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re rackmount SSDs

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor -
I've been reporting on the rackmount SSD market since the early 1990s.

What's the main reason that most users look for rackmount SSDs today?

In an earlier phase of the market it was mostly about speed (IOPS performance and low latency).

But as predicted in many earlier SSD analyst articles the reasons for rackmount SSD adoption are now many fold:-
  • run faster
  • do more than old style legacy HDD architected systems
The enterprise market has moved to the point where nearly all enterprise data touches SSDs .

So you can't live without them.

There's a lot of complicated stuff going on in this market at the controller, software, architecture and business levels.

And yet despite the size of the market - many user needs still aren't being satisfied by suitable products.

Evolving through turbulent market chaos and technology change in 11 years of enterprise flash the rackmount has emerged as the hot zone of survivalist thinking for SSD storage architects.

It's the form factor where SSD software, micro cloud architecture and amazing utilization efficiency techniques can come together in ways which are impossible to achieve at the drive or server bound layers - even when it's nearly impossible to guess what the next generation box you buy will look like.

There are no easy answers.

But I hope that somewhere - here on this page - or the many linked articles - you'll find something which helps you develop your own ideas to a better way forward.

For many of these AFA startups a single customer like that is bigger than their whole business plan.
the dreams and illusions of "our product us better than EMC" startups

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It's been a tradition in the computer market that users and integrators look to see what their suppliers say about the future of the market and defer to those visions.

Other good places to look for answers were universities (theoretical concepts) and market research companies (numbers).

None of that works with enterprise SSDs.

This is disruptive market where what happens next doesn't follow on the smooth curve trajectory of what happened before.
Enterprise flash - the Survive and Thrive Guide

growing user confidence will spur enterprise flash consolidation
Editor:- April 21, 2015 - In an new article today on I look at drivers, mechanisms and routes towards consolidation in the enterprise SSD systems market along with some other outrageous and dangerous ideas.

"90% of the enterprise SSD companies which you know have no good reasons to survive." the article

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

We haven't reached stability yet in reference enterprise designs and use cases.
what kind of SSD world can we expect in 2015?

Whenever a significantly new rackmount SSD comes to market there are some vital things I need to know in order to place it accurately in my mental map - of how it fits in the market.
the 30 seconds - or less - checklist

SSD endurance
high availability SSDs
the top SSD companies
7 roles for datacenter SSDs
roadmap to the Petabyte SSD
MLC Flash wars in the enterprise
What do enterprise SSD users want?
What an Interface Says About an SSD
How fast can your SSD run backwards?
playing the enterprise SSD box riddle game

The simplest way for vendors to signal to the world that they are masters and commanders of the enterprise flash array high seas - rather than merely floating barges of chips which can be swept along in any direction by the latest technology gust of wind - is to hoist new colors of SSD pricing.
Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing

Notes from SSD market history

The product shown below, from Imperial Technology
(which is no longer in business) is an example of a
rackmount SSD accelerated SAN router which was
featured here on in June 2003.
MegaRam-5000 from  Imperial Technology
MegaRam-5000 Enterprise SSD SAN router
from Imperial Technology

rackmount SSD news

Permabit shrinks data in new flash boxes from BiTMICRO

Editor:- October 20, 2015 - Permabit today announced that its inline dedupe and compression software is used in BiTMICRO's new rackmount SSD white boxes - which include a 1U iSCSI appliance (20x 2.5" TB SSD shown at FMS) and a 3U fast SSD server (8x PCIe SSDs) which is due to be shipped this quarter.

Dell buys EMC - the SSD view

good for Dell-EMC - long term

good for AFA and hybrid competitors - short term

disruption and changes for SSD suppliers - short term

Editor:- October 13, 2015 - Dell yesterday announced it has agreed to acquire EMC for approximately $67 billion. The acquisition also included EMC's stake in the storage software company VMware - which will remain in public ownership.

Editor's comments:- In the short term this fixes a problem for Dell (its weakness in enterprise storage) and offers a credible way for EMC to adapt to a long term future in which its storage products become more commoditized and accessible to smaller businesses (something which Dell has historically been good at with its server business.)

The competitive landscape in enterprise storage is complex but a long term SSD centric summary goes something like this.

Servers have become a commodity. And there is little or no scope for genuine competitive value differentation options to be offered within the server market. (Being able to offer the same memories or SSDs in servers as everyone else - does not decommodify server product lines BTW.)

