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SSD Controllers and IP

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor -StorageSearch.com

SSD Controllers and IP define the personality of the SSD

SSD ad - click for more infoController architecture and effective implementation processes transform unreliable me-too memory chips into the diverse range of application optimized (or not) SSDs which you can see in the market today.

SSD news
processors in SSDs
SSD reliability - articles
SSD interface glue chips and IP
SSD endurance myths and legends
how fast can your SSD run backwards?
some thoughts about SSD customization
Why size matters in SSD design architecture
Adaptive R/W and DSP ECC IP for flash SSDs
should we set higher expectations for memory systems?
What were the big SSD ideas to learn and unlearn in 2016?
how the market came to care so deeply about the identity of SSD controllers (classic article)
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SSD controller news (extracted from SSD news)
ReRAM in the CPU

Editor:- June 7, 2017 - These are some of the ideas which emerge from a slideshare - Rethink with ReRAM by Crossbar from a presentation at the recent Memory+ Conference.
  • Standard memory busses are too slow to support the computational needs of new distributed (and always on) AI applications which leverage IoT.
  • The only way to improve ultimate "time to get answers" performance is to integrate storage on the same die as the processor.
  • ReRAM can be embedded in SoCs in any CMOS fab to deliver battery friendly latency under 5nS.



new patents for Corsair and Violin

Editor:- May 18, 2017 - News about the issuance of new patents in the SSD and memory market this month include:-
  • Corsair - 9,645,619 - described by its inventor Bobby Kinstle Senior Project Manager in this way. "This one is for using tiny heat pipes to remove heat from memory devices in really tight spaces."
  • Violin (now under new ownership) announced 2 new patents.

    9,495,110 - technology behind the company's 4-way active-active RAID controllers. "Method for managing storage memory resources for LUN allocation and related maintenance operations within a system of high-availability distributed RAID controllers, while maintaining coherency and high input/output speed."

    9,547,588 - "Method for managing the compression and/or encoding of digital data being stored in non-volatile memory, such as flash memory, to improve the performance of the solid state memory cells with respect to program/erase operations. This method may reduce power consumption and storage space usage, while enhancing the wear lifetime characteristics of the memory media."



now Cinderella industrial systems with "no-CPU" budgets and light wattage footprints can go to the NVMe speed-dating ball

Editor:- April 19, 2017 - A dilemma for designers of embedded systems which require high SSD performance is how can you get the benefits of enterprise class NVMe SSDs for simple applications - which integrate video for example - without at the same time escalating the wattage footprint of the entire attached micro server?

A new paper published today by IP-Maker - Allowing server-class storage in embedded applications (pdf) discusses the problem and how their new FPGA based IP enables any NVMe PCIe SSD to be used in embedded systems to provide sub-microsecond latency using "20x better power efficiency, and 20x lower cost compared to a CPU-based system."

image shows where the FPGA IP fits in the context of an embedded low power system using fast NVMe SSDs

The company says the NVMe host IP - which is now available - can be used in an FPGA connected between the PCIe root port and the cache memory, internal SRAM or external DRAM. It fully controls the NVMe protocol by setting and managing the NVMe commands. No CPU is required. It supports PCIe gen 3 x 8 interface.

Michael Guyard, Marketing Director said that - among other things - applications include:-
  • military recorders
  • portable medical imaging
  • mobile vision products - in robots and drones
...read the article (pdf)

Editor's comments:- Now Cinderella embedded systems with low cost budgets and low wattage footprints can go to the enterprise NVMe performance ball. The new magic - in the form of the FPGA IP released today by IP Maker - has the potential to transform the demographics and class of SSDs seen in future industrial systems.

See also:- optimizing CPUs for use with SSDs, SSD glue chips


Liqid named among fastest growing storage companies

Editor:- March 25, 2017 - Liqid was named among the 10 listed in a new article - 10 Fastest Growing Storage Companies 2017 - by Silicon Review .


NVMdurance awarded US patent for Adaptive Flash Tuning

Editor:- March 21, 2017 - NVMdurance today announced that it has been granted US patent 9,569,120 for Adaptive Flash Tuning.


