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SSD market news - February 2014

Virtium launches 32GB ULP RAM with industrial screening

Editor:- February 26, 2014 - Virtium today introduced 2 new low profile 16GB and 32GB DDR3 RAM modules in these form factors - ULP (Ultra-Low Profile) - 0.70" high and VLP (Very-Low Profile) - 0.738" high - for use in dense embedded servers which need industrial temperature operation in these form factors.

Editor's comments:- as with industrial SSDs - one of the differences in industrial memory is the screening process. Virtium's memory blog says that using 24 hour TDBI (Test During Burn-In) chambers can reduce early failures up to 90%.

Just as SSD reliability involves many complex dimensions - so too does server RAM reliability - as these articles show...

Hybrid Memory Cube gets x2 speedup

Editor:- February 25, 2014 - Although the market for Hybrid Memory Cube compatible RAM has barely begun - a new Gen2 specification was announced today which doubles the fastest short-reach data performance (previously 15Gb/s) upto 30Gb/s. See also:- ORGs, RAM DIMM compatible SSDs

A3CUBE unveils PCIe memory fabric for
10,000 node-class PCIe SSD architectures

Editor:- February 25, 2014 - PCIe SSDs can now access a true PCIe connected shared memory fabric designed by A3CUBE - which exited stealth today with the launch of their remote shared broadcast memory network - RONNIEE Express - which provides 700nS (nanoseconds) raw latency (4 byte message) and which enables message throughput - via standard PCIe - which is 8x better than InfiniBand.

Editor's comments:- I spoke to the company's luminaries recently - who say they intend to make this an affordable mainstream solution.

The idea of using PCIe as a fabric to share data at low latency and with fast throughput across a set of closely located servers isn't a new one.

The world's leading PCIe chipmaker PLX started educating designers and systems architects about these possibilities a few years ago - as a way to elegantly answer a new set of scalability problems caused by the increasing adoption of PCIe SSDs. These questions include:-
  • how do you make this expensive resource available to more servers?
  • how do you enable a simple to implement failover mechanism - so that data remains accessible in the event of either a server or SSD fault?
In the least year or so - we've seen most of the leading vendors in the enterprise PCIe SSD market leverage some of the new features in PCIe chips - to implement high availability SSDs with low latency.

But although there are many ways of doing this - the details are different for each vendor.

And - until now - if you wanted to share data at PCIe-like latency across a bunch of PCIe SSDs from different companies - located in different boxes - the simplest way to do that was to bridge across ethernet or infiniband. - And even though it has been technically possible with standard software packages - the integration, education and support issues - compared to legacy SAN or NAS techniques would be extremely daunting.

That's where A3CUBE comes into the picture. Their concept is to provide a box which enables any supported PCIe device to connect to any other - at low latency and with high throughput - in an architecture which scales to many thousands of nodes.

At the heart of this is a shared broadcast memory window - of 128Mbytes - which can be viewed simultaneously by any of the attached ports.

If you've ever used shared remote memory in a supercomputer style of system design at any time in the past 20 years or so - you'll know that the critical thing is how the latency grows as you add more ports. So that was one of the questions I asked.

Here's what I was told - "The latency is related to the dimension of the packet for example: In a real application using a range of 64-256 bytes of messages the 3D torus latency doubled after 1,000 nodes. With larger packets, the number of nodes to double the latency becomes grater. But the real point is that the latency of a simple p2p in a standard 10GE is reached after 29,000 nodes.

"A more clear example of the scalability of the system is this. Imagine that an application experiences a max latency of 4 us with 64 nodes, now we want to scale to 1,000 nodes the max latency that the same application experience will became 4.9 us. 0.9 us of extra latency for 936 more nodes."

Editor again:- Those are very impressive examples - and demonstrates that the "scalability" is inherent in the original product design.

A3CUBE didn't want to say publicly what the costs of the nodes and the box are at this stage. But they answered the question a different way.

Their aim is to price the architecture so that it works out cheaper to run than the legacy (pre-PCIe SSD era) alternatives - and they're hoping that server oems and fast SSD oems will find A3CUBE's way of doing this PCIe fabric scalability stuff - is the ideal way they want to go.