In contrast - enterprise storage - which in the HDD and post tape library and post optical storage era (2001 to 2008) had been coasting towards oblivious commoditization - has been temporarily reprieved from that fate (2009 to 2018) by the disruptive impact of SSD memory technologies which enabled the construction of 5 to 6 role differentiated types of new storage boxes which could deliver value to users in ways which were technically unimaginable and unfeasible with classically tiered memory and storage.

Having misfired its original entry into the enterprise flash market in 2008 - EMC has in recent years managed to accumulate credible industry leading proprietary IP and product lines in 2 of the 5 above storage box segments (which will satisfy projected enterprise storage needs in the post HDD era) meanwhile treading water in the other 3 main box segments (indicating its aspiration to occupy part of those other crowded beachheads if possible).

Assuming all goes well with the acquisition process - the Dell-EMC product line will enable EMC storage to be more competitive in the short term with existing products and to maybe credibly add another notch to the list of product types for which it has aspirations for clear leadership.

But the acute efficiency pressures on the server and storage markets which are emerging from SSD centric software and data architectures will mean that traditional product lines from both vendors will shrink away.

And those lost revenues will stay gone forever. The old ways and the old purchase orders won't be coming back. That's why it's important for both companies to draw in new smaller customers and to nurture them (if possible) into the new sustainable sold state storage and server product lines.

What about impacts for the SSD market?

Anyone who competes with Dell or EMC will - for the next year - have an easier ride - due to the inward focus which sucks away the attention of the talent following such acquisitions.

The SSD market as a whole will continue to supply memory and SSDs to the new company - and probably can look forward to getting more business in 18 months time.

But it won't simply be more of the same. Some SSD vendors may see big changes when Dell EOLs systems and modules which are cannibalistic and compete within the combined product lines.

Related comments:-

"This transaction comes out of weakness, not strength" said Scott Dietzen, CEO - Pure Storage - in his blog Purely Observations on Dell / EMC Deal.

The aptness of that summary made me jealous.

I guessed that Scott Dietzen has probably got some old product planning powerpoints somewhere which could provide many entertaining viewing hours about the competitive landscape analysis which focuses around this old style pair of soon to be married storage competitors.

So my comment to Dietzen's article post on linkedin was this.

re - "This transaction comes out of weakness, not strength" - is a profound understatement. Wish I'd written that.

See also:-

NexentaStor available with InfiniFlash

Editor:- September 3, 2015 - Nexenta recently announced support for SanDisk's InfiniFlash AFA box.

List price for the integrated solution including, perpetual software licenses, controllers, InfiniFlash, 3 year support and installation can be as low as $1.500/Raw TB.

See also:- towards enterprise hardware consolidation, SSD prices

3D TLC is good enough to last 7 years
in 1 DWPD Kaminario customer base

Editor:- August 21, 2015 - One of the early new SSD ideas in 2014 was that 3D nand flash was tough enough to consider using in industrial SSDs so it was no surprise when 3D flash started to appear in volume production of enterprise SSD accelerators such as Samsung's 10 DWPD NVMe PCIe SSDs in September 2014.

So the recent announcement by Kaminario that it will soon ship 3D TLC (3 bits) flash in its K2 rackmount SSDs can be seen as a predictable marker in the long term trend of flash adoption in the enterprise.

Less predictable, than the price (under $1,000/TB for usable systems capacity) however, is that Kaminario is offering a 7 years endurance related systems warranty.

disk writes per day in enterprise SSDs
This factor - discussed in a Kaminario blog - tells us more about Kaminario's customer base than it tells us about flash endurance however.

Kaminario says its HealthShield "has been collecting endurance statistics for the past few years, and from analyzing the data we see that 97% of (our) customers are writing less than a single write per day (under 1 DWPD) of the entire capacity."

This is one aspect of a trend I wrote about a few years ago - thinking inside the box - which is that designers of integrated systems have more freedom of choice in their memories than designers of standard SSD drives - because they have visibility and control of more layers of software and can leverage other architectural factors.

A competent box level SSD designer can make better decisions about how to translate raw R/W intentions (from the host) into optimized R/W activities at the flash .

This is especially the case when the designers are also collecting raw data about the workloads used in their own customer bases. The customer experience is more important than slavishly designing systems which look good in artificial benchmarks.

"more lanes of SAS than anyone else" - new 4U SavageStor

Editor:- July 28, 2015 - As the rackmount SSD market heads towards future consolidation - new business opportunities are being created for those brave hardware companies which accept the challenge of providing simple hardware platforms (which provide high density or efficiency or performance or other combinations of valued technical features optimized for known use cases) while also being willing to sell them unbundled from expensive frivolous software.

