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SSD market news - December 2014

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after AFAs - what's the next box?
key SSD ideas which became clearer in 2014 / 2015 / 2016
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Netlist revalidates core patent related to ULLtraDIMM's core technology

Editor:- December 29, 2014 - Netlist today -announced that the US Patent and Trademark Office has denied petitions requesting Inter Partes Review (IPR) of Netlist patents asserted against the ULLtraDIMM.

memory channel storage
memory channel SSDs
The petitions were filed by SanDisk who partnered with Diablo Technologies to produce the ULLtraDIMM. Both are co-defendants in Netlist's patent infringement action pending in the US District Court of the Northern District of California. Of the 5 petitions filed by SanDisk, 3 were denied in their entirety and a 4th was denied as to some of the challenged claims.

The PTAB denied institution as to all claims of U.S. Pat. No. 8,516,185 which relates to the fundamental distributed buffer architecture created by Netlist and is integral to the architecture of the ULLtraDIMM. Among other functions, the distributed buffer architecture allows a proprietary DIMM containing various types of memory to appear to the system as standard DRAM memory.

Chuck Hong, Netlist's CEO said, "We are very pleased with this outcome and the overall progress in our multi-year legal proceedings against ULLtraDIMM and SanDisk. The technologies covered by our patents are critical for the enterprise computing and storage space. We believe this ruling by the PTAB is a clear validation of our IP in this area and a testament to the years of seminal development work and ongoing investment."

Editor's comments:- One of the things which I had expected to see in 2014 - but didn't - was the appearance of more vendors competing in the low latency memory channel SSD market.

Although one reason for this no-show could be that developing any new server based ecosystem requires more software investment than introducing new products in already established markets - another (equally important) factor may be that the likely suspects to enter the future memory channel market are waiting to get clarification from the courts as to which companies they should be seeking to get patent licenses from (if any).

Later comments:- yes they were all just waiting. The number of vendors staking claims to the SCM SSD DIMM wars market grew to over 20 companies less than 2 years later.


renewing the spin on MRAM's bright future

Editor:- December 18, 2014 - Everspin Technologies said at a recent event they have shipped over 40 million MRAM devices.
Flash Memory
flash & other nvm

That's one of several interesting observations on the state of the MRAM and RRAM market contained in a new blog - Making Computers that Don't Forget - by Tom Coughlin, President - Coughlin Associates - who predicts that the market for MRAM devices may exceed $2 billion by 2019. ...read the article

See also:- MRAM-info, nand flash & other nvm news,
10 years after they promised to replace flash - it's still here

And this (later) article:- the choice between STTMRAM / MRAM & RRAM will be made by 2017


Western Digital acquires Skyera

Editor:- December 15, 2014 - Western Digital and HGST today announced the acquisition of Skyera.

click to read the article -  reaching for the petabyte SSD
petabyte SSDs
Editor's comments:- This is a momentous acquisition for the enterprise SSD market.

I think the context in which to view this is as the embodiment of a new wisdom in the industry - that to succeed in the enterprise SSD market today - and to achieve the ultimate efficiencies at the manufacturing level - vendors have to think like systems companies.

And some of the biggest systems opportunities for efficient vendors nowadays - in which efficiencies translate into business opportunities are in hyperscale systems and internet infrastructure.

I've been discussing these trends in the past 18 months or so in these articles - which I think are relevant to today's acquisition announcement.
  • new directions in rackmount SSDs (May 24, 2013) - "One of the most potentially rewarding market challenges which SSD companies are grappling with right now is - how to make enterprise solid state storage attractive to users who aren't worried about their hard drive performance and don't even think they need SSDs... New SSD thinking inside the box will lead to better enterprise flash arrays."
  • meet Ken - and the enterprise SSD software event horizon (October 8, 2013) - "Why it's so easy to fall into a trap when answering these questions... How big will the SSD market will be when SSDs replace hard drives? When will it happen? and What will be the revenue of the SSD market at that time?"
  • Scary Skyera? (October 22, 2013) - "You may decide that my ratios (of enterprise SSD capacity needed to replace hard drives) are too timid - I said to Skyera's founder - if so - scare us!"
  • Seagate to acquire LSI's flash business (May 29, 2014 ) - "...even if Seagate focused only on the high volume potential of existing cloud infrastructure customers and big web entities (like Google and Baidu) - who need value based enterprise SSDs - but who are perfectly capable of designing their own software and APIs and firmware tweaks - then Seagate could... establish it as one of (several) leaders in the utility SSD segment of the cloud."
  • Skyera's new skyHawk FS (October 29, 2014) - "Re the mobile data center, new meanings to unified storage and joining storage gentlemen's clubs..."



