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Nimbus talks about SAS SSD array sauce
Editor:- August 30, 2017 - I had another conversation last week with Nimbus CEO Thomas Isakovich. My curiosity was roused by the company's recent entry into the SAS SSD market. And we had exchanged some emails about that but we both thought it would be nice to have a longer free flowing conversation. Here are some of the things we talked about:-
  • What's the new business plan for Nimbus? Does selling drives replace selling systems?

    Tom said Nimbus will do both. He sees the high capacity SAS SSDs as a new market opportunity.

    In the past competitors in the SAS SSD market have focused on performance rather than capacity and cost. Due to the predicted and actual impact of 2.5" NVMe SSDs the SAS market no longer has a performance reason to be. However even "slower" SAS SSDs provide useful life extensions and new market roles for makers of SAS arrays who previously used hard drives. A lot has changed in the SAS SSD market since the first drives were announced 10 years ago. Nimbus describe how and why they see a gap in the market today (pdf).

    Tom said - "One of the benefits we get from having alternative market outlets for our ExaDrive platform (the new no write limits SAS SSD) is that more minds take a close look at the design and operation (these being the flash drive partners Viking and SMART Modular). This and the higher volume of drives used will result in higher quality and more reliable SSDs compared to if we had just continued using the drives as a captive design in our own arrays."
  • Will the new drive business cannibalize Nimbus's array business?

    Tom said no.

    We were both on the same page about this agreeing on all the points we touched.

    We discussed how much more complicated the enterprise SSD arrays segments had gotten. Nimbus's drive customers can access as much of the software stack as they need.

    The ability for integrators to customize the array management of their SSDs has been a growing strategic shift in the market for several years. We've seen many different way of doing this.

    One trend has been for SSD makers to customize the controllers for their bigger cloud scale customers. But you can get better results more easily by customizing the data management of the SSDs and array using software which can intervene at the array and solo drive level.

    Nimbus uses standard flash controller IP to manage the flash (currently controllers from Hynix). Nimbus's software stack provides data management which is scalable to many petabytes in a small rack.
  • How has Nimbus been affected by the memory shortages and higher memory prices?

    Here's the gist.

    The efficiency of storage arrays - how many chips it takes to deliver storage with a given quality of performance and usefulness - has always been important in array designs.

    For as long as memory prices were falling then suboptimal architectures could still reach customers and satisfy the business plans of the companies which sold them. (The inefficiency hits were price, profit margin. electrical power and rack space. But the new systems would still look good compared to those they replaced.)

    Now with constrained supplies of memory everywhere - those designs which can do more with less - have a competitive advantage.

    Array-aware SSD controller software, coupled with scalable fault tolerant array architecture, are the how the efficiency problems are best managed.

    For customers of Nimbus's new SAS SSDs - the ability to use the efficiency mechanisms which come from its array level experience will mean that its customers could do more with less chips in their boxes.

    So the shortages will be good for the market because they will force customers to gravutate towards better designs and better software architectures.
  • Is Nimbus still averse to VC funding?

    Tom said it wasn't exactly like that because the company did have investors. The company has followed a cautious route of aiming to be funded by its customers rather than suck in huge amounts of VC cash which impose their own timescale pressures.

    Nimbus owns its software stack and has been cutomizing the SSDs it uses for many years.

    In effect - the multi year development and evolutionary improvement of the company's array technologies are things you can do if you don't have a VC checking every part of the business against a calendar which has an IPO question hanging over every future quarter.
Editor's comments:- I've been talking to Tom Isakovich about design and architecture in storage arrays since 2001. So we had many previous threads to pick up from which I haven't written about here.

Nimbus - which was already a leader in the petabyte scale SSD market now has a viable stakeholding in the commodity SAS SSD rack market too. The company is well placed at the intersection of several strategic pathlines to the future within which it can adapt and comfortably nest.

See also:- sauce for the SSD box gander
... gets funds for reconstruction
Editor:- August 25, 2017 - Mangstor has (according to various reports such as StorageNewsletter - which lists an investment timeline and the Register - which says that's "not a great deal of money relatively speaking ") has raised $7 million from a recently filed stock issue.