There's a lot more we have to learn - and a lot of testing to be done and software to be written - but for users whose nightmare questions have been - how do I easily scale up to a 10,000 PCIe SSD resource - and when I've got it - how can I simplify changing suppliers? - there's a new safety net being woven. Here are the essential details (pdf).

coming soon - an incrementally denser rackmount SSD from Nimbus

Editor:- February 25, 2014 - What does a petabyte of pure flash enterprise SSD look like?

It depends on who makes it, the relative speed category of the storage itself and the user's own preferences for high availability schemes and associated software.

At the densest (best) level - a petabyte of enterprise SSD can occupy as little as 2U rack space (skyEagle from Skyera).

The upper limit in size depends a lot on the internal architecture and memory type - but typically occupies 10x to 20x more physical space than the example I've given above.

On that theme - Nimbus Data today announced that in April it will sample the next generation of its own fast software rich featured SSD systems - the Gemini X - which will provide an incremental 2x capacity density improvement over the company's previous offering.

news image - click to enlarge

The Gemini X implements 960TB (raw) unified SSD storage with 100 microseconds latency (at under 6W / TB) in 24U of rackspace (40GB/s internal bandwidth) with external connection via 10 dual ports which can be 16Gb FC, 40Gb Ethernet or 56Gb Infiniband.

Like most leading vendors - Nimbus likes to think that its product are better than some other named competitors. But all such comparisons are very selective.

1 in 5 strings cut at Violin

Editor:- February 20, 2014 - Violin Memory today announced it has downsized its workforce by 21% - compared to the peak of 4 months ago. The company indicated that (despite this restructuring of sales, marketing and engineering) Violin still hoped to "grow revenues by strengthening engagement of indirect channels."

Marvell samples 5K IOPS smartphone SSD

Editor:- February 18, 2014 - Marvell today announced it is sampling a new eMMC 5.0 controller - the 88NV1088 - which enables "SSD class" performance (280MB/s read speed and 5K random IOPS) in a smartphone compatible footprint.

another $13 million for Primary Data

Editor:- February 17, 2014 - A report in - shared from the linkedin page of Primary Data's CMO - Rick White - says that Primary Data (which is still in stealth mode) has secured another $13 million funding - bringing its total funding up to $63 million.

Editor's comments:- there's a lot of speculation about what this new company is doing.

Primary Data's founders changed the enterprise server market with their previous startup Fusion-io (founded in 2006).

Before Fusion-io - server makers didn't want to talk about SSDs.

After Fusion-io - no server maker could launch a new enterprise server product line without including SSD acceleration as a standard option. (Because Fusion-io signed up most of the key server oems as "PCIe SSD inside" which made all server makers hostage to the fortunes of SSD).

When Primary Data launches its products later this year - what will its products look like?

From the hints dropped so far - it seems that Primary Data will aim to shake up the enterprise architecture world with a new platform which leverages SSD enhanced servers as the worker ants in a software scheme which spans everything from the local cluster to the cloud.

See also:- VCs and SSDs, enterprise SSD silos, SSD software

Diablo comments on legal barbs cast by Netlist

Editor:- February 14, 2014 - Diablo's CEO and founder - Riccardo Badalone was reported to have said in an interview blog by Willem ter Harmsel today - re the lawsuit launched against them by Netlist...

"They (Netlist) basically have yet to prove that:- they understand the product, and also that they have found anything Diablo is actually infringing on. We are just going to let this run through the (legal) process and we are confident about the outcome." the article

Atlantis provides more evidence of the trend towards massively improved enterprise utilization enabled by SSD-aware software

Editor:- February 11, 2014 - Atlantis Computing today announced that the new "In-Memory Storage Technology" release of its storage virtualization software - called Atlantis ILIO USX - can significantly increase enterprise utilization by enabling users to deploy up to 5x more VMs on their existing storage.

See also:- ILIO USX faqs (pdf), enterprise utilization and the SSD event horizon, SSD ASAPs, SSD software

Conduant's new 3U 8TB PXIe SSD

Editor:- February 10, 2014 - Conduant today launched a 3U single slot PXIe module which can be populated with upto 8 mSATA SSDs. The Big River DM-8M-3U has a PCIe Gen 2 interface which connects to the flash array via an on-board Marvell controller.

