sauce for the SSD box gander
Nimbus enters SAS SSD controller marketby
editor - StorageSearch.com
- August 10, 2017
| If you were to look at a
archived version of the list of
SAS SSD makers here on
StorageSearch.com you'd see that
Nimbus Data Systems
has been included in that list ever since 2010. That having been the result of
a conversation I
had with Nimbus's CEO and founder Thomas Isakovich
in which he told me they made their own SSDs for use in their arrays. |
I remember it Tom's thinking was that they wanted the SAS SSDs to be well
behaved denizons of fault-tolerant arrays.
I must admit I had
been wondering recently if I should edit the list on that page and prune it
down from a list of historic SAS SSDs makers to a reduced list of current
manufacturers - removing thereby in a few mouse clicks the placeholdings for
such past illustrious names as Pliant, OCZ and of course Nimbus.
shows that such lists - like those of
makers, or tape drive
makers, or optical drive
makers have a lifecycle which rapidly grows into double digits in the formative
years of those markets and then in the twilight years shrinks down to maybe the
last 2 or 3 companies who service such customers as still need those products.
But it doesn't end there.
In circumstances where the cost of keeping
old systems running is still worthwhile - as in the
military market -
there can even be an afterlife (upto many decades later) of software and plug
compatible emulation drives which employ entirely different technologies.
Indeed many business
and books have been written on the subject of analyzing the different
profitability and competitive landscapes of technology market life cycles. Some
companies - like startups - shine at the beginning - whereas other companies -
prefer being at the tail end of such markets.
Coming back to SAS
this week that Nimbus (otherwise better known for its
capable rackmount SSD
systems) was - in effect - entering the SAS SSD market as a
reference design supplier was not such a big surprise to me.
impression on seeing the headline was - this makes sense as a business plan for
the same reasons that drive makers have entered the AFA business - because every
kind of technology in the SSD market is now closely affected by other markets
which were once thought to be segmentally distanced. (That was the
SSD market lesson of 2016.)
More interesting for me was the "aha!
moment"- when it became clear that it was indeed Nimbus whose SSD
controllers were at the heart of 2 recent (similar sounding but competing) high
capacity SAS SSD product launches in recent weeks from
other things Nimbus's announcement says...
- Inside an
SSD, multiple ultra-low power ASICs exclusively handle error correction, while
an intelligent flash processor provides wear-leveling and capacity management in
- ExaDrive's software-defined architecture will enable SSDs as large as 500
TB by the year 2020.
- 40 million nearline/high-capacity HDDs are shipped per year using the 3.5"
form factor... ExaDrive-powered SSDs offer 5x the capacity of nearline HDDs in
the same size and power budget.
compiled an informationally interesting
pdf - which
describes its positiong compared to the 4 best known incumbent competitors
in this market.
- ExaDrive supports up to 10 years of write endurance.
Editor's comments:- I'll be talking to Tom Isakovich,
CEO Nimbus soon and will let you know what more I learn about this interesting
fork in the company's business plan.
In the meantime I speculate thus:-
If the company plans to continue its ambitions in the SSD petabyte
box business then offering the ExaDrive IP to other drive makers (as it has
done) will provide greater shipment volume of its ASICs and software - which
could reduce its own costs and improve Nimbus's competitiveness in the box
Another way of looking at it is that we've already seen other
controller makers entering the SSD box market - for example
InnoDisk with its
AccelStor. And for
reasons discussed in my classic
consolidation article - we've already seen most of the
flash memory makers (with
the exception of Toshiba) - entering the SSD box market too.
might say what's sauce for the chip goose is sauce for the box gander.
|The picture above is a close up of a painting
which I call Lucky and the Chickens which was painted for me by
Ken Turner in
about 1998. I wrote about these feathery characters in storage news in 2007
- Lucky Goose and
Attila the Hen.|
Lucky - the goose in the painting above was
hatched by a hen after his parents were killed by foxes. So he was imprinted
as a chicken and although we tried to add geese to his environment he always
ignored them and preferred the company of his fellow chicken.
chicken thing which Lucky wasn't able to do because of his phsyical make-up was
roost in trees at night - because he had the wrong sort of feet.
