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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.

In many ways the enterprise SSD market resembles a jungle and the creatures within it are evolving fast. The bugs haven't read the blurb on the bug spray - and don't realize they are supposed to stay away - or be dead.
Enterprise flash - the Survive and Thrive Guide

For many of these AFA startups a single customer like that is bigger than their whole business plan.
the dreams and illusions of AFA startups

SSD ad - click for more info

90% of the enterprise SSD companies which you know have no good reasons to survive.
consolidation in enterprise flash - the user revolution

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
"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

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

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

how to configure Micron SATA SSDs for VSAN as a lower cost and faster alternative to SAS HDDs in a Dell PowerEdge

Editor:- September 12, 2014 - Micron today published a new blog - VSAN Demo 2014: A How-To Guide - which gives a top level configuration summary of a recent benchmark demo it ran at VMWorld.

Micron's introduction says "Our primary goal was to demonstrate best-in-class VSAN performance and show how that compared to a standard VSAN configured with SAS HDDs. One of the most interesting aspects of our configuration was that our M500 client (cheap SATA) SSDs were actually less expensive than the SAS 10K HDDs (in the comparison system)." the article

Editor's comments:- An interesting thing (for me) is that - for reasons explained in the article - Micron configured VSAN to see the M500 SSDs as HDDs.

See also:- SSD software, How will the hard drive market fare... in a solid state storage world?

Dell rebrands FIO's ION - "Violin smasher class" fast rackmount SSD

Editor:- June 24, 2014 - Fusion-io today announced that its all-flash ION Accelerator Appliance (fast rackmount SSD) will be offered as a fully integrated and Dell branded solution.

The scalable all-flash appliance features high performance and efficient density with up to 12TB of persistent, ultra low latency flash memory in 2U of space.

IBM is #1 in rackmount SSD revenue

Editor:- June 16, 2014 - IBM announced today that a recently published market report by IDC identified IBM as the #1 company (ranked by revenue in 2013) for rackmount SSDs with 25% market share.

Editor's comments:- this would only be a surprise if you had not read my January article - Who's who in SSD? It's IBM Jim - but not as we know it - which was cut and pasted from this SSD news page you're reading now. .

The IBM-Jim article included IBM's FlashSystems shipment numbers and the revelation that for 3 quarters IBM shipped everything they could make.

Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise

Editor:- May 28, 2014 - today published a new article - Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs

Some of the world's leading SSD marketers have confided in me they know from their own customer anecdotes that 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 user - maybe that's why no one is delighting you in the way you think you deserve.

That's what led me to write my new article. the article

Another petabytes shipment snapshot of enterprise flash

Editor:- May 9, 2014 - A recent blog - in ArchitectingIT - says that 3 leading vendors shipped a sum total of over 50PB of rackmount SSDs in Q1 2014 - with HDS - apparently having shipped more flash capacity than either EMC or Pure Storage according to estimates by the blog's author Chris Evans.

Editor's comments:- How does this compare to other vendors? and to other times?

See Petabyte SSD Milestones from Storage History.

Another context is this.

If and when Skyera ships just 40U of its fully populated upcoming skyEagle (in a single quarter later this year) that would be more flash capacity than anyone in the above list. (Although they should all be shipping more too if you believe market forecasts.)

Enterprise flash capacity - on its own - is a crude and meaningless measure. (Unless - I suppose - you're the company which sold the chips or the boxes.)

The true business value of enterprise flash depends on how fast it is, where it's located in the datacenter architecture and how well it has been integrated to leverage the application architecture.

EMC acquires memory channel SSD in a box company DSSD

Editor:- May 5, 2014 - EMC has acquired a stealth mode rackmount SSD company - DSSD - it was announced today.

Products based on the new DSSD architecture are expected to be available in 2015.

Editor's comments:- an informative and entertaining article about this can be seen on

It sounds like the DSSD product will implement a large directly addressable (by PCIe) memory space - based on a transparent RAM cache flash memory tiering scheme and will offer latencies similar to memory channel SSDs - but with the capacity difference being that you can pack more capacity into a box than in a bunch of DDR3 DIMMs.

It hearkens back to the original big shared memory in a box connected by PCIe of Violin's first product - the Violin 1010 Memory Appliance - which was launched back in 2007.

Although that was pure RAM - and expensive. And enterprise users in those days weren't as educated as they are today. That meant Violin had to go back and redesign the product to include a fibre-channel front end - to make it fit in with the market idea of what an enterprise SSD box should really look like. And that product also came in at the tail end of the RAM SSD market - in the year before new flash controller architectures enabled SSD makers (including Violin) to displace low to mid range SSD boxes with pure flash.

And before Violin's product - in 1994 - Texas Memory Systems was shipping a product called the SAM-2000 (Shared Access Memory) - which enabled a bunch of different computers (even with different OS and internal busses) to share the same memory at low microsend latencies and bus throughputs.

There's an argument for saying that Violin already offers something similar now to what EMC hopes to ship next year - in the shape of Violin's Windows Flash Array (WFA). Except that the 1st generation WFA uses GbE as the server clustering fabric. But my guess is that it would be easy for Violin to offer other variations with lower internal latency - to connect the CPUs to its VIMMs - if they thought enough customers would buy it.

And IBM can already do something similar (to Violin) with its X6 architecture.

The limitations in IBM's technology are that the 1st generation of eXFlash DIMMs (designed by SanDisk and Diablo) are greedy when it comes to power consumption. That means legacy server motherboards don't have enough current capacity routed to the DIMMs to enable you to fill them all with these modules. That's easy to change, however by adding more copper in the motherboards and increasing the air flow in the box.

If EMC offers the DSSD as a product which is unbundled from the brand of server - then it might find a niche market for it.

But there are so many different ways of tackling the same problem (such as enabling PCIe SSD fabric from PLX and A3CUBE, and software defined storage, not to mention what's the PCIe interface for in Skyera's new box) that it may already be a crowded market by the time EMC has anything to ship.

See also:- Are you ready to rethink enterprise RAM?

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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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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.

Smaller nuances of user behavior (which are easier to discern as patterns in a stable market) easily get lost under the noise created by headline technology changes and the market's apparent willingness to slaughter and discard once loved past industry leaders.
Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs

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