - is pretty small. Which means that whenever I reach a decision about how to compartmentalise any particular company - I do it fast. It's done.

Working on web time I don't have any realistic alternative to that - "decide in haste" thing but I neither do I hanker after "repenting at leisure" either - so to be on one the safe side - I also periodically revisit my firmest held assumptions from time to time to see if they're still valid.

You can see lots of examples of this revisonism if you trawl down my past comments about any SSD company which has been in the market for more than a couple of years.

If they change what they do - I change my views. And the landscape of the SSD market is changing all the time too. So sometimes the strategy which was right for a company in one year is the wrong thing to do in another. You get the general idea - and I'm sure it works the same for many of you too.

Now I know that some of you - SSD leaders, analysts, investors, users and even SSD bloggers - often spend much more time thinking about a single SSD company or small number of companies than I could ever do.

When we talk - as we sometimes do - you often know a staggering amount of pinpoint pixel level detail. I'm more into seeing an impressionistic wider picture.

You see a new product.

I see a bunch of decisions predetermined by architecture and location (time and place) in the market.

You see this quarter's revenue, cash-flow, operating expenses and analyst conference call.

I see this as just one of many raindrops which will one day form an SSD ocean.

Despite those differences - our conversations Dear Reader often end something like this.

You update your model. I update mine. We all think we see a little clearer than we did before.

So how can I get you to change your mind about a company about which you already have very clear and set views?

Time for me to get to the point.

Like many of you - I've been interested in seeing how OCZ has been doing under the stewardship of the crash response team under the leadership of Ralph Schmitt - who became the company's CEO in October 2012 and who - almost exactly a year ago - was reported to have said - "we've got the train back on the track".

In hindsight that derailment analogy - which referred to OCZ's predicament in the first half of 2012 was apt - because even though the train can still be been seen chugging along at a more cautious speed in about the same direction - if you turn around and look back from whence it came - you can see a lot of parts have been left strewn by the wayside - and it's only recently that the train regulator has felt confident enough to stick back on the front of the engine a new clean shiny badge of safety conformance.
SSDmouse switching tracks on the railway line
On the surface - a few weeks ago - it sure looked like everything that one needed to know about OCZ was already being reported on and being said. But I felt uneasy.

I had seen several clues that the company had been doing much more than simply fire-fighting and fixing a derailment - and if this had been any other SSD company then either they (or analysts like me) would have been talking much more about some of these matters. But those other aspects were either hidden behind the smoke of the clearup operation or not deemed important enough by the company to talk about - as their likely consequences would be more quarters in a future which was already fogged by rumor and speculation.

So I thought it would be a good time to either confirm or clarify what was happening at OCZ in a number of strategic areas. And the only way I could do that would be to have a chat with Ralph Schmit. So I put in a request - and the answer came back almost immediately that he looked forward to having a chat with me too.

So this is a summary of some of the things I talked about last week (November 14, 2013) with Ralph Schmitt CEO and Alex Mei CMO at OCZ.

As I hadn't spoken to Ralph or Alex before I thought I'd start by saying that I wasn't interested in asking them to comment about any of the acquisition rumors which have been circling around their company. I mentioned another recent rumor - related to another SSD company - which was ridiculous for anyone who knew the specifics of the 2 named companies. I told Ralph I think these speculations are often started by people who have vested positions in one of the company's shares.

I also know that what I write can have an influence. So people try to influence me. Apart from the obvious lobbying for attention - I told him there was an unusual situation last month when someone apparently generated some false SSD reader traffic which to my eyes looked like a possible attempt to emulate the kind of activity seen prior to an acquisition. I told the company concerned and I didn't write about it publicly at the time. So if that was the aim - it was thwarted. If I had been tricked into writing about it I would have passed the details on to the authorities.

That kind of acquisition fever goes another way too. I told Ralph I had been talking to a military SSD company recently whose name I didn't divulge due to a news embargo at the time - and I told the marketing conatct at this military SSD company how hard it was to get any details about their SSD controller architecture - especially as it played such an important part in almost every new product story which they were trying to get people like me to write about. I said to that company - I infer from that your company doesn't have any imminent plans to get acquired, seek massive VC investments or do an IPO otherwise those controller details would be all over your website. (This lack of any need for such funding - because they are profitable anyway - was confirmed by the mil company - although I would have been happier just to have gotten the technical data I had been asking for.)

Ralph knew what I was talking about. And most of you too have seen the kind of activity in private companies where they splatter their SSD IP all over YouTube as if to say - I've got a great controller - so please buy my company.