Editor's comments:- I thought I'd look at Mangstor's web site but it's currently under reconstruction.

I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that Mangstor's business plan might be under reconstruction too - because the emergence of Excelero (in March 2017) made the early bright promises of low latency NVMe-like SSD fabrics based on proprietary designs by Mangstor and EMC (DSSD) seem expensive. You can now get similar performance with commodity hardware.

The new technical changes in the SSD industry last year, added to changes in strategic thinking (the slashing of locality related delay effects in the influence from hitherto distinct and uncoupled product segments) have been given a dose of steroids in business thinking circles due to the urgencies created by the memory shortages in 2017 which have obsoleted long cherished assumptions about "learning curve" based semiconductor pricing.

So we're seeing many companies (big and small) take unusual steps and directions to cope with the reshuffling of the new big system memoryfication architectures.
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"One of the most intriguing revelations during the Flash Memory Summit 2 weeks ago was Samsungs new approach to stairstep etch in 3D NAND. This was one of numerous innovations the companys EVP of Flash Products & Technologies, Kye Hyun (KH) Kyung, shared during Samsung's eynote presentation."
Jim Handy - founder Objective Analysis in his blog How Samsung Will Improve 3D NAND Costs (August 23, 2017)
SSD fires both metaphorical and PHY
Editor:- August 11, 2017 - From the metaphorical point of view "fire" is generally seen as a good thing. Hot and cleansing of dusty old ideas.

So we get Fire in the Valley: the Making of the Personal Computer (the book) whence I guess arose the branding statement...

"Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh"

...a company boilerplate (rather than a mission statement) used by the aforementioned company in many press releases such as this one in 2000.

And for a while in storage history there was a hot USB surrogate consumer storage interface called Firewire.

The hot market igniting properties of fire were an idea which - I confess - I used / stole / borrowed to mock up a temporary (only seen by several hundred thousand SSD readers) placeholder banner ad for Fusion-io in 2008 until they found the time to design some better ads. My quickly scribbled skunkworks design used this wording... "learn more about the PCIe SSD company company which has fired up the server market with its ioDrive accelerators".

And "fire" has also been used as a suffix in some SSD product brands too:- SolidFire, WildFire etc.

But this week there was a real physical fire at the Flash Memory Summit.

For more about that take a look at the recent article - Booth Fire Shuts Down Flash Memory Summit Show Floor on Toms Hardware which on August 8th said this.

"We expected some hot hardware at the Flash Memory Summit (FMS) in Santa Clara, CA, but not like this: A booth actually caught fire this morning." the article

whatever did really happen to ULLtraDIMM?
Editor:- August 1, 2017 - The recent history and market adoption of NVDIMMs is similar to the early messy history of the SSD market in that fascinating products appear at one time and then fail to get traction to remain in the market in successive memory generations.The reasons are similar:-
  • Competition from other ways of getting similar work done.

    In the case of NVDIMMs not just other types of raw native memory but SSDs in other form factors too. Such as PCIe which can be deployed to give approachingly similar performance.
  • Software support which is meaningful.

    Without a competitive and capacble software base which can recognize the latent strengths of the new memory technology - the results you get are never as good as the raw technology can deliver. Or if the early software is good enough but the capability is single sourced that deters market growth due to fears of being locked into a proprietary supplier.
A recent blog - an NVDIMM Primer (Part 1 of 2) (July 25, 2017) by Jim Handy - founder Objective Analysis offers this explanation for market demise of the ULLtraDIMM.