See also:- test systems, military SSDs

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wanted! - VARs for Fusion's rackmounts

Editor:- February 10, 2014 - Fusion-io recently announced that its systems level (PCIe SSD inside) rackmounts will soon be widely available from VARs in North America. Specifically these products include:- Editor's comments:- It takes less time to hatch a human baby than it has taken for Fusion-io to make the transition from first talking about some of these integrated systems to making them generally available.

Traditionally - SSD systems companies hid the messy product creation process - and preferred to launch their new rack babies when they were fully formed and ready to fly off the shelves. That's in contrast to drive makers who often start revealing what their plans are - long enough beforehand so that their customers can warm up to the idea.

In Fusion's case - what we've been seeing in the past 2-3 quarters is not so much the development of new rackmount product lines (because all the technology components already existed before) but what we've witnessed instead is the growth pangs and development of a new SSD systems business - jostling for adequate space and recognition within an already confident module and software business - with much of the thinking about the priorities being done out loud and visible to the public gaze.

Pure Storage launches maintenance program to allay user fears about flash array upgrade costs and obsolescenece

Editor:- February 6, 2014 - Pure Storage today announced a new business model for supporting its rackmount SSDs - the Forever Flash program - which the company says will provide users who have maintenance contracts better forward visibility of costs and upgrades.

Editor's comments:- One of the clever subliminal marketing messages here - when you get into the details - is the assumption that Pure Storage will still be in business in future years and still offering competitive SSD systems which you'd want to upgrade to.

But at the same time - Pure Storage - does also tackle head-on a key user fear which delays sales in this statement - "Flash storage changes completely every 6-9 months, so we built the FlashArray to allow for incremental expansion to take advantage of fast flash density and cost improvements."

See also:- playing the enterprise SSD box riddle game, the survivor's guide to enterprise SSDs

old software will slow new silicon in memory done by SSDs

Editor:- February 5, 2014 - In a new blog - New Vistas For Persistent Memory - Tom Coughlin, President Coughlin Associates reminds us that in exteremely fast SSDs - lowering the hardware latency is just one part of the design solution.

Tom says - "An important element in using persistent memory in the PCIe and memory bus of computers is the creation of software programs that take advantage of the speed and low latency of nonvolatile memory. With the increase in performance that new interfaces allow, software built around slower storage technologies becomes a significant issue preventing getting the full performance from a persistent memory system."

Tom's article includes a graph which shows the increasing proportion of the read access time taken up by system software in successively faster hardware interface generations. the article

Editor's comments:- living with the old while planning for a new type of SSD-aware computer architecture is complicated.

Just how complicated that picture can be... you may glimpse in a classic far reaching paper (about abstracting application transactional semantics in usefully different ways when viewed from their interactions with the flash translation layer) - called Optimizing I/O Operations via the Flash Translation Layer (pdf) by Gary Orenstein, Fusion-io (August 2011).

See also:- latency reasons for fading out DRAM in the virtual memory mix

PLX is ready with 1st Gen3 compliant PCIe switches

Editor:- February 4, 2014 - PLX Technology today announced it is the 1st PCIe switch vendor to have achieved Gen3 compliance having passed the compliance testing procedures of PCI-SIG.

Editor's comments:- the new standard doubles the maximum data bandwidth of PCIe SSDs to 1GB/s per lane in each direction - which enable 32GB/s total throughput for a x16 link.

See also:- storage ORGs, PCIe SSDs, SSD interface chips, Gen3 faqs, PCI Express 3.0 Integrators List
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10 key SSD ideas which emerged and clarified in 2014

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I work for a company called Skybox Imaging, Inc. where I'm currently working on upgrading our storage system.

I found your web site invaluable in doing market research and wanted to thank you.

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(email to the editor - February 28, 2014)


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Enterprise endurance - and the SSD event horizon
Editor:- February 3, 2014 - I had not long before ftped up the first draft of my new Top SSD Companies article last Friday afternoon - when I got an email from a reader - who is an insider in an enterprise SSD company (and prefers to remain anonymous here) who commented on an article I'd written a few months before - the SSD event horizon.

He said - "I had not seen that article before.... really liked it and forwarded it to other people here. One other cause to consider for the event horizon is this.... A real problem is that when it comes time for (system) refresh, the customer looks at the wear life of the flash and observes that it has plenty of available life and decides to keep it instead of refreshing."