As we had already touched on the topics of acqusitions and controllers I asked Ralph - what did OCZ really think when LSI said it was acquiring SandForce? (October 2011) Wasn't it a shock having one of your strategic suppliers suddenly turn into a competitor?

Ralph said that OCZ had already considered the possibility that SandForce would get acquired - and had even looked into possibly acquiring it. But OCZ thought the price was too high - for it to have worked out for them.

That got us onto the subject of OCZ's barefoot controller - which evolved from OCZ's acquisiton of Indilinx in 2011.

I said - I've heard from other sources (readers) that this controller does incorporate adaptive R/W technology - and that's how I listed it - when I published my list of the 10 companies in the market back in the 1st half of 2012. Any other company which had this type of technology would be saying much more about it - as it's been such a strategically important technology. But I hadn't seen any original design architecture details from OCZ itself - and I couldn't find anything about this parameter on OCZ's web site.

Alex confirmed - yes the current controller - which is aimed at the consumer market - does use adaptive R/W technology. That's what has enabled OCZ to efficiently customize its SSDs within consumer applications.

Ralph said the main reason they don't have the controller details publicly on their site is because its main use is within OCZ's own SSDs. He said it's hard to monetize the controllers as chip level products. And although OCZ has supplied this controller to a few strategic SSD companies - OCZ itself remains the most important user of this design. I also got the impression that OCZ is moving towards being able to make nearly all its consumer SSDs using its own controllers.

I wanted to move onto the enterprise SSD market - and what OCZ was doing there.

I said I've been impressed by the value for money which OCZ had got when it acquired SANRAD in January 2012.

I was trying to figure out what were the characteristics of OCZ's enterprise customers? - Particulalry those using their PCIe SSDs. I had guessed - from knowing the market and partly from emails from early customers - that OCZ was probably getting most of its business from smaller enterprises - the kind of users which many of the other enterprise SSD companies haven't got to yet - because it's been easier for them to aim at bigger organizations. As I've said before on these pages - OCZ is more accessible to do business with - for many of these small users - because its sales started from the level of getting a customer even if they're only buying one SSD.

Ralph said - I was right about this enterprise profile - and he said most of their enterprise customers are probably in a category which the bigger enterprise SSD companies would call "tier 2" and "tier 3" users. For these customers - who have applications at this scale of installation - OCZ's PCIe SSDs - when bundled with the VXL software (which started at SANRAD) - gives users almost everything they need in a complete SSD system. Offering what he called - "A full solution for the smaller enterprise."

I said - what's remarkable is that OCZ is doing all this business development in a segment of the enterprise - which when added up is huge - and most of your competitors haven't touched it yet because they regard it as being too difficult to reach and not worth their investment yet - so in a few years time all that marketing experience gained from what you're learning now will have enormous upside potential. And when your financial levers get freed up again - your investment in learning this market now will give you great competitive advantages.

Ralph didn't disagree with that. He cautioned me that the consequence of having an enterprise customer base with these characteristics is that each customer might only make a small number of purchases. On the other hand it meant that if OCZ's enterprise revenue - was aggregating a lot of these smaller customers - it could be more consistent and predictable than that of some other SSD competitors who had reported "big pops of revenue" to a single web company or a big oem. OCZ was starting to see interest in its enterprise SSDs from bigger systems companies too - but that was stemming from the fact they had mutual customers.

On the subject of enterprise SSDs and software - Ralph said that OCZ has been hiring more firmware engineers to grow their capabilities in this market.

That got me onto the subject of a new enterprise controller design - which Ralph and Alex told me about - which will be a completely new design which also leverages the adaptive R/W technology etc from their existing barefoot but which is better optimized for high performance PCIe SSDs. I did learn the date and some of the characteritics - but I won't say any more about that here - because the details could change and it would be better for that new controller to star in its own news show.

I didn't broach the subject of comparing OCZ's new controller design with LSI's new 3rd generation controller - which was launched this week - because that was under embargo at that time.

Thinking about it now - I don't think it really matters whether OCZ's new enterprise SSD controller emerges with chip level performance specs which are higher, lower or about the same as LSI.

That's because the key differentiator in any related PCIe SSD would still be the relative strength and usefulness of the associated software.

For LSI - the caching software they offer - is less strategically bound to their controller sales - because most of their SSD oems will use their own choice of different software.

For OCZ - however - the opposite is true. The things OCZ is learning from their VXL customer base will make them just as sticky in this segment of the market as Fusion-io is in their own neck of the enterprise - in very large installations. These reasons for preferring different suppliers of PCIe SSDs began to be clear a few years ago - and are becoming more concrete.