CNEX Labs has amassed $60 million for new SSD controller

image shows mouse at the one armed bandit - click to see VC funds in storage
VCs in SSDs
Editor:- March 15, 2017 - CNEX Labs today announced its Series C round of financing which brings total funding to date over $60 million. The company will use the funding for mass production and system integration for lead customers of its NVMe-compliant SSD controllers for hyperscale markets. The new controllers will enable full host control over data placement, I/O scheduling, and other application-specific optimizations, in both kernel and user space.

See also:- adaptive intelligence flow symmetry (1 of 11 Key Symmetries in SSD design).


Micron chooses Hyperstone's USB controller for reliable IoT SSDs

Editor:- March 6, 2017 - Hyperstone's U9 - USB 3.1 flash Memory controller has been integrated into Micron's new eU500- a USB SSD aimed at the industrial IoT and telco market.

The eU500 has sequential read/write speed of up to 170/120 MB/s and a steady state 4K random read/write performance of 3,000/1,000 IOPS.


controllernomics - joins the memory latency to do list

Editor:- February 20, 2017 - As predicted 8 years ago - the widespread adoption of SSDs signed the death warrant for hardware RAID controllers.

Sleight of hand tricks which seemed impressive enough to make hard drive arrays (RAID) seem fast in the 1980s - when viewed in slow motion from an impatient SSD perspective - were just too inelegant and painfully slow to be of much use in true new dynasty SSD designs.

The confidence of "SSDs everywhere" means that the data processing market is marching swiftly on - without much pause for reflection - towards memory centric technologies. And many old ideas which seemed to make sense in 1990s architecture are failing new tests of questioning sanity.

For example - is DRAM the fastest main memory? No - not when the capacity needed doesn't fit into a small enough space.

When the first solutions of "flash as RAM" appeared in PCIe SSDs many years ago - their scope of interest was software compatibility. Now we have solutions appearing in DIMMS in the memory channel.

This is a context where software compatibility and memory latency aren't the only concerns. It's understanding the interference effects of all those other pesky controllers in the memory space.

That was one of the interesting things which emerged in a recent conversation I had with Diablo Technologies about their Memory1. See what I learned in the blog - controllernomics and user risk reward with big memory "flash as RAM"


Fujitsu says in-memory dedupe before writes to flash can double best write speed

Rackmount SSDs click for news and directory
rackmount SSDs
Editor:- December 5, 2016 - Fujitsu today announced the development of a high-speed in-memory data deduplication technology for use in all-flash arrays. The method decides if there is enough time to search for duplicates in the flash array while retaining the data in cache (low load condition). If so then writes to the flash array are only performed after dedupe. Fujitsu says that for some workloads where there are many duplications such as virtual desktops this can improve the user experience.


Mobiveil's Universal NOR Controller Allows SoC Designers to Leverage Adesto's EcoXiP Flash Memory

image shows mouse building storage - click to see industrial SSDs article
industrial SSDs
Editor:- November 30, 2016 - Mobiveil today announced it is working with Adesto Technologies to enhance the memory in low capacity intelligent IoT systems.

Incorporating Mobiveils U-NFC controller to control the new Adesto EcoXiP flash will provide SoC designers an eXecute-in-Place solution that more than doubles the performance of alternative approaches using standalone NOR-Flash memory.


Silicon Motion has SD 5.1 flash controller for Android market

Editor:- November 21, 2016 - Silicon Motion today announced the "world's first merchant SD 5.1 controller solution."

"Android Smartphone shipments accounted for more than 85% of the worldwide market share, and 70% to 80% of these phones have microSD slots," said Nelson Duann, Senior VP of Product Marketing at Silicon Motion, "With the SM2703 controller (2000 / 650 random R/W IOPS on a single TLC die) now supporting SD 5.1, our partners can rapidly bring to market a new generation of SD cards to enable a much better user experience and extend the usability of the Android smartphones."

See also:- SSD controllers, storage market research


patent in China for NVMdurance's flash software

Editor:- August 31, 2016 - NVMdurance today announced it has been granted a patent in China related to its endurance optimization software.

There are several aspects to the company's multi-stage lifecycle endurance management.

life steps imageDuring the memory characterization and design phase its Pathfinder software determines multiple sets of viable flash register values, using a custom-built suite of machine-learning techniques.

Then in production, controllers which use its Navigator firmware choose which of these predetermined sets to use for each stage of life to ensure that the flash lasts as long as possible.


new memories? new security risks?