In that category - Savage IO today launched its SavageStor - a 4U server storage box - which - using a COTS array of hot swappable SAS SSDs - can provide upto 288TB flash capacity with 25GB/s peak internal bandwidth with useful RAS features for embedded systems integrators who need high flash density in an untied / open platform.

Savage IO says it "products are intentionally sold software-free, to further eliminate performance drains and costs caused by poor integration, vendor lock-in, rigidly defined management, and unjustifiable licensing schemes."

Editor's comments:- I spoke to the company recently and most of you will instantly know if it's the right type of box for you or not.

fast rackmount SSDs from EMC, IBM, Pure... which is cheapest? (maybe)

Editor:- July 9, 2015 - In a recent blog about the competitiveness of fast rackmount SSDs - Why I Hate Cost/GB Discussions - Michael Martin, FlashSystems Specialist - IBM - leads you through a series of arguments to convince you that - when measured on a 5 year ownership basis (against a very specific set of parameters) his company's fast rackmount SSDs are cheaper to own than competitive models from EMC and Pure.

Among other things Michael says - "Why is everyone so focused on the initial cost when it comprises such a small percentage of the "real" or total cost of the storage array?"

One interesting boundary condition question which Michael Martin looks at is - what is if EMC gave you a FREE VMAX? How would that compare to the IBM V9000 FlashSystem's TCO?

I like that style of analysis - because it's one I've used a lot myself in the past 12 years or so - in various market forecasts where I looked at the cost of one type of product being zero but another type of product (SSD) still being cheaper or better.

Editor's comments:- recently we've seen survey data from Tegile suggesting that for a significant proportion of enterprise users the ROI on their enterprise flash investment can be as little as 1 or 2 years - which suggests that looking at the 5 year cost, or the initial purchase cost are equally unreliable expectations.

For most users - the uncertainty of capturing reliable predictive cost benefit data to justify the acquisition of enterprise flash arrays was discussed in my article - Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing.

The reasons for choosing one system over another include so many user preferences and associated customer service values that the 5 year predicted cost from a particular web site are not likely to be the decisive factor for most users - who will prefer to trust their own analysis.

As long as you don't take the rankings in Michael Martin's blog too seriously - as gospel - and don't come away with the idea that IBM's FlashSystem is always the best and cheapest fast rackmount SSD - it's a fun read. the article

Conspicuously absent however in this discussion - given the 5 year cost justification timeframe - is a new class of fast rackmount SSDs which will be emerging in the next year - based on arrays of 2.5" NVMe SSDs - which will have the same impact on this segment of the market (IBM, EMC, Violin etc) as did flash on RAM SSDs. (Implode the costs and explode the scalability and market roadmaps.)

See also:- SSD costs and justifications 2001 to 2015

SolidFire opens sales channel in Japan

Editor:- March 19, 2015 - SolidFire today announced it has expanded its sales reach into Japan with the opening of a new office in Tokyo and a distribution agreement with ITOCHU Techno-Solutions.

SanDisk enters the rackmount SSD market

Editor:- March 4, 2015 - As I've been saying for the past several years now - the rack is a strategic component form factor for enterprise flash.

And SanDisk recently announced it has joined the enterprise rackmount SSD market - with a new product - 3U 512TB array of 8TB SAS SSDs - with iSCSI (and upto 8 way SAS connections for local servers) called the InfiniFlash system (pdf) which leverages the market proven SanDisk ION Accelerator software stack which came with the acquisition of Fusion-io.

Pricing is under $2K / TB before compression or dedupe are applied.

Editor's comments:- SanDisk's pricing and storage density for the InfiniFlash is similar to Skyera's skyHawk FS (pdf) - launched in October 2014 - although the 2 products have very different internal architectures. The InfiniFlash is an array of standard SAS SSDs while the skyHawk FS is a proprietary design with internal big controller architecture - which can use any type of cheap, high density flash.

The availability of cheap, raw, white box rackmount SSDs like this from SanDisk, HGST and other vendors may put some pressure on traditional storage vendors to justify why they charge so much for - what in most cases - are in reality vanilla flash arrays with some added software features. But it's that software and related integration and migration services which have locked newer vendors out of these older markets.

Having said that - there are many types of users in the rackmount market who don't want the kind of software offered by companies like EMC, IBM, or HP and for whom - even the more creatively priced management functions integrated in boxes from newer companies like Tegile represent an expensive solution bundled with a data management approach which is different to what they need.

I first wrote about the conundrum of different rackmount SSDs - with different characteristics - co-existing at the same time and satisfying different user risk and value judgement profiles in a 2009 article.

