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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?

It's still mostly speed (IOPS performance and low latency).

But as predicted in my enterprise SSD market silos report - a new emerging trend is for fast-enough SSD racks to find an economic place between the performance levels of HDD arrays and the fast end of flash arrays.

And yet another new segment for SSD racks will be SSD arrays to implement the lowest cost bulk / archive / cloud storage at a lower cost than high capacity hard drive arrays.

There's a lot of complicated stuff going on in this market at the controller, software, architecture and business levels. These various new factors you're seeing everyone talk about now are discussed in my article - exciting new directions in rackmount SSDs
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looking for rackmount SSD vendors?
Editor:- are you searching for rackmount SSD companies? When the number of companies marketing rackmount SSDs started heading into the 100+ region I removed the long dangly vendor list which used to be on this page - because it was becoming unusable. Instead I suggest using the siet search below - and insert the words "rackmount SSD" along with another criterion which matters to you - such as iSCSI, FC SAN, fastest etc.
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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 StorageSearch.com in June 2003.
.
MegaRam-5000 from  Imperial Technology
MegaRam-5000 Enterprise SSD SAN router
from Imperial Technology
rackmount SSD news
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." ...read 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)." ...read 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?


StorageSearch.com updates 10 key SSD ideas in 2014

Editor:- September 2, 2014 - StorageSearch.com today published a new home page blog - updating 10 key SSD ideas in 2014.

Are SSD years getting faster? It seems like an end of year SSD market update is due even though 1/3 of this year hasn't happened yet.


Skyera's Rado Danilak to spend more time focused on technology

Editor:- August 18, 2014 - Skyera today announced that current investors from its previous $51.6 million funding round have provided additional capital to the company as it prepares to scale its sales and manufacturing cycles to meet increased demand. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Additionally Skyera has promoted Frankie Roohparvar to the position of CEO while Dr. Rado Danilak, co-founder of Skyera, becomes CTO of the company.


new article on enterprise SSD pricing

Editor:- July 18, 2014 - in a new article on StorageSearch.com - Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing - I explain why I think that 2014 will be seen as the start of a new phase of creativity in the enterprise SSD market on the subject of pricing and affordability and I name 3 companies leading this charge.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the dominant form factor leading this new market trend is rackmount SSDs. because as I told you in this article last year - exciting new directions in rackmount SSDs - that's the most productive form factor for doing something different with technology.

And the simplest way for vendors to signal to the world that they are masters of the enterprise SSD high seas - rather than floating barges of flash which can be swept along in any direction by the latest technology gust - is to hoist new colors of SSD pricing. ...read the article.


new SSD racks announced (and unannounced) by Violin

Editor:- June 24, 2014 - Violin Memory today launched a new rackmount SSD - Concerto 7000 - which can provide upto 280TB of raw fast high availability enterprise flash (using Violin's standard VIMM modules) in 18U.

The key thing about the 7000 is that it's a software services rich storage box -which enables many types of replication functions to be easily scheduled and run concurrently (if so desired) between various 7000 nodes in dispersed geographic locations to ensure data survivability.

Violin also offers an upgrade kit which enables existing users of its legacy 6000 storage arrays to interoperate with these services.

Editor's comments:- June 25, 2014 - yesterday in this space I promised I would give you a bigger story about Violin.

I said - it wouldn't be about this new product - the Concerto 7000 - which I regard as an incremental and predictable gap filler - but instead about an interview I conducted with the company last week driven by the need to understand their business strategy better and to assess how they aimed to fix this paradox...

Each time Violin (or any enterprise SSD vendor) adds new market optimized software and features into a new product line - it makes the new product more attractive to some users - but much less competitive for most users.

Reconciling that marketing paradox with Violin's aspiration to significantly grow revenue led me to pose some very direct and detailed segmentation questions to the company. And I got some very interesting answers.

here it is

In early to mid June more than the usual number of investors had been asking me questions about Violin which I mostly answered by referring them to scattered fragments of content which talked about their themes - on the pages of StorageSearch.com

With another quarterly update of the Top SSD Companies coming soon - I was already thinking it might be a good idea to freshen my profile page for Violin - when I got contacted by a cheerleader from the company asking if I wanted to talk again to Eric Herzog who was planning another round of editor / analyst briefings about a new software related product announcement (see above).