Jim says "Both SanDisk and IBM later abandoned the technology, which I have heard was due to performance issues stemming from the lack of an interrupt pin on the DDR3 bus." the article

In my own contemporaneous coverage of that product I wrote about other factors which I thought at the time indicated weaknesses in that first generation (of its kind) product. These were:-
  • there was a SATA bridge inside the DIMMs between the flash and the DDR3 logic. The result was system level performance which was not as great as you might expect - compared to native enterprise PCIe SSDs.
  • for about a year there were legal wrangles surrounding patents associated with the design which scared off other wouldbe adopters and at one stage a court order which stopped shipments.
  • the ULLtraDIMM guzzled power - so you couldn't just drop it into a standard motherboard socket without checking that the power tracks had sufficient copper.
  • the ULLtraDIMM product was not the "reason to buy the company" product line in 2 successive company acquisitions of its flash technology parents SMART then SanDisk - so it was just one of several SSD products lines which were let go.
As you can see there were certainly enough bullets to wound (if not kill) the first generation ULLtraDIMM. But its unsung (less sung about) creator had learned the lessons and produced a superior follow up product.

related blogs on

Memory Channel SSDs

after AFAs - what's the next box?

NV DIMMs - the flash backed DRAM kind

the road to DIMM wars and Diablo's Memory1

where are we heading with memory intensive systems and software?

controllernomics and risk reward ratios with big memory "flash as RAM"

SSD SoCs controllers
SSD controllers ..
image shows mouse building storage - click to see industrial SSDs article
industrial SSDs ..
M.2 SSDs ..
military storage directory and news
military SSDs ..

SSD news - August 2017

SSD history / buying SSD companies / DWPD - uses and limits

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Western Digital buys Tegile as memory shortages shatter utility pricing model assumptions for hybrid storage arrays

Editor:- August 29, 2017 - Western Digital announced today that it has agreed to acquire Tegile. The price was not disclosed.

Editor's comments:- Tegile was already using a customer of WDC drives (SSDs, HDDs and the InfiniFlash white box SSD array from SanDisk). So Tegile's flexible pricing models for buying storage were already a good showcase for how to integrate these technologies in a user friendly way.

One of the business risks of Tegile's business model was that its ideal customers were buying usable storage based on utility model pricing and cost expectations which seemed predictable and scalable upto about the tail end of 2016. Unfortunately those cost predictions have been shattered and ruined by the rising prices of memory and associated shortages in 2017.

A few years ago I discussed the risks of the utility model with Tegile - which at that time seemed to be containable technically (because they were obviously related to expectations of reliability, learning from similar customers doing similar things and efficiencies). Tegile's business model meant that external finance could depend on a predictable curve of customer value and cost.

When memory prices rise by 50% or more (instead of going down) those curves mean that repeat customer sales can't follow smoothly from what happened before.

Who's to blame for the costs? Well the SSD companies which were getting most of the benefit. So that's why I think Tegile couldn't sustain itself as an independent company.

For WDC you could interpret this acquisition as a long delayed response similar in thinking to Seagate's acquisition of Dot Hill Systems.

Tegile can provide Western Digital with a workable platform and channel to get SSDs and HDDs into the low end enterprise.

Analyzing where the costs should fairly be allocated between different business units and comparing those to what the market will tolerate while satisfying ant-trust regulators will fuel some interesting questions for the new owner when it takes hold next week.

How much did WD pay for Tegile?

Later:- August 30, 2017 - WD Expands its Graveyard with Tegile Acquisition - a blog written by AFA competitor Nimbus - says this...

"It's widely known that Tegile was running out of cash. No acquirers showed up as the product is ill-suited for the cloud. Existing VC's saw Tintri's horrific IPO and concluded that unprofitable storage companies are DOA in the public markets. The Tegile deal was a loss for the VC's that pumped $175 million into it (WD being among them). Rather than take the full loss, WD paid well under $100 million to acquire it."

Netlist readies itself for next phase of SCM DIMM wars

Editor:- August 22, 2017 - It's been an eventful past 30 days for Netlist with a judicial reconsideration of the merits of their memory bus load patent more inf (pdf), demonstration of their Hybridimm (with the 1st generation said to be configurable with 256-512GB NAND + 8-16GB DRAM) and pricing of its IPO to raise $4.5 million.