Marvell takes a big step into skinny controllers for PCIe SSDs

Editor:- December 9, 2014 - 3 of the most significant differentiating factors in flash SSD controller architecture are:-
SSD SoCs controllers
SSD controllers
In the past year or so - we've seen a few companies - whose controller products have long been distinctly at one end of each of the above categories - introduce new designs which can operate in the other. This is a competitive response to the realization that any single architecture is better suited for some applications rather than others and no single design set is best for all markets.

For example - the SandForce SF-3700 - launched last year - added big controller features as an option to its legacy minimalist small architecture configuration mode. And before that - the intrinsically skinny (cache) SF family added support for optional external DRAM cache.

This week Marvell - whose controllers have always until now been firmly in the regular RAM flash cache category - announced it now has IP which enables it to play a significant part in skinny RAM flash cache designs with 2 new controllers:-
  • Marvell's 88NV1140 - aimed at NVMe PCIe Gen3x1 SSDs - can work with 15/16nm TLC and 3D NAND and needing no external DRAM - will simplify the design of smaller form factors including the capability of BGA PCIe SSDs.
  • Marvell's 88NV1120 - aimed at the embedded SATA SSD market which supports DevSlp - won't by itself create new markets - but will - due to its small footprint and memory support - lower the cost barriers for greater adoption of small SATA SSDs in traditional embedded markets.



the Top SSD Companies in Q3 2014

Editor:- December 9, 2014 - StorageSearch.com recently published the 30th quarterly edition of the Top SSD Companies - based on market metrics in Q3 2014 .
image shows megabyte waving the winners trophy - there are over 200 SSD oems - which ones matter? - click to read article
top SSD companies

For over 5 years - Fusion-io occupied the top #1 spot in this list as the SSD company which was most researched by our readers. That was inevitably going to change. And it did. But not in the way you might have expected.

The new #1 SSD company is Diablo Technologies - creator of the Memory Channel Storage platform.

7 years after the first year of SSD revolutions - is the enterprise SSD market about to reignite a new revolution in server centric SSD architecture?

Diablo's stellar rise in this list is one indicator that may well be what the market is thinking about. There are other signs in this market report too.

You could say - it's part of a conversation which goes...

What next - when PCIe SSDs are already everywhere? You need them. But you need more too. Signs of interesting times ahead in 2015. ...read the article


XES says FPGA based controllers are better for delaying EOL

Editor:- December 8, 2014 - For SSD specifiers in military applications - the biggest pressure on BOM stability has always come from obsolete components.

military storage directory and news
military SSDs
XES made some interesting comments about this in a press release related to the SSDs used in the company's rugged flight proven secure SSD based storage modules.

XES says "An important feature of these high-density, high-performance storage products is that they use an FPGA-based storage controller. This directly addresses EOL and Obsolescence issues commonly associated with foreign-designed and manufactured storage controllers, which often are discontinued before a system can go into production."


DIGITIMES comments on consumer PCIe SSDs

Editor:- December 3, 2014 - On the theme of PCIe SSDs everywhere - a recent article in DIGITIMES speculates that over 40% of new notebooks next year may have PCIe SSDs inside - compared to under 10% today - due to lower prices (and standards based controllers).

See also:- consumer SSDs, SSD controllers


Kaminario gets another $53 million funding
image shows mouse at the one armed bandit - click to see VC funds in storage
VCs in SSDs


Editor:- December 2, 2014 - Kaminario today announced it has closed an oversubscribed $53 million financing round, bringing total raised capital to $128 million. Kaminario says it will use the new investment to accelerate business growth.

Editor's comments:- Kaminario rose 3 places compared to the previous quarter - in the recently published Top SSD Companies in Q3 2014.


Memblaze uses PMC's NVMe controllers

Editor:- December 1, 2014 - PMC-Sierra today announced that Memblaze is utilizing PMC's Flashtec NVMe controllers in its next-generation PBlaze4 PCIe SSD accelerators.


Cypress merges with Spansion

Editor:- December 1, 2014 - Cypress Semiconductor and Spansion today announced a definitive agreement to merge in an all-stock, tax-free transaction valued at approximately $4 billion.

"This merger represents the combination of 2 smart, profitable, passionately entrepreneurial companies that are #1 in their respective memory markets and have successfully diversified into embedded processing," said T. J. Rodgers, Cypress's founding president and CEO. "Our combined company will be a leading provider of embedded MCUs and specialized memories."