I said - "thanks I'll be happy to talk (again) to Eric. But my main interest is not Violin's new software (I talk to over 100 pure play enterprise software companies). However - if Eric is happy to divide his time between talking about the new product launch – and my random questions about Violin (prompted by many hours of discussions with readers about Violin in recent days) – then let's make a date."

And that's how this meeting got set up.

As things turned out - we used nearly all the allocated time talking about my segmentation issues - and with less than 3 minutes remaining at the end of that I said to Eric - I get the idea (about the software in the Concerto 7000). I'll read up about it.

BTW - I didn't send Eric any advance notice of my detailed questions.

That's partly because I prefer thinking on the spot and we've spoken about enterprise SSD segmentation before so I know he thinks fast.

I thought it might be a nice break for him to get away from the standard presentation treadmill.

To be honest I wasn't really sure how much of our conversation I would eventually be able to write about either - because I was touching on some serious business issues.

And what's good for me to know - when I'm talking in my self appointed pastoral role as the virtual best friend of every SSD company - isn't the same as what's good for the world at large to know - especially competitors.

Anyway - the people I talk to regularly know that although I'm a bit strange (who else would be crazy enough to spend so much time thinking about this market) I can be relied on to keep their secrets.

On my part I was hoping to get clarification on 2 issues.
  • Business limiting factors in the server based SSD acceleration market.

    As Violin had made it clear it wasn't go to play in the PCIe SSD market - and the company's VIMMs don't suit a memory channel SSD form factor either- the company's only publicly known stakeout in this market is the recently launched WFA.

    While that's an interesting experiment - which will appeal to some kinds of users who like Windows and who like the idea of having a single source integrated SSD enhanced apps server - and while it gives Violin a definitely different personality to other vendors competing in this space - I could see 2 problems which would limit the scale of this business.

    1 - the fact that Violin provides the servers.

    Most big users will prefer to standardize on servers from their preferred server suppliers.

    2 - the market limiting effect of the Windows SQL environment.

    Because there are other OS's and other apps.
  • Business limiting factors in the SSD storage array market.

    In particular I was wondering how Violin was going to deal with customers of the type who liked its earlier array products - specifically because they didn't come with a lot of software strings attached.

    My concern was - that that Violin's new product roadmap looked like it was going down the road of increasing product specialization and increasing the software bundle.

    Now despite what some naive market reports about the SSD array market may tell you - more functionality equates to a worse matching product for those customers who prefer to use a different preferred set of software.

    Because for customers in that group - who don't want it - all it does by being in the bundle is slow things down, add to their costs and support and integration headaches.
So I opened my conversation with Eric by saying I had been speaking to a lot of people about his company recently and one of the main things I wanted to talk about was what Violin was going to do about the apparent segmentation problem - which is - the more you specialize a product for one group of customers - the less attractive you make it for everyone else.

Because I couldn't see the solution to this question coming from a continuing sequence of product variations like the last 2 products.

And to make sure we were on the same page I said - the outward sign of real marketing strength - is being able to say with confidence which segments you definitely want to walk away from.

He said straight away - we already did that when we sold the PCIe SSD business.

Which showed we were on the same wavelength.

So I quickly gave Eric a summary of the concerns which I have already outlined to you above. And this is a summary of what he said.

On the server side - he said he has seen those exact same issues.

He named some customers (which I won't divulge here) who liked the look of the WFA and went as far as evaluating it. And when they did that they liked the performance they got.

(He reminded me BTW that the initial published performance numbers for the WFA came from Microsoft - and not from Violin.)

But sometimes he conceded - that Windows is just a small part of a customer's OS mix. If they're a big organization it's too cumbersome to start supporting additional types of systems components in their infrastructure.

And - on the SSD storage array side - he readily agreed with my point that there are many customers who prefer using their own software which they already have - rather than introducing a new bundle of software like that in the 7000. (And he went on to give me a lot of examples of such use cases which Violin has seen in its customer base.)

By then he'd already told me about how Violin was already satisfying those needs with an unannounced new product.

Eric said - I am not going to walk away from that kind of business or those kinds of customers.

In a way - when Eric first told me the details - I was surprised. But I wasn't shocked.

Because I had been thinking that the solution might lie in the direction of a stripped down - no frills - software light SSD array.

But I had anticipated that might be a future product.

Like a Strad 2000...

Can I talk about this? - I asked.

Yes - but don't name the customers or the other details about the software environments we talked about - said Eric.