In the 6 years since then - as the market has grown larger - it has been possible to delineate more functional differences in SSD box types than existed at that time - while at the same time - the variety of possible attached permutations - with respect to application compatibility, inherent technology risk factors, and buyer behavior - has grown too.

The result has been inefficient markets - and an inadequate range of products - often inappropriately marketed. Problems which I identified (with help from leading users and marketers) in my recent article - Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs

Western Digital acquires Skyera

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

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.

You don't need to worry about the endurance of our FlashSystems - says IBM

Editor:- October 7, 2014 - Worried about endurance?

"None of the thousands of FlashSystem products (fast rackmount SSDs) which IBM has shipped has ever worn out yet! - says Erik Eyberg, Flash Strategy & Business Development at IBM - in his new blog - Flash storage reliability: Aligning technology and marketing. "And our metrics suggest that will remain true in almost all cases for many, many years (certainly well beyond any normal and expected data center life cycle)"

Erik goes on to explain that's the reason IBM can now officially cover flash storage media wear-out as part of its standard IBM FlashSystem warranty and maintenance policies - without changing the prices for these services.

And his blog has a link to a white paper about the reliability architecture underlying this product (although it's behind a sign-up wall - which seems counter productive to me.)

Editor's comments:- Don't expect all other flash array vendors to follow suit (with no cost endurance guarantees) - because this product range from IBM is based on design rules and memory reliability architectures experience in FC SAN compatible enterprise SSD racks which have evolved since the 1st generation RamSan from TMS (in 2000). And for more than a decade before that using other popular enterprise storage interfaces.

Holly Frost - who founded Texas Memory Systems - and who was the CEO when TMS was acquired - told me a revealing story about TMS's policies concerning the reliability of their SSD systems and customer care procedures.

This conversation took place in December 2011 - when the company was launching its first high availability SSD - which became the basis of IBM's FlashSystem.

It still makes interesting reading today. You can see it in this article - in the right hand column - scroll down to the box titled - "no single point of failure - except..."

See also:- high availability enterprise SSDs

NetApp says - the time for taking risks with enterprise flash startups is over

Editor:- October 1, 2014 - Demise of the flash startups is the provocative title of a recent blog by Craig Alger at NetApp - who asserts that the "brief window of time where fast and agile (enterprise SSD) startups can get the jump on large, slow manufacturers" has now ended.

Craig questions how startups like Pure and Tegile can expect to compete now that "titans of the industry" such as NetApp, and EMC (and by implication IBM, Dell, and HP too) have got their flash toys, acquired, oemed, licensed and integrated neatly within vast product catalogs?

Editor's comments:- If you agree with Craig's premise - that all the disruptive innovation is now over - then you'd probably also agree that it's not worth taking risks with new enterprise SSD startups. Just stick with the big safe vendors and you'll be OK.

You won't be surprised to learn what I told Craig by email yesterday - which was this...

"Hi Craig,

I saw your blog - Demise of the Flash startups - and might comment / post about it. Liked the middle but disagree about the conclusion.

I would agree - if the pace of disruptive change in enterprise SSD architecture had slowed down and if it already did solve most problems.

"But with a lot of very big changes in utilization still to come - the potential market size for genuinely innovative enterprise SSD startups (drives, systems and software) is bigger than it was before.

"So there will more startup companies to acquire, license from and compete with. No one's got a whole stable solution architecture and credible roadmap yet. At best current flash systems are stepping stones to somewhere else."

Oh - and if you're wondering - which is the part of Craig's blog I liked the most (apart from the cleverly provocative title) it was where he says "...those SSDs aren't as expensive as they used to be." Craig's article

see also:- Compared to EMC... ours is better - can you take these AFA startups seriously?

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Sir Squeaks-a-Bit - image for rackmount SSD page ... If he had his way... Sir Squeaks-a-Bit would stretch all rotating disk pretenders on the rack and remove their wobbly heads.
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"I think the scoring concept intrinsically suggests a much more stable, restricted and naive model of the SSD enterprise than is currently the case."
re - DCIG's new AFA Buyers Guide
Editor's comments (September 30, 2015 )
Many factors at play in enterprise SSD market behavior still don't appear as explicit assumptions in SSD product marketing plans.

One contributory cause for gaps in segmental understanding has been the continuing pace of disruptive innovation in enterprise SSD-land - which has meant there hasn't been a stable market template for vendors to follow from one seemingly chaotic year to the next as they encroach on new markets.
Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise
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With next generation software and architecture - 1 petabyte of flash rackmount storage will replace 10 to 50 petabytes of HDD storage in legacy enterprise infrastructure and also run faster.
utilization and the enterprise SSD software event horizon