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SSD market news - October 22 - 31, 2013

RAID, Inc repurposes SAS JBODs to PCIe SSDs inside

Editor:- October 31, 2013 - When I started writing about applications for removable 2.5" PCIe SSDs last year - one of the no-brainers was that oems who want to push the boundaries of good old fashioned raw fast SSD throughput - and who already have legacy SAS SSD based boxes (which they've already speeded up from HDD origins) will replumb the wiring and up-market these systems to a higher performance level again - as super high speed (and more modern sounding) "PCIe SSD inside" storage.

That's what it looks like RAID, Inc is doing in its 2U 24-Bay SSD/SAS Ability EBOD - which only a year ago was impressively fast enough when populated with SMART's SAS drives - but now can go faster still with 2.5" PCIe SSDs instead.

When you add enough of these building blocks in a system you can get - 768GB/s full duplex connectivity according to a recent announcement by the company - (although the exact configuration details are still unknown to me). These new 2U bays with 24 PCIe SSDs inside will be shown at the SuperComputing 2013 show next month in Denver, CO. RAID, Inc already uses PCIe SSDs from Fusion-io in its client server nodes BTW.

Virtium's new VP of sales

Editor:- October 30, 2013 - Virtium today announced that Michael Nilsson has joined the company as senior VP of sales.

Editor's comments:- as you can see from Mike Nilsson's profile page - he knows the SSD industry better than most - having been VP of sales at Stec.

And before that he also spent 6 years in another well known memory company - Fujitsu Microelectronics - which nowadays operates at the fringes of SSD technology with its FRAM (Ferroelectric Random Access Memory).

Crocus seeks to annul core STT patents

Editor:- October 30, 2013 - Within the SSD market all those other types of of non volatile memory appear as mere driblets compared to a sea of flash memory - but that could change one day so it's worthwhile for budding nano-magneto cellulikes to cement sound patent foundations.

"We already done that thing" - aka "prior art" - is the root of a petition (announced yesterday) by Crocus Technology for the US Patent and Trademark Office to dismiss patent 6,980,469 (high speed low power magnetic memory device stuff) which is part of the IP potfolio of competitor - Spin Transfer Technologies.

OCZ's new enterprise SSD health care tool

Editor:- October 29, 2013 - OCZ today announced the availability for immediate download of a new enterprise SSD software management tool which leverages the internal SMART log files and controllers in OCZ's enterprise SSDs installed on various hosts and operating systems in the customer's connected networks.

"SSDs have become a critical component of the modern data center and IT managers expect enterprise-tools that optimally manage and maintain them. Our StoragePro XL management system is designed to centrally manage our complete portfolio of enterprise drives covering SATA, SAS and PCIe and does so in a very easy and non-obtrusive manner" said Dr. Allon Cohen VP of Software and Solutions for OCZ. "This level of remote host and SSD management provides the system information and SSD health that IT professionals need..."

StoragePro XL
  • provides a structured group-based view of host and SSD activity throughout the data center
  • enables customisable alerts triggered by parameters in SMART log data
  • simplifies SSD installation - such as firmware updates
  • can generate SSD maintenance reports - such as raw read error rate, wear-out stats, and other usage data
Editor's comments:- the simplest way to get what all this is about is to click on the StoragePro XL product page which shows various screenshots.

the SSD reliability papers
SSD testing & analyzer news
MLC seniors live longer in my SSD care home

WhipTail is now part of Cisco

Editor:- October 29, 2013 - Cisco today announced it has completed the acquisition of WhipTail. WhipTail's solid state memory systems will be integrated as efficient performance accelerators into the computing fabric of Cisco's UCS

Toshiba ships 30 DWPD SAS SSDs

Editor:- October 28, 2013 - Toshiba today announced immediate availability of a new 2.5" 12Gbps SAS SSD product line - the PX02SS (pdf) (upto 800GB) - which is rated at 30 DWPD (diskful write per day for 5 years).

Editor's comments:- in the associated press release - Toshiba's product marketing manager for this business unit - Don Jeanette says "Toshiba's unique integrated SSD design and manufacturing capability ensures that key components of the SSD, including NAND flash, are designed by Toshiba."

But I'm wondering if these products - which use 24nm eMLC also get a little help from the flash management IP developed by DensBits too?

The way that DensBits delivers its memory modem technology (a variant of adaptive R/W DSP technology) to licensees like Toshiba is to provide an algorithm suite to SSD oems which they integrate in their own controllers and architecture. I've asked the question and will let you know if I get confirmation either way.

30 DWPD is an impressive endurance rating.

If you need higher - 50 DWPD is available from the Optimus Ultra+ product line - designed ny SMART - which is now available from SanDisk - although this Optimus model is currently 6Gbps rather than 12.