might say that the personality of SSDs is a bit like that too. The SSD may
contain one type of memory but the way it behaves is determined by the
controller IP, architecture and software. You still see some limitations from
the intrinsic memory characteristics. Here are some of my articles which discuss
- Imprinting the
brain of the SSD - Before 2007 - it was rare for SSD makers to say much
about what their internal controllers did - or how they did it. How did the
market go from - Who cares? to - You care! about the identity of SSD
AFAs - what's the next box? - This raises the question:- what proportion of
the raw semiconductor memory capacity ought to be usable as storage (SSD) or
usable as memory (RAM - as in "random access memory" which operates
with the software like DRAM but which could be implemented by other
storage market research
hidden SSD segments in the enterprise
SSDs - boring right?|
|Editor:- June 13, 2017 - For the past 11 years
one of the safest assumptions you could make about the SSD market was that if
you were looking for excitement and big revenue growth opportunities then the
last place you should be looking was the industrial SSD market.|
an important part of
history is that it started in industrial applications and only became
mainstream and interesting - from a
point of view - when flash SSD designers turned their gaze towards other
directions like the consumer
In fact a good rule of thumb in the exciting days of
disruptive change in the SSD market during 2004 to 2016 was that if you knew the
capabilities of leading edge industrial SSD products in any one year the
picture was probably the same the next year too.
customers - who were concerned about whether they would still be able to get
the same locked BOM
SSD 5 to 10 years after choosing it for their long lived design - the
reassuringly boring predictability and calm, careful approach to new
technology adoption in industrial SSD companies was widely regarded as a virtue
compared to other brasher markets.
But there are many reasons to
believe that the industrial SSD market will soon become a new attention seeking
cauldron of innovation and architecture too.
I describe some of the
indicators which brought me to this surprising conclusion in a new blog -
your grandfather's industrial SSD market.
|If you're trying to predict
and anticipate how the supply of next generation nand flash will ramp up in the
next year (Q4 2017 to Q3 2018) compared to how you've seen memory successions in
the past then the 3D nand flash market has presented many problems of analysis
and interpretation. |
Are more dimensions of analysis needed to get a
clearer picture of future 3D nand successions
|3D nand fab yield - the
nth layer tax?||.....
|what's RAM really? - RAM in an SSD
there yet? - 23 years of SSD guides later...
consequences of the 2017 memory shortages
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
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?
We were both on the same page about this agreeing on all the
points we touched.
We discussed how much more
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 using software instead - because software can
intervene at multiple levels - both at the array and solo drive level. (This
is an example of adaptive
intelligence flow symmetry.)
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
- How has Nimbus been affected by the memory shortages and higher memory
Here's the gist.
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
Array-aware SSD controller software, coupled
with scalable fault tolerant array architecture, are 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
So the shortages will be good for the market because they will
force customers to gravutate towards better designs and better software
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.
- 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.
owns its software stack and has been cutomizing the SSDs it uses for many
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.
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
within which it can adapt and comfortably nest.
here below are 2 earlier stories from the
which led up to this article
offers mid life kicker to SAS SSD array market|
|Editor:- July 11, 2017 - Viking today
it is shipping the industry's highest capacity 3.5"
SAS SSD. |
dual port UHC-Silo SSD
series has 50TB planar MLC capacity, endurance rating of 1
DWPD for 5 years, idle
power consumption under 10W and active power usage of only 16W.
comments:- with 6Gps SAS rather than 12, and relatively low DWPD this is
aimed at the capacity and power optimized
of the rackmount SSD
In 2012 I speculated that SAS would become the new SATA for
array SSDs once the 2.5"
PCIe SSD market reached a competitive critical mass - because quite frankly
SAS can't compete on latency. Whereas there is a huge ecosystem which is
comfortable with managing arrays of dual port SAS drives. So as long as the
drives are big enough in capacity terms - there will be an appetite for them.
at the datasheet - at first glance - an apparent weakness of the new UHC-Silo
SSDs is the lack of any mention of
protection. But the best place to engineer such protection for enterprise
storage can be at the rack level. So in that respect saving space and cost at
the drive level can be regarded as a prudent
at the capacity claim in
"There is no higher capacity SSD solution
available today than the UHC-Silo SSD" said Hamid Shokrgozar,
President, Viking Technology."...
Seagate demonstrated 60TB
SAS SSD prototypes last
August but if Viking really is shipping 50TB now that suggests that those
wanting to extend the market life of SAS arrays and related software can look in
|SMART sets no write
limits on new 50TB SAS SSD|
|Editor:- August 4, 2017 - SMART Modular Technologies
that it will demonstrate a new 50TB dual port SAS SSD in 3.5" form factor
next week at FMS.|
says that its new
consumes as little as 1/8th the power per terabyte compared to nearline HDDs.
Noteworthy from the
and DWPD point of view
(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.
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
scale SSD storage.
For other competing companies which have also
announced ultra high capacity SAS SSDs see the
SAS SSD news archive.