Editor:- August 4, 2016 - Is remanence a security risk in persistent memory? That's the topic of my new blog here on StorageSearch.com

If you aren't yet ready to evaluate these new SCM style NVDIMMs you might think you can skip this article.

That's OK as long as you already were aware that that data recovery has always been feasible in old style DRAM too. ...read the article


IP-Maker releases Gen 3 NVMe PCIe reference design

Editor:- July 11, 2016 - for designers of PCIe SSDs - IP-Maker has released its new Gen 3 NVMe PCIe reference design which is based on the VC709 evaluation kit by Xilinx.

It's integrated with Xilinx's Virtex-7 PCIe Gen3 hard IP and a soft DDR3 controller. The UNH-IOL NVMe compliant design uses a x4 lanes configuration.


DIMM wars at battery scale - FLC from Marvell

Editor:- May 12, 2016 - When thinking about SSD / SCM DIMM wars - most of the buzz in the past year has been focused on the impacts of replacing DRAM with flash at the enterprise server and cloud levels. But the same concepts can be applied (albeit with different efficiency gains) at the implementation level of battery powered embedded devices and wearables.

In a recent blog - How Marvell FLC Redefines Main Memory - by Hunglin Hsu, VP - Marvell provides authoritative examples of the replacement ratios possible in a phone design.

A strategic lesson to guide future designers is that even while getting a 50% power consumption reduction (due to flash as RAM) it is also feasible to increase application performance at the same time because the software can work with a larger memory capacity (due to the lower cost of flash bytes).

Among other things Hunglin says - "With FLC, better performance can be achieved by reporting to the operating system a larger than physically implemented main memory. The operating system is thus less likely to kill background apps, which is why the fast app switching is possible. The FLC hardware does all the heavy lifting in the background and frees up the tasks of the operating system." ...read the article


data noise reduction techniques in nvm

Editor:- April 22, 2016 - A recently published book - Channel Coding Methods for Non-Volatile Memories (145 pages, $130) cowritten by Lara Dolecek and Frederic Sala University of California, provides an overview of recent developments in coding for nvms, and, by presenting numerous potential research directions, may inspire other researchers to contribute to this timely and thriving discipline.

Editor's comments:- this appears to be focused on the DSP and ECC end of the Adaptive R/W flash care management & DSP IP revolution which during the last 4 years or so has been changing the way that new memory technologies with poor intrinsic data integrity (high noisiness - when viewed from a classical ECC data angle) can be upcycled to construct higher quality, more reliable solid state storage by adaptive and interventionist coding strategies.


2 ASIC roles for PCIe based BiTMICRO SSD controllers

Editor:- March 25 , 2016 - 5 years ago when BiTMICRO unveiled an earlier generation of its high performance enterprise SSD controller architecture - it was clear that their preference was for a chipset which included 2 different types of functionality.

This kind of thinking wasn't unique at that time - as I'd seen similar things in rackmount SSD designs before but (unlike BiTMICRO) those other designs were captive and not offered as COTS SSD controllers.

How many controller chips do you really need for a PCIe SSD?

In a new blog today BiTMICRO explains why its current generation of controllers continues using a 2 ASIC architecture with one acting as a flash array extender and the other as the main PCIe host interface controller.

Among other things the blog says "To increase flash channel bandwidth and capacity, more flash channel expander chips can be instantiated and connected to the main controller."

As noted in the SSD design heresies - SSD vendors often have different implementation architecture approaches which compete in similar application slots. When evaluating different types of offerings it can be useful to ask yourself - which direction is my own design likely to stretch in future? (Towards more performance? lower cost? bigger scale? adjacent application role? etc.) BiTMICRO's blog clarifies where they see their strengths in the market. ...read the article


Hyperstone samples new industrial USB SSD controller

Editor:- February 15, 2016 - Hyperstone is sampling a new USB 3.1 Flash memory controller - the U9 - in a TFBGA-124 package - for industrial applications.

Among other things the ECC engine can correct up to 96-Bit/1KB. Power management features include automatic power-down during wait periods for host data or flash memory operation completion and automatic sleep mode during host inactivity periods.

Editor's comments:- As you'd expect from a USB device it's not intended for heavy write applications - and although some of the data integrity features are suggested to be enterprise compatible - the sustained random write speed for 4KB is 5MB/s (30x slower than the peak sequential write.)

Nevertheless - given the portability of strategic applications and system software between form factors and the convenience of