Pure Storage open for business in Singapore

Editor:- October 25, 2013 - Pure Storage - today announced the opening of a sales office in Singapore and the appointment of S&I Systems Pte Ltd as its local distributor in the region for the entire FlashArray (rackmount SSD) product line.

how to turn around Fusion-io?

Editor:- October 23, 2013 - Fusion-io today announced several changes in key personnel coincidentally with its latest quarterly report - in which revenue ($86 million) declined 27% compared to the year ago period. The people changes include:-
  • departure of the company's CFO Dennis Wolf,
  • arrival of a new board member - Dr. Edward H. Frank (whose past includes Apple, Broadcom and Sun Microsystems).
Editor's comments:- you might think it's ironic that Fusion-io - the company which established the legitimacy of PCIe SSDs as a key center of gravity within enterprise technology space - has now turned to one of the industry's newest PCIe SSD vendors for a sense of business direction. But this makes sense for several reasons:-
  • there was a vacuum in marketing in FIO initially stemming from the departure of CMO Rick White 5 months ago.
  • In the same year in which LSI entered the PCIe SSD market it also became the #2 company in shipment volumes. So LSI does have some things it can teach Fusion-io about other ways it can do business - even if FIO's core technology assets in software are significantly better.
  • Over and above whatever is happening in the hotly contested PCIe SSD market - however - Fusion-io in the past year has also embarked on serious investments and customer facing commitments on a course which could (if executed properly) also make the company a leader in 2 product categories within the rackmount SSD market.

    I said "if executed properly" advisedly - because seen from an external perspective FIO's rackmount systems shop looks more like it has been resourced like a Cinderella sideline - as a stall dressed simply to sell more PCIe SSDs.

    If fast SSD boxes and hybrid arrays are a serious business opportunity for FIO (and I think they are) then it's not enough of a business development strategy to develop the raw technology, throw some webinars saying "it works" at YouTube - and waiting to see what happens.

    Fusion-io's rackmount SSD business - is going head to head with other competitors for whom this is their main thing. So FIO's systems business needs to have its own clearer sense of identity.

    That means more marketing, more resources and more cash to support the different business characteristics of selling boxes.
We'll have to see what new strategies emerge from the company. Doing more things better from a marketing perspective costs more - so some investors might howl in the short term. But if it takes them and FIO's customers to a better place then they've been sliding towards recently - the investors won't grumble.

PS - OK if you are one of those still grumbling - then before you send me an email - here's another footnote.

Maybe you didn't see the detailed bit at the center of my SSD software event horizon blog - which talked about the revenue pain which results from the escalating effect of SSD utilization improvements (from software) when they are delivered to a non diverse customer base in too short an elapsed time period.

The effect is the same as if Boeing rang up all its airline customers and said - we've got a new technology improvement which lets you carry 3x as many passengers in the same plane body while using the same total fuel. And BTW - we can deliver it to you as a free upgrade to your existing fleets too.

Now we all suspect that in the aircraft business - if they could do such an improvement - they'd hush it up - and hope instead to stretch out the competitive gain over 20 to 30 years. Because it would be bad business to do otherwise - as the airline passenger market couldn't grow fast enough to absorb such a rapid scale up in utilization efficiency.

But the SSD market is different. If you don't keep improving your products now - someone else will come along and take your place. And SSD passenger numbers have a long way to grow yet - because most apps servers aren't frequent flyers on SSD Airlines.

You may decide that my ratios are too timid - I said to Skyera's CEO - Rado Danilak.

If so - scare us!

Editor:- October 22, 2013 - As I discussed in a recent blog - the rackmount SSD market is an exciting hot spot for developments right now. (I'm not talking here about IPOs, investments and acquisitions - although they're exciting enough for stakeholders in the hot seats or those hoping to hold the hot tickets - but I'm talking here about real technical stuff.)

Rackmount SSD enhanced storage is exciting today because there are now things you can do with software and hardware architecture at the complete storage array level - which are outside and beyond the reach and ken of the cleverest controllers within any individual SSD drive.

I hinted at the consequences we can expect to see when you factor in all the architecture and software changes which I know are in the pipe (both within server-side and SAN SSD storage) in my new SSD software event horizon blog. (Perhaps an alternative title might have included the phrase "inflexion-point" - but anyway it's out there.) I've had some good reactions to that article from people inside the industry - although like many of these articles it may be a year or so before these factors are shaking the SSD market so much that the concepts become widely known.

But I was curious to get the reaction of one particular company - which for several reasons which I've described before - seems to me to be at the leading edge of more of these technology trends at the same time in a single product line than any other single company (which is not in stealth mode). So I set up a meeting with Skyera.