So this is where I can reveal the details of Violin's new product - which satisfies many of the problems I mentioned above - which arise from having too much specialist software in an SSD array.

It's the 6000 series.

Although - not exactly.

Eric said - we can keep the 6000 competitive and up to date - because most of the modules (power supplies, fans, memory) are interchangeable with the 7000.

In a way the solution is obvious. But in another way it's not.

I said to Eric - the usual thing in this industry is that when a company brings out a new product which looks a bit like the product they had before - but which does more - then everyone assumes that the old product is obsolete.

He agreed.

So maybe there's a case to made for relaunching the 6000.

The reviewers - who simply look at the bullet points and count how many different software features it's got - will hate it.

But the customers - who just want a fast reliable and predictable SSD box - and who don't want to be told what software they have to run with it - will be delighted.

BTW - I deliberately didn't ask Eric to break out numbers for WFA sales.

And I won't try to estimate them by comparing them with similar things to guess a size of market.

I said to Eric in this conversation - you don't need analysts or market reports to tell you if the WFA experiment is working. You're going to know that soon enough from your sales people.

So if it's still in the product line next year - that will be a clue to us all.

See also:- playing the enterprise SSD box riddle game, Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs, What makes this enterprise SSD different?


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 - StorageSearch.com 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. ...read 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 Barrons.com.

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?


Pure Storage's funding coffers fattened up to nearly $0.5 billion

Editor:- April 23, 2014 - Pure Storage today announced it had raised another $225 million in funding - bringing the total in all rounds to $470 million.

Editor's comments:- One of Pure Storage's many competitors - Nimbus - whose CEO has taken a different approach to funding (so far) - this week published an unflattering side by side features comparison between the 2 company's flagship rackmount SSDs.

See also:- rackmount SSD trends, VCs in SSDs


Violin enters the fast HA SSD apps server market

Editor:- April 22, 2014 - Violin Memory today announced general availability of its Windows Flash Array (WFA) - a new 3U fast 10GbE high availability SSD accelerated apps server (64TB raw flash capacity) - for Microsoft enterprise software environments (with unique software developed by Microsoft) which opens up a new market opportunity for Violin and which enables it to compete head to head with vendors who sell enterprise servers accelerated by PCIe SSDs or memory channel SSDs with its own proprietary solution - which integrates servers preloaded and configured with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 with fast RDMA memory access to an internal fabric of Violin VIMM flash arrays.

Editor's comments:- This product announcement is the nexus of several past business strands for Violin and also I think marks another major reset point for the company in terms of its positioning and business potential in the SSD market.

Here are a couple of things for you to be thinking about this new product.
  • Violin was already one of the leading companies in the rackmount SSD market before this product line. Its previous products provided various ways to accelerate apps by connecting their storage to existing servers.

    With this new product - if you're using enterprise apps from Microsoft - Violin can now provide the servers too. And the fast flash is already integrated in the server blades with a low latency software connection into server RAM via custom VIMM acceleration code written by Microsoft.

    While not as scalable as some of the new vendors in the general cloud / SDS market (Violin's new system currently scales to 4 arrays) - Violin's box will be one of the 2 or 3 fastest boxes in the market today.
  • Look Ma - no PCIe SSDs!

    Less than a year after Violin made its late entry into the PCIe SSD market (in January 2013) the company's new management in 2014 was saying that it would soon exit that business.

    That exit strategy made sense even before today's announcement - because it's a different type of business. - Violin was late to market - and PCIe SSDs requires different technical and marketing support than systems. (You saw a mirror image of some of those problems with Fusion-io's clunky boostrapping of itself into also being a systems company last year.)

    In Violin's case - seen from the company's business perspective - with its WFA product - you can now see why decoupling from the PCIe SSD market makes even more sense than it did before for 2 more reasons.

    1- If Violin isn't using its own PCIe SSD form factors in its own servers (but using its proprietary VIMMs instead) then why should anyone else use them?

    2 - Another reason in the balance is that the WFA will compete directly with server makers who are in the market for PCIe SSDs. If Violin found it hard trying to sell PCIe SSD to server makers before - the company's entry into the SSD server market would shrink such design prospects even more.
  • A new style of marketing.

    When I spoke last week - ostensibly about the WFA product briefing - to Eric Herzog, Violin's new CMO - I started by repeating something I'd already said to him earlier by email.