At the end of our conversation I thanked Ralph and Alex for nailing down and confirming a bunch of guesses and also introducing me to some new insights which point towards OCZ evolving into a much more soundly based competitor in the SSD market in the next few years than most people might have imagined.

Although OCZ still has to be super cautious and prove that it can work as a sound business operating under the financial constraints it has now - it seems to me that this company - which once operated in too many markets and was master of none - has been able to judiciously select some market niches and ways to sustain competitive advantage in them - especially in the unmined vast regions of the enterprise SSD market - which could put it a year or so down the track - ahead of the SSD business learning curve.

...Later:- - 13 days after my conversation above - OCZ announced it was seeking bankruptcy.

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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Here's an easy SSD question. What does Nimble Storage have in common with Pure Storage?
Editor:- November 15, 2013 - What does Nimble Storage have in common with Pure Storage?

3 guesses allowed.
  • Is it - they both have the word "storage" in their names?

    Yes but that's not it. And just because we're approaching the weekend doesn't mean we're going to lower our standards (that far). And if we were (lowering our standards to that extent) I'd have given you a much bigger list of companies in my opening question.
  • They're both in the advanced stages of doing IPOs?

    Yes - that is indeed so - but please tell me - who isn't nowadays? (Apart from those who have already done it.) And it's not the answer I was looking for.
  • Do they share VCs?

    It's a valiant effort... To be honest I haven't bothered to check. - But even supposing for a minute it were true - it wouldn't be enough of a unique commonality at this time in the SSD market - because you know - when it comes to SSD-VC relationships we're not talking Jane Austen. VCs are notoriously promiscuous. (And whatever happened to only 3 guesses?)
OK - you give up - here's the answer I had in mind...

Both Nimble and Pure are being sued by old style computer companies who assert that when their employees joined these irritating startups they took with them customer-centric market knowledge.

I already discussed the Pure case before so I won't repeat that here.

But although you may have known about Nimble too - known indeed days or weeks ago - in which case congratulations on having won the quiz! - sorry there are no prizes - and no I'm not at all offended that you read other SSD sites too - especially if they're on the subject of consumer SSDs - not my shade of purple don't you know? - I have to confess that I only learned about Nimble's pursuit by NetApp as late as this morning - and my sorry excuse for having missed this story is I've been busy on other SSD stuff - which you'll hear about later.

On the other hand if like me - you didn't win the quiz despite coming to this site every day and never reading anything else - thanks - mea culpa - normal service will be resumed as soon as possible - and here's one of many links for the the Nimble/NetApp story.

Now... another thing Pure and Nimble have in common is names which suggest implicit virtues.

I've done a bunch of articles already on many of the aspects of naming SSD brands.

Speaking of which - if some product marketer out there decides to call their new product line the "good enough - but no so good you can't afford it" enterprise SSD range - let me know and I'll update my SSD name lists.

Industry experts and analysts might say the "good enough - but no so good you can't afford it" enterprise SSD line already exists - but goes by aliases.

Why's that? Because the marketing positioning gurus or the company's founder or the vp of sales didn't think that "good enough" was good enough. And BTW the CFO said - have you any idea what this would cost on Google adwords?

But I have reasons to suspect that a skunks work SSD marketer who works in SEO hasn't dropped the "good enough" SSD brand idea entirely and is spending a lot of time looking at Thesaurus.com and synonymically related sites - while also holding another window open on SSD jargon.


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What will SanDisk really get from Fusion-io?

And why was Fusion-io - the best known and most often admired enterprise SSD company - unable to survive as an independent company?
...read StorageSearch.com's classic analysis article



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"Talking about SSDs is my favorite subject and I learn a lot from these conversations."
Can you tell me the best way to get to SSD Street?



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Surviving SSD sudden power loss
Why should you care what happens in an SSD when the power goes down?

This important design feature - which barely rates a mention in most SSD datasheets and press releases - has a strong impact on SSD data integrity and operational reliability.

This article will help you understand why some SSDs which (work perfectly well in one type of application) might fail in others... even when the changes in the operational environment appear to be negligible.
image shows Megabyte's hot air balloon - click to read the article SSD power down architectures and acharacteristics If you thought endurance was the end of the SSD reliability story - think again. ...read the article
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"In 1998 - StorageSearch.com published a daily updated online directory of SSD vendors - in which Megabyte the mouse was shown chipping away at a rock - which remains the current site metaphor used for general SSD news...."
...from:- SSD market history