You probably know who they are - because they were one of the very few companies in SSD market history which in the same quarter as they emerged from stealth mode also made it into the Top SSD Companies List. That was back in Q2 2012.

In my email last week to the founder and CEO Rado Danilak I talked about my event-horizon article and invited him to talk to me about these concepts. This is a cut and paste of what I said....

My key point is that with modern designs and new architecture and new software - it doesn't take a petabyte of SSD to replace a legacy petabyte of HDD at the enterprise or cloud level.

The kind of ratio which can be achieved in the next few years is very much higher. So high - in fact - when you take into account the possibility of apps and operating systems which will be rewritten for SSD - that people had better get used to the idea. That's it really.

Obviously the ratio of what is do-able now will improve - as the SSD software ecosystem gets more confidence.

You may decide that my ratios are too timid. If so - scare us.

And that's what led to an hour of me talking about the enterprise flash storage market to both Rado Danilak (CEO) and Tony Barbagallo (VP Marketing) at Skyera.

Early in the conversation I said that I and many competitors in the market I've discussed this with - regard Skyera as being the company to beat in terms of cost per terabyte of rackmount SSD on the SAN - above a floor capacity level - and within some defined compatibility segments.

But I also know that due to the cautious nature of the enterprise market - and with Skyera being a new company with new technology - I wouldn't expect them to get much real business traction within their ideal customer group - until after the obligatory 2 years waiting period on hardware reliability and software stability which faces all newcomers to the enterprise.

"Even if you had all your perfectly baked enterprise SSD cake - with all the software trimmings which are still a year or so in the future - available right now in your restaurant and offered it to these people at that futuristically low price today - they wouldn't want to taste it" - I said. "They don't want to risk being poisoned by Rado's crappy flash SSD juice. They prefer other people to experiment with the new e-SSD chef in town. You just have to live with that. In another few years these same cautious types may be saying to everyone they know - don't you just love dining at Skyera?"

One of the difficulties is that people don't really understand enough to appreciate what Skyera has got and is offering. It looks to me - I said - that you could thrash around with blogs and interviews which skirt around these design issues - but most people still won't get it. Others - the most experienced SSD users would understand. They're the ones who matter. (But understanding what you do and being interested isn't the same as buying the product in huge numbers yet. (Although some dark matter users might.)

That got me onto the idea of suggesting a new channel partners program for the upcoming skyEagle (which gives you a petabyte of SSD in 2U) to educate the market about the positioning of this efficiently designed flash array. My suggestions were along the lines...
  • Wrap it in a bigger box.
  • Add bricks to make it heavy.
  • Add a heater to make it run warmer.
  • Double the price to make it more acceptable.
Tony liked the idea - and I said he could use it in future ads or communications if he thought it would work. (If you work at another SSD company and want me to suggest a better way to explain what you do - your know where to find me.)

We got pretty quickly into - how complicated it is for people to understand what's really important in the enterprise SSD market.

I've been in the enterprise market for a long time and my experience goes something like this....

Every year I learn 2 new important new ideas about SSDs.

But every year I also have to remember to forget or discard 1 old idea which was vital to know before – because it's no longer useful, valid or true.

"What made you go into the enterprise market?" - I asked. This was particularly aimed at Rado - whose previous products have been used wherever SSDs are used - but which wasn't particularly focused on enterprise systems.

Rado said - "I had the benefit of the brick wall of ignorance. Not knowing what couldn't be done."

He went on to say how once he decided to optimize around the flash, that meant throwing way conventional interfaces, that mean he needed more software to tie it all together.

As I've previously elaborated in my article on big SSD controller architecture - there are optimizations you can do when you have access to a bigger arrays of flash - which are impossible when you're trying to optimize around the single drive level - or arrays of drives level.

Rado said he had an initial list of efficiencies which he thought he might be able to do - but he said the more you work with large amounts of flash in a system the more you understand - and he's now in a position where he and his team will revisit older assumptions they had - which gives them the ability to expand their efficiencies by impressive multiples - even taking where they already are the starting point.

Rado told me that the really impressive efficiency numbers (in flash utilization) which are being worked on - are all in the software. (That's similar to what other array vendors have said too.)

Rado said that in Skyera - it's already the case that 3/4 of the engineers are working on software - and Skyera is hiring more software people - so that ratio will grow.

Rado asked me about the raw assumptions I had used in doing the scaling and efficiency projections in my article. Mostly I said - they had come from earlier articles (and I sent him the links) but collectively the calculation of what I thought was do-able was simply based on combining all the different bits of IP that SSD companies tell me about - churning them through some simple architecture sanity tests - and then applying some discounts and backtracking for the things which might not work as well as had been originally anticipated.