    Violin's big Achilles heel in recent years in my view had been its marketing.

    Since September 2011 (long before the company's IPO) I had been saying to readers on these pages as directly as I could that Violin's marketing communications and advertising was not fit for purpose.

    I told Eric that I regarded his arrival in the company as a way to change all that.

    He told me that he agreed - and had already taken steps to correct a lot of past obvious mistakes.

    On the business development side he said the new management team at Violin included a strong hybrid of skills in both big enterprise companies and startups.

    On a personal level - having left a lot of money on the table from his previous post in coming to join Violin - he believed there was a great opportunity for Violin to be much more successful than it has been upto now. And a part of what he would be doing is ensuring that the company communicated more clearly - in the same kind of language that its customers used - what Violin was all about and how its solutions made good business sense.
Going back to the WFA product launch. I think the WFA is the most significant new product direction for Violin since the company switched away from using DRAM in its rackmount SSD arrays - and over to using flash (in November 2008)."


can I still buy WhipTail arrays? - blog by StorageMojo

Editor:- April 17, 2014 - In case you hadn't noticed - Cisco hasn't exactly been providing a rolling news narrative on what it's been doing with the products and technologies it acquired from rackmount SSD maker - WhipTail.

IBM was similarly quiet for a year after it acquired Texas Memory Systems - although as IBM later revealed (earlier this year) - they had been busy selling a lot of those systems - and adding some improvements to make it blend in better with the family portraits.

In the past 10 years acquiring an SSD company has changed from being a rarified novelty. And in that time we've seen that what companies do after they've acquired an SSD company varies a lot.

The other end of the spectrum (compared to Cisco and IBM) when it came to post acquisition news noise - was LSI with SandForce, and maybe also SanDisk with SMART.

Returning to WhipTail, however... this week Robin Harris (StorageMojo) muses on what's happening now in the sales arena with WhipTail's arrays in his blog - EMC gets the Cisco Whiptail lash


DCIG ranks top rackmount SSD vendors

Editor:- March 31, 2014 - If you're interested in rackmount SSDs then DCIG has published the DCIG 2014-15 Flash Memory Storage Array Buyer's Guide (free sign-up page) - which provides detailed comments on the strengths and weaknesses of rackmount SSD systems from 20 different vendors - which are currently available in the market today (includes list prices).

DCIG have created their own multi-dimensional scoring system in which they look at component features such as density (TB/U), software compatibility (for example ease of integration with VMware), and management functions (dedupe, tiering, snapshots etc). DCIG has ranked these systems overall - and compared many of them to others in the same price band. Another useful feature of the report is a background story about the design heritage or market history of each product.

Editor's comments:- I've read the report and think it's a good read with respect to the raw data and detailed observations about many of the systems listed.

As to the product rankings?

I think whether you agree or not - depends on whether you would assign the same weights to each constituent in the confidential matrix of factors which DCIG have devised.

For some users it will reflect your own priorities - for others - the scoring outcome would be entirely different.

Among the SSD vendors listed in the report - the happiest will be Nimbus (who have been crowing today about being #1) - and happy too should be HP (which is #2).

Some vendors - whose products are best in class in a particular dimension - don't score highly in the main list because they lose out on the "sum of all things which DCIG think you might need" - which is an application dependent judgement - rather than being a universal "goodness" attribute.

The only company which is conspicuously absent from DCIG's list (at any rank) is Fusion-io. Does DCIG know something we don't? That's very odd.


Pure Storage announces rackmount SSD mille-stone

Editor:- March 11, 2014 - Pure Storage today announced it has shipped over 1,000 of its Pure FlashArrays (fast enough rackmount SSDs).

Editor's comments:- in case you didn't get that "mille-stone" thing. "Mille" is an olde English prefix (from latin) meaning "thousand".

In enterprise flash array history context?


Pure Storage's shipments milestone is less signficant than IBM's 1,500 FlashSystem 840s (fast rackmount SSDs), but more significant than Tegile's 1,000 Zebi storage arrays (hybrids) - which we have also heard about in this quarter.


wanted! - VARs for Fusion's rackmounts

Editor:- February 10, 2014 - Fusion-io recently announced that its systems level (PCIe SSD inside) products will be widely available from VARs in North America in in Spring 2014. 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.