See also:- 3 Easy Ways to Enter the SSD Market
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In December 2011 - Apple acquired Anobit (a pioneer in the adaptive DSP ECC flash controller market) for a sum thought to be in the range $400 to $500 million.
SSD market history
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In 2014 we witnessed the birth of a renaissance in SSD inspired enterprise architecture - on a scale of ambition not seen since the Year of SSD Revolutions in 2007.
the Top SSD Companies in Q3 2014


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"15K RPM HDDs that have traditionally been used for top tier applications will lose their relevance in 2015, both in sales and use case penetration."
John Scaramuzzo, Senior VP, SanDisk - in his blog - Top Predictions for Enterprise Flash in 2015

See also:- Pre-announcing the extinction of the high speed enterprise hard drive (2006)


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"We haven't reached stability yet in reference enterprise designs and use cases."
Zsolt Kerekes, editor of StorageSearch.com - in his blog - what kind of SSD world can we expect in 2015?


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"2015 will be a critical period for NAND Flash manufacturers as they try to slow capacity expansion."
Sean Yang, Assistant VP - DRAMeXchange in his blog NAND Flash Industry Value Poised to Grow More than 10% in 2015 (December 4, 2014)


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how Violin leverages faster writes within MLC
Editor:- December 15, 2014 - One of the core principles used in adaptive R/W DSP controllers in MLC SSDs is that the less charge you write to a cell - the less time it takes and the less stress on the flash. From the system perspective - the result is a faster SSD with lower power consumption and better reliability.

Shortening the write pulse means you aren't guaranteed to easily read back the same data which you wrote. Hence the need for adaptive DSP based ECC - in which the strength of the ECC used depends on the health of the memory. And a range of different techniques can be deployed for different parts of the same memory chip in the SSD.

I discussed the enterprise market impact of heavyweight adaptive R/W DSP techniques on a company by company basis in the 2012 Q2 edition of the Top SSD Companies- and as expected - we saw consequences of having or not having these technologies in the later competitiveness and acquisition of several key companies.

Another much simpler variation of these schemes (from the controller point of view) - which we've seen used in the industrial SSD market as industrial eMMC- is to redesignate MLC memory blocks as virtual SLC blocks - in order to get faster speeds and better endurance without resorting to adaptive DSP.

A new blog from Violin - Understanding Flash - Unpredictable Write Performance - explains the thinking behind an MLC write scheme which delivers similar speedup results to the industrial schemes above.

Like them it doesn't require adaptive ECC.

Unlike them it conserves the total raw capacity and gets the speedup in a fractional tier in the memory pool by grouping data into sets according to how much charge is required to perform subsequent writes.

As the article says - "It's kind of complicated but potentially we now have the option to program certain MLC pages using a faster operation, with the trade-off that other pages will be affected as a result." ...read the article

See also:- Asymmetries in SSD design


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"By 2016, hyperscale datacenters will house more than 50% of raw compute capacity and 70% of raw storage capacity worldwide..."
IDC Datacenter Predictions for 2015


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Oh flash - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

170 ways for sure. Maybe more

says new SSD market report from Web-Feet Research
Editor:- December 4, 2014 - In the past 5 years or so - many of you have heard me talking about "hidden segments in the enterprise", "defragmentation in the industrial market", "application speficic SSDs" etc.

My intention in such articles and in comments related to SSD news - has been to show you that there are a lot more uses for specialized flash SSDs then you might think if you started from market models which segment traditional devices such as hard drives, CPUs and DRAM and tried to migrate that thinking to SSDs.

That's because SSDs are not only creating new markets - but - being entirely artificial devices - you can adapt their characteristics (size, power, performance, reliability, cost) in any way choose to - if you can find enough customers with needs, budgets and risk profiles which make doing these design trims worthwhile from a business point of view.

You might ask - has anybody added these application segment up?

I saw a possible answer in an email this morning from Alan Niebel at Web-Feet Research.

Alan lists over 170 end-use applications for flash memory based devices in a new market report - Flash Memory Applications and Markets: 2012-2019 report, CS100FA-2014, (321 pages, $5.95K) - which also includes many forecasts and projections.

Also in this report - Web-Feet Research provides a density breakout by revenue, units, and Mbits for SLC NAND, 2-bits per cell NAND, 3-bits/cell and enterprise 2-bits/cell NAND, SPI NAND, Combo (MCP) NAND and 3D NAND; NOR, MLC NOR, serial NOR, Combo NOR and serial Combo NOR; and Phase Change Memory.

One thing you may be sure of is that the 170 figure is just a convenient starting point to think about the flash market in a way which makes sense in a single document. But don't be surprised if future editions talk about much bigger numbers.

If you think that paying around $5K for a market report sounds like a lot - just think of how much time it would take you to even make a list of these different flash products and applications. Sounds cheap when you look at it that way.

PS - and if you can't find a summary of this latest report on Alan's web site yet (I couldn't either) - then contact him by email.

See also:- market research, flash memory and nvm