I said (in a later follow up) that whatever crazy numbers I come up with in some long range SSD forecasting article - the market usually beats that number by 1 or 2 years - or by a factor of x2 - due to something innovative being done which was previously unknown or thought to be impossible. (I may add the detailed assumptions for readers as an appendix later.)

Unlike the designers and software developers who have to make these all these impossible things work - all I have to do is steal the top level idea of what they're doing, assume it does work and then model what effect that has on a complete SSD installation. Because the sum of the parts includes the app servers - and SSD ecosystem-aware software. It's about more than just scaling up efficiencies in the storage arrays. The results are impressive.

We spoke about segmentation within the enterprise and why the old fashioned ways of describing customers, products and apps use cases don't provide adequate models in the SSD case.

In the SSD context it's frequently the case that different customers in the same market, or the same customer within different parts of their own organization - will choose solutions which appear paradoxically different at the raw technology level - simply because some products are a better match for their requirements for compatibility or ease of managing risk and roadmaps at that point in time.

The same customer - with 5 years more experience of using SSDs under their belt may start new projects with a completely different approach to how they want to see things moving along - and the level of incrementation they prefer to work with - at the upgrade or fault replacement level. No single product can satisfy all these conflicting needs.

I wondered if I should quote more of what Rado said in this report about the kind of improvements he says are still to come in his own company's roadmap.

But I said I think it would be best for me to hold off for now.

Skyera (and the enterprise SSD industry) need to do a better job of explaining the consequences of some of the remarkable things they've already done (or can do) with their new systems. When that "do-able now" is firmly grasped - then the "do-able next thing" will seem even more impressive (or scary).

I promise you will get more updates on this topic soon.

new thinking inside the SSD box
Efficiency as internecine SSD competitive advantage
meet Ken and the enterprise SSD software event horizon

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"We're going to really be the leaders in the market for converged infrastructure and how this stuff really behaves together when its designed holistically...

"...because the UCS product line is a fairly young product line and the WhipTail product line is a fairly young product line, we have the ability to leverage all the strengths of everything in Ciscos product spacenetworking and computing and now solid state persistenceand really bring together all these pieces into a high performance distributed infrastructure..."
Dan Crain, CEO of WhipTail - from the article - WhipTail has just become part of Cisco (interview transcript) - October 29, 2013

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the Top SSD Companies - this quarterly market tracker has been giving advance signals about changes in SSD technology adoption and business changes since 2007.

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hostage to the fortunes of SSD - why are so many companies piling into the SSD market - when even the leading enterprise companies haven't demonstrated sustainable business models yet?

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do more tiers reduce waste?
Editor:- October 15, 2013 - The wastefulness of conventional storage tiering is discussed in a recent blog - Moving On From Storage Tiering - by Chris M Evans, publisher of Architecting IT - who advocates the concept of having an infinite number of tiers so that - "each server will be closer to receiving the performance level they need."

He goes on to say - "If we can deliver that, move the data between tiers dynamically and fix the wasted capacity issue within each tier, then we have our ultimate storage device." the article

Editor's comments:- The problem with implementing this is that the most economical way to design storage systems is still dependent on the likely speed and capacity characteristics.

People buy products and they have to understand the differences between the products they see in the market. (That job of segmentation is just as important for marketers to implement precisely as the easier bits they spend more time and money on.)

When I analyzed all the different types of SSDs you need in the datacenter - from the architecture and use cases point of view - I got to about 7 different types - which are distinctly different - as described in my SSD silos model - which covers the spectrum from ultrafast RAM to archive solid state storage.

An SSD product which has been optimized for any one of these distinct uses will be uneconomic or less competitive for the other uses.

Therefore I think infinite tiers - as proposed in Chris Evans's blog - can exist OK as logical concepts in software - but these infinite tiers will still have to map onto a distinct set of no more than maybe 3 to 4 different physical SSD tiers in most customer sites. Otherwise they will be wasteful and too expensive.

In the currently forseeable state of semiconductor technology - the bounds of physics and SSD controller architecture favor designs in which you know in advance what kind of use the memory cell population in each part of your SSD is being optimized for.

Training for a sprint requires a different care conditioning regime to training for a marathon.

Although you can switch streams and repurpose cells dynamically - which is what adaptive R/W is all about - this is done within the context of knowing which kind of race the SSD is in from the outset. Running half a marathon fast and then dying due to dehydration is not an attractive product option.

See also:- auto-tiering / caching / SSD ASAPs, marketing SSD care schemes, inside SSD pricing.

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