Editor's comments:- In case you haven't seen it yet either - the SSD event horizon article is hard to summarize - but - among the things discussed are the predictable revenue crashes which can hit enterprise SSD vendors from time to time - triggered when they ratchet up technical improvements in their products which increases SSD utilization for a homogeneous user base - at a faster rate than the sales ramp was growing before such changes.

Improvements in SSD systems endurance wasn't one of the examples mentioned in my original article - but when viewed from this angle - it is.

The event horizon impact on revenue is something I had also been discussing with another company last Thursday - this time from the perspective of dedupe.

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Users will continue choosing SSD systems which are technically very different on the inside - even when their apps requirements (for performance and capacity and compatibility) look superficially the same from the outside.

That's because other factors outweigh these top level headline tech specs
new SSD thinking inside the box

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IBM Redbook places memory channel SSDs in server context
Editor:- March 18, 2014 - IBM recently published a new free 28 page ebook (aka Redbook) - Benefits of IBM eXFlash Memory-Channel Storage in Enterprise Solutions (abstract) / (pdf) - which describes how memory channel SSDs fit into the concept of servers relative to the other types of SSDs already available.

Editor's comments:- I've been writing about this technology since the time it was being developed and have been well briefed by the original developers - so this paper didn't have any great surprises to me - but I think this document presents a balanced introduction to this technology and a contextualized analysis of how it compares to the other well established SSD acceleration options which are available for use inside servers.

comparison table - click to see article

The key takeway - in my view is table 2 - in which you can see a hierarchy of write latencies which are approximately 5x longer in each case as you progress up the flash SSD steps from memory channel SSDs then PCIe SSDs and finally SAS SSDs.

While bearing in mind that SSD data write latency is not the same as apps performance latency (because the integration of R/W data flow patterns with the software plays a significant part too) and also remembering that some products in the market will blur the ratio of the latency boundaries for these 3 different SSD types - you can, nevertheless see why memory channel has a distinct slot within the onboard SSD acceleration options which you need to think about in servers.

3D NAND flash challenges
Editor:- February 6, 2014 - The best article I've yet seen about the practical implications of increasing the adoption of 3D NAND flash is this...

Experts At The Table: Commercial potential and production challenges for 3D NAND memory technology - published by Semiconductor Manufacturing and Design.

Among the many practical considerations discussed in this article was the question of - "how is the semi industry preparing for the transition to 3D memory?"

On the issue of scalability limits and market pacing - the article reveals that vertical scalability currently appears feasible in roadmaps upto about 100 cell stack layers.

But the rate of 2D shrinks in successive 3D designs will slow down from the recent historic average of 20% per generation to 5% - due to the problems of registration which accumulate as you add more layers. the article

memory channel storage
memory channel SSDs

"One petabyte of enterprise SSD could replace 10 to 50 petabytes of raw HDD storage in the enterprise - and still run all the apps faster and at lower cost."
meet Ken and the SSD event horizon





There are many segments for enterprise flash arrays which aren't listed or even hinted at in standard models of the enterprise market.

Many of these missing market segments don't even have names.

Hey - that means SSD-world is like a map of the US before Lewis and Clark.

If you're a VC should this make you anxious or happy?
Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise


Before asking each question the wizard grabs a very plain looking smooth black metal box - and disappears from sight into the back of the cave...
playing the enterprise SSD box riddle game


Oh, I know SanDisk
Editor:- February 27, 2014 - 2 years ago - with the acquisition of FlashSoft - SanDisk began to step up its efforts to reposition itself as an enterprise SSD company - an aspiration hadn't really been articulated in earlier acquisitions (even when they had involved enterprise ready product lines).

But the strategic goal of doing more in the enterprise had already been evoked in the company's investor communications a few months before the details of how the missing IP would be sourced in detail became transparently clear with the decision to acquire SMART in July 2013.

In a new blog on SanDisk's enterprise site - Jean S. Bozman, Enterprise Solutions Manager, SanDisk - muses on how those enterprise-ward changes are being seen through her eyes in as a relatively new employee and also by customers - in conversations which begin with - "Oh, I know SanDisk" (as a USB flash drive maker) but then go on to other places.