IBM shows off what's it's been doing with the RamSan rackmount SSD product line it acquired from TMS - and also launches first memory channel SSD based servers

Editor:- January 16, 2014 - For most of the previous decade (2000 to 2009) Texas Memory Systems was THE company which competitors aspired to match in market position when it came to fast rackmount SSDs.

In the early part of this decade (2010 to 2012) TMS lost its monopoly on rackmounts as it inevitably had to share the expanding market with a lot of other companies - starting with Violin (which overtook TMS in brand strength in 2011) and then other companies like WhipTail, Kaminario, Pure Storage, Nimbus and Skyera which had all established strong market recognition by the end of 2012.

But in those latter years (from 2009 onwards) not only was TMS competing against all those newbie rackmount vendors - but it was also engaged in another hotly contested part of the enterprise SSD market in fast PCIe SSDs - where its product line was trying to find a place somewhere in the narrowing gaps between Fusion-io and Virident.

Then a year ago - in January 2013 - IBM completed the acquisition of TMS (which had been announced in August 2012) and since then we haven't heard much about these products apart from a few glimpses - which enabled us to observe that TMS's rackmount products had been retained and renamed - while their PCIe products were quietly end of lifed.

This week - among other things - IBM has launched a new fast rackmount SSD family - whose controller architecture is effectively an enhanced adaptation of TMS's 8th generation RamSan with some tweaks to incorporate newer memory, iron out some RAS wrinkles (you can now change everything inside from the front or back - without sliding the rack out) and a big investment to present a software friendly face. The new software capabilities are being done by products which are being offered as external-to-the-box unbundled subsystems (control enclosures) for those who want them. This means that the performance and efficiency of the raw flash array isn't compromised in any way.

IBM's new SSD box (a 2U HA 16GB FC fast rackmount SSD with upto 48TB usable capacity, priced at $683K approx list) is called the IBM FlashSystem 840.

Earlier this week I spent an hour talking about this new product with Woody Hutsell and Levi Norman - who are both now back in the IBM branded TMS fold having both sampled the delights of some other leading SSD companies in recent years. Woody wrote about his experiences in a recent blog.

As I've known both of them for many years - I couldn't help but start by saying - "This feels like one of those movies - where they decide to make a sequel many years after - but all the actors look much older. It's lucky for us this conversation isn't going out on YouTube."

You can get a flavor of what IBM thinks it's doing with this new product - and more details in its briefing document (pdf) - and I won't repeat much of that detail here.

click to see pdf

Woody said "It's interesting to me how much attention the flash operation is getting within IBM's storage organization."

He went on to say that IBM's big commitments to flash such as the $1 billion investment announced last April are seen within IBM as popular actions "which are important as we need to compete." As a result - many competent people (in IBM) want to be a part of the flashsystems effort.

Anther change in scale since TMS became part of IBM is that the size of the development team for the flash systems rackmount has quadrupled.

Sales are good too. IBM has shipped over 1,500 of these flashsystems. In effect Woody said this was limited by the fact that for 3 quarters IBM shipped everything they had planned to make.

Woody said he thought that this alone - even without all the other SSDs which IBM was selling into the enterprise market meant that IBM was probably on its way to be one of the biggest vendors in the market.

I said - a dominant market share in enterprise flash in 2014 might look like 5 or 10 per cent as there are hundreds of companies in the market. - We'll have to see how things work out.

But my guess is that with a few assumptions about density, channels etc this means this rackmount IBM product line has possibly been generating about $500 million of revenue in the past year - which explains where some of the revenue missing from competitors' reports may have gone to.

Something else which appeared in the briefing paper singing the praises of IBM's expanding universe of enterprise flash product offerings - eXFlash DIMMs - sounded to me like just another name for SanDisk's memory channel SSDs (later confirmed to be the case) which appeared in another announcement IBM server announcements today - see footnotes for more.

What's my final take on this? (FlashSystem 840 announcement)

IBM is now the company to make comparisons with if you're looking for fast rackmount SSDs with some high availability options. Particularly if you're working in a complex environment - are a big customer and think you will be reassured by the availability of compatible products and pre sales technical sales support.

IBM's density - in terms of rack units needed to build a petabyte SSD - is better than some other fast systems - but remains an order of magnitude less efficient than Skyera - due to the difference between IBM's use of eMLC compared to Skyera's claimed ability to use TLC due to adaptive controller architecture - which is 2 generations (4 years) ahead of what's used in this particular IBM box. (Having said that - IBM does already use some degree of adaptive flash SSD technology in other systems - by virtue of the SSDs it designed in from SMART.)