See also:- SCM DIMM wars news and stories

re no-show by Diablo at FMS

Editor:- August 14, 2017 - An article - Diablo Technologies sheds 3 execs - by The Register - lists the recent departures of noteworthy executives at the company and suggests that these may be linked with the non appearance of Diablo at the recent Flash Memory Summit.

among the awards at FMS

Editor:- August 11, 2017 - With so many things going on in the SSD and memoryfication markets the best of show award winners category at the annual Flash Memory Summit has - in past years - provided a useful way to filter interesting developments. And this year is no exception. Among the many awards - 2 things caught my attention:-
  • Another new SSD controller company recently emerged from stealth:- Burlywood.

    In the current state of the memory market the availability of usable leading edge flash memories is subject to great uncertainty due to technology difficulties and market demand. And we know that flash memory makers are jealous about who they cozy up to and share their precious early samples with.

    In that context Burlywood's claim to fame is that their IP - "Allows for multi-sourcing of 3D TLC/QLC flash for a single SSD controller."

    If you're developing SSDs for new markets but not sure whether the memory will turn up in your factory at the prices and volumes you require - this multi-sourcing idea might sound attractive.
  • IO Determinism - won an award for Toshiba and Facebook.

    Although by no means a new idea - because the variability and consistency of benchmark related factors such as latency in enterprise SSDs has been discussed in these pages and elsewhere ever since flash SSDs have been used in the enterprise - nevertheless the recent award has refreshed the idea. And instead of the competitor A versus competitor B arguments which were popular in the PCIe SSD market 6 years ago - the new comparison at the heart of the award showed the difference in the quality of latency in NVMe SSDs from the same company - due to firmware. read more about it
You might say that what the 2 different awards above share in common is the desire for predictability in environments which are beset by highly chaotic elements.

Nimbus enters the SSD controller market

Editor:- August 10, 2017 - Nimbus Data Systems recently announced it has entered the SSD controller market with a reference design for high capacity SAS SSDs.

Editor's comments:- this move is part of a strategic trend in the market. For more see my new blog - sauce for the SSD box gander

Gen-Z does memory fabric demo at FMS

Editor:- August 8, 2017 - Members of a relatively new ORG - the Gen-Z Consortium ran multi-vendor demonstrations this week at FMS achieving 112GT/s.

According to Gen-Z's faqs page - the idea is to create a high bandwidth, low latency, standard for memory-like data transfers which are media independent and can "scale from tens to several hundred GB/s of bandwidth with sub-100ns load-to-use memory latency."

What's a comparable context?

If you go back in time to 2000 and think about the past but forward looking potential of Infiniband or back in time to about 2013 with PCIe fabrics - it's maybe a bit like like those were in their time - but now we're looking from a 2017 competitive needs analysis and the memoryfication of the datacenter- so it needs to be faster.

Intel promises dual port SSDs

Editor:- August 7, 2017 - Intel today announced some new upcoming data center oriented SSDs among which were:-
  • dual port versions of some SSD models promised in Q3 2017
  • a new form factor for SSDs - the "ruler" form factor - which the company said "will come to market in the near future".
See also:- "dual port SSD" - mentions on the mouse site

Longsys showcases tiny NVMe BGA SSDs at FMS

Editor:- August 7, 2017 - Longsys today announced that it will be sampling the industry's first 11.5x13mm NVMe BGA SSDs which support Boot Partitions and the Host Memory Buffer features of NVMe rev 1.3 in Q4 2017.

The new P900 series - skinny (DRAM-less) PCIe 3.0x2 SSDs - aimed at the consumer market and being shown in the next few days at the Flash Memory Summit - will be available in capacities from 60GB to 480GB (64-layer 3D NAND ) and use the 88NV1160 controller from Marvell.

"As the world's leading Mini SDP SATA DRAM-less SSD module provider, Longsys has once again made a unique contribution to the storage industry by pioneering the integration of Marvell's DRAM-less SSD controller 88NV1160 and the new 64-layer 3D NAND into a 11.5mmX13mm BGA package," said Zhixiong Li, CTO of Longsys.

Editor's comments:- apart from the obvious applications for NVMe SSDs on a chip in the consumer market I think the widespread availability of such devices in 2018 could create new opportunities for disruptive "high availability" BGA array architectures in industrial market too.