Going back to scary Skyera - "On the other hand" - I said to Woody - "Skyera doesn't have the same HA or software in place yet. But not everyone needs all these features."

Overall - for competitors in the same high performance and reliability class as this new IBM box (which includes companies like Violin, Fusion-io etc) - IBM can still be beaten on price. It was ever thus.

Footnotes - IBM's first memory channel SSD servers

In another IBM SSD announcement today (alluded to above) about its new server architecture which leverages memory channel SSDs - and making a comparison with PCIe SSDs - IBM said - "Our evaluators are seeing 5-10 microseconds write latency for eXFlash DIMMs in preliminary testing vs. 15-19 microseconds latency for PCIe-based flash storage from Fusion-io, Micron, and Virident, and 65 microseconds latency for Intel S3500 and S3700 SSDs."

We've seen increasing granularity of detail emerge about the system characteristics of memory channel SSDs emerging in a trickle of announcements, and experimental user reports in the past year. Now that the new flash DIMM SSD products are becoming generally available - there will soon be better clarity on real world costs and performance.


heads up alert for a future article about rackmount SSDs

Editor:- January 15, 2014 - Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs is the working title of a future article which will appear here on StorageSearch.com on or shortly before February 14.

Segmentation is an important marketing concept which enables vendors to operate more efficiently by identifying discrete sets of customers within contextual frameworks - who (for specific stated purposes) can be modeled as having similar needs. But many significant user adoption realities still remain conspicuously absent in enterprise SSD marketing plans. ...more about this


enterprise flash storage - the 1st decade

Editor:- December 11, 2013 - as we approach the end of another year - it's interesting to note that this also marks the end of the 1st decade of flash storage arrays in the enterprise.

This decade was an unruly period in SSD history - accompanied from the very beginning by early doubts that flash could ever be as reliable and capable as DRAM SSDs.

Indeed - every few years - the reliability debate was re-opened by the desire to use newer, cheaper and intrinsically less reliable types of flash memory to increase competitiveness - which relied on ever more complicated internal architectures to manage the growing raw technology deficits.

Most other IT related markets would have reached some kind of predictable calm by now. But there's no sign of that here in the SSD market. Instead - all the debates and architectural upheavels which accompanied enterprise flash before now seem quaintly simple by modern standards. To get an idea of what happened see my classic article - "Sugaring Flash for the Enterprise".


You may decide that my ratios are too timid - I said to Skyera's CEO - Rado Danilak.

If so - scare us!


Editor:- October 22, 2013 - I spoke recently to Skyera's CEO about SSD utilization efficiencies and the problem of being a newbie vendor in the enterprise SSD market. You can see more in the article - scary Skyera.


New report from the Spur Group tracks "share of voice" in rackmount SSD market

Editor:- October 16, 2013 - The Spur Group recently launched a new market report service - Share of Partner Voice: Storage and SSD ($4,995) which compare the sales channels for 4 encumbant rackmount storage platform vendors: EMC, NetApp, Oracle and Dell against the channel efforts of selected rackmount SSD suppliers including:- Fusion-io X-IO, Violin Memory, Skyera, Whiptail and others.

The Spur Group says its "Share of Partner Voice" web based methodology is rooted in "extracting website content from over 76,000 technology service providers, hosting companies, software developers and other customer facing technology suppliers through a proprietary crawler."

Ross Brown, senior principal and the lead author of the report, said - "Our approach to measuring Share of Partner Voice® shows that Violin Memory is outpacing the market, with more than twice the brand presence of its nearest competitor. The report also highlights why the market for acquiring these companies is accelerating, as the channel adoption is happening very quickly and often at the expense of incumbent platforms."

Editor's comments:- As you know I'm a great believer in the value of using raw web data to get insights into fast changing emerging markets - which is why I launched the Top SSD Companies series - 6½ years ago.

The raw data types and methodologies which The Spur Group use are completely different to ours. They look at different types of web activity and are based on different population samples - so the results and inferences are going to have different use cases too.

The growing ecosystem for storage and SSD market data companies is a healthy sign that more economic activity in future will become SSD-centric.

But a bigger SSD market means bigger risks too.