See also:- SSDs on a chip, PCIe SSDs

SMART sets no write limits on new 50TB SAS SSD

Editor:- August 4, 2017 - SMART Modular Technologies today announced that it will demonstrate a new 50TB dual port SAS SSD in 3.5" form factor next week at FMS.

SMART says that its new Osmium Drive consumes as little as 1/8th the power per terabyte compared to nearline HDDs.

Noteworthy from the endurance and DWPD point of view SMART's datasheet (pdf) says the MLC drive is specified to offer " unlimited writes" over a 5-year lifetime. Behind this may be the technical judgement that at SAS-2 speed and this storage capacity you can never write too much data.

Editor's comments:- in April 2013 - a related company - SMART Storage Systems was offering a 2TB 2.5" SAS SSD rated at 10 DWPD as a capacity leading fast storage drive for under $4,000. That company and product line was acquired by SanDisk. The SMART Modular Technologies in today's story is the industrial and special memory SSD business units which remained unaquired by SanDisk. So it's interesting to see them going back into a market where they effectively compete.

SAS is no longer regarded as a high performance drive interface (that role has long been taken over by PCIe and memory channel channel devices). Instead SAS has changed its role into being a convenient internal technology for high capacity fault tolerant rackmount SSDs which deliver multipetabyte scale SSD storage.

For other competing companies which have also announced ultra high capacity SAS SSDs see the SAS SSD news archive.

Mobiveil releases FPGA controller for 16 lane 16G NVMe SSDs

Editor:- August 3, 2017 - Mobiveil today announced availability of its FPGA-based SSD development platform targeting the latest 3D NAND devices. Error correction is performed using ether BCH or LDPC.

The NVMe (rev 1.3 compatible) controller supports a multi-port configuration for efficient I/O virtualization and multi-path I/O and namespace sharing.

Mobiveil's silicon-proven PCIe solution has added Gen4 support for up to 16 lanes at 16G line rate with availability of 512 bit Data path user interface. The PCIe controller offers AXI4 interface and DMA capabilities for seamless integration into an ARM Advanced Microcontroller Bus Architecture SoC implementation.

Micron Awarded Virginia Values Veterans Certification

Editor:- August 3, 2017 - Micron today announced that its site in Virginia has been recognized for its services which support veterans within the company's hiring program. Among other things Micron said...

"More than 10% of Micron Technology Virginia site's nearly 1,300 full time team members are military veterans. Micron has also funded the creation of two internal military service employee resource groups, providing veterans with peer support opportunities to help diminish some of the difficulties that transitioning to civilian life can bring. At the corporate level, Micron connects with local military bases across the country through TAP (Transition Assistance Programs) and actively participates in the Hiring our Heroes program."

See also:- why was it so hard to compile a simple list of military SSD companies?

Lessons from Coraid

Editor:- August 2, 2017 - AoE (ATA-over-Ethernet) is one of those ideas from storage history (AoE news coverage here on the mouse site started in 2003) which flash into the news pages for a while and then fade away.

There's a new article on StorageNewsletter - interview with Brantley Coile, CEO and Founder, Coraid - which takes you into the thinking behind the original concept and brings you up to date with what his new company is doing now.

Among other things in the article - Brantley Coile talks about the mistaken business direction which Coraid took to grow revenue after its successes in 2010 to 2012...

"...then management made a huge mistake: they decided to change the operating systems. Instead of using the Bell Labs technology I had used, and still use, they wanted to switch to Solaris. Companies like Coraid can't afford to change OSes no matter what the reason. It confuses customers. It means completely changing developers. It stops new features as the new team relearns all the lessons the old team had already discovered. Sales sagged. Funding disappeared." the article

See also:- VCs in storage , Surviving the Solaris x86 Wars

AccelStor's new 100GbE HA NVMe rackmount SSD is 6x faster

Editor:- August 2, 2017 - AccelStor today announced a new high availability all-NVMe flash storage array, the NeoSapphire H810. The 4U rackmount SSD which uses Intel's Xeon Purley platform and has 100GbE connectivity delivers upto 6x the performance of the company's previous NeoSapphire P310 all-NVMe flash array will be on display next week at the Flash Memory Summit.

See also:- the fastest SSDs, high availability SSDs

more funding for Primary Data

Editor:- August 2, 2017 - Primary Data today announced it has raised a total of $40 million in its 2nd round of funding to support continued sales growth in tandem with the 2.0 release of its DataSphere software platform.
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AccelStor NeoSapphire  all-flash array
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NeoSapphire series - from AccelStor
SSD news in Augusts of yore
  • August 2007 - STEC announced it would ship the industry's first native SAS flash SSDs in Q1 2008.
  • August 2012 - Skyera launched a 1U half-depth 10GbE SSD rack with 44TB usable capacity ($131,000 approx), 3.6GB/s throughput and upto 1 million IOPS using under 800W electrical power.
  • August 2015 - Everspin announced the world's first all MRAM storage module in the M.2 form factor.
  • August 2016 - Plexistor showed it could handle millions of remote writes per second using its persistent memory over fabric software.

"The unexpectedly higher price of DRAM and nand flash in the past several quarters due to demand and yield issues has been like manna from heaven to companies with alternative nvms.

The change in relativistic competitive landscape has had the same effect as if the alternative nvms could time travel 2 years into the future while nand and DRAM have stayed looped in Groundhog Day."
Zsolt Kerekes, editor - commenting on - Making money is so DRAM easy for some memory-flingers - the Register (August 17, 2017)

The main performance benefit of HMB (use of host memory buffer) in RAMless consumer NVMe PCIe SSDs is random reads (40 to 70%) and burst writes (upto 5x).

But multi-level eror checks and protection are needed in the controller to ensure data integrity in the flash SSD in the event of a surprise disconnection from host memory.
Notes from the paper - Improving the Design of DRAM-Less PCIe SSD (pdf) - by Sean Yang, Product Manager - Phison. at Flash Memory Summit (August 2017).

Targa Series 4 - 2.5 inch SCSI flash disk
2.5" removable military SSDs
for airborne apps - GbE / SATA / USB
from Targa Systems

The industry will learn a lot about the "goodness" of new memory tiering products by stressing them in ways which the original designers never intended.
RAM disk emulations in "flash as RAM" solutions

Despite the bewildering range of products in the market - the performance characteristics and limitations of ALL flash SSDs are determined by a small set of of architectural parameters.
understanding flash SSD performance limitations

after AFAs? - the next box
Throughout the history of the data storage market we've always expected the capacity of enterprise user memory systems to be much smaller than the capacity of all the other attached storage in the same data processing environment.

after AFAs - click to read rhe articleA new blog on - cloud adapted memory systems - asks (among other things) if this will always be true.

Like many of you - I've been thinking a lot about the evolution of memory technologies and data architectures in the past year. I wasn't sure when would be the best time to share my thoughts about this one. But the timing seems right now. the article

industrial mSATA SSD
industrial grade mSATA SSDs
>2 million write cycles per logical block.
from Cactus Technologies

related guides

Are we there yet?
After more than 20 years of writing guides to the SSD and memory systems market I admit in a new blog on - Are we there yet? - that when I come to think about it candidly the SSD industry and my publishing output are both still very much "under construction". the article

SSD jargon

RAM has changed from being tied to a physical component to being a virtualized systems software idea - and the concept of RAM even stretches to a multi-cabinet memory fabric.
what's RAM really? - RAM in an SSD context

If you're trying to predict and anticipate how the supply of next generation nand flash will ramp up in the next year compared to how you've seen memory successions before then the 3D nand flash market has presented many problems of analysis and interpretation.
3D nand successions?- more dimensions of analysis

All the marketing noise coming from the DIMM wars market (flash as RAM and Optane etc) obscures some important underlying strategic and philosophical questions about the future of SSD.
where are we heading with memory intensive systems?

I think it's not too strong to say that the enterprise PCIe SSD market (as we once knew it) has exploded and fragmented into many different directions.
what's changed in enterprise PCIe SSD?
.VCs in SSDs
SSD controllers
the SSD news archives
Can you trust SSD market data?
what's RAM really? - RAM in an SSD context
Can you tell me the best way to get to SSD Street?