This is a complex and innovative market - so it's very easy to miss key products, companies and trends in the SSD market compared to the comparative ease with which you can assess what's happening in the "no great surprises here" technology museum segments elsewhere in the enterprise.


exciting new directions in rackmount SSDs

Editor:- May 29, 2013 - If you're an enterprise user who is already sold on the idea of using more SSDs - what could be better than a great new SSD drive?

If you're an SSD vendor looking for the magic formula to open up vast new untapped markets for SSDs - what kind of solution do you need to offer to attract enterprises who aren't at the sharp end of the performance pain curve, are content with the speed they get from HDDs and who aren't even looking at SSDs for their network storage?

This is a problem which has been occupying the SSD industry's smartest product architects for years. And their answer to both questions is the same - although the product details vary according to the target market. - It's a new type of SSD box.

A new generation of enterprise SSD rackmounts is breaking all the rules which previously constrained price, performance and reliability. The sum impact of cleverly designed SSD arrays is systems which are many times more competitive than you would imagine from any tear-down analysis of the parts.

The new SSD folksy wisdom - "you can't second guess an enterprise flash array from knowing what drives are in it" - may soon have to join the - "you can no longer judge an SSD from simply knowing its memory".

Anyway - to get back to my headline today - the new math of this new reality SSD box trend - what's behind it, where it's going, and some of the vendors driving it - are explored in my recent home page blog on StorageSearch.com - exciting new directions in rackmount SSDs. ...read the article


Kaminario drops PCIe and turns to SAS to get costs down in new HA rackmount

Editor:- April 18, 2013 - "You don't have to be an investment bank like JP Morgan to afford our style of fast, scalable high availability SSD systems any more" - was the key message I got talking to Phil Williams, VP Business Development at Kaminario earlier this week when discussing with me aspects of the company's newest series of FC SAN compatible SSD arrays - the K2 v4 (6TB usable per U at a cost of $10K to $15K per TB) which was launched yesterday.

Phil was referring to the expectation that their products - which in the first generation were entirely RAM based SSDs - and then moved onto RAM / flash hybrids and then mostly pure flash (the flash components being implemented in the previous generation of K2's by Fusion-io's PCIe SSDs - a relationship direction which I suggested in a much earlier briefing conversation with Kaminario's CEO few years ago BTW ) - had acquired a reputation of being out of reach pricewise - and not just in a class of their own for resilience and scalability.

One of the ways that Kaminario has pulled off the affordability trick is to drop PCIe SSDs as the internal flash components and use instead SAS SSDs.

I've said before that in the enterprise arrays space - "SAS is the new SATA" - because there are so many companies which have moved into this segment that there's stiff competition. Unlike the PCIe SSD market -which is mostly sold on high performance - the SAS market includes a number of vendors who have been using adaptive R/W ECC to enable them to use cheap flash to build reliable fast-enough SSDs

Because Kaminario still has a lot of RAM cache in its server based architecture - it doesn't need the raw endurance and performance of FIO's ioMemory to deliver multi-gigabyte throughput at the rack level. And another factor is that Fusion-io itself is on course to become a significant supplier of rackmount SSDs (although not aimed at the same kind of customers.)

Kaminario didn't want to say which SAS product they're using. They might say later. But it doesn't really matter.

The K2 v4 also demonstrates that the key IP component in Kaminario's box is SSD software. When I suggested that future boxes could equally well discard SAS SSDs if 2.5" PCIe SSDs offered a better set of characteristics - Phil agreed that the company wasn't tied to any particular internal SSD drive form factor or interface.

Kaminario has paid Taneja Group to do some new testing on the performance aspects of simulated hard faults. These will be very useful for customers - and take the uncertainty out of the picture - giving hard numbers for various scenarios.

For example - when running at just under 200K IOPS and 5GB/s throughput - an entire node (controller) was removed to simulate a fault. I/O resumed after 23 seconds and performance dropped by less than 15% for 2 minutes before recovering fully.
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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
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Pure Storage tells CNBC about enterprise flash
Editor:- June 3, 2013 - "You're not the only company that plays in this market - correct?" - said Becky Quick, co-anchor of CNBC's squawkbox in a leading question to Scott Dietzen, CEO of Pure Storage (Monday morning).

"We weren't the first to package flash for storage" said Dietzen. "What we did figure out uniquely was how to get flash into a place where it was price competitive with (enterprise) disk." ...watch the video

Editor's comments:- "uniquely" must have another meaning I haven't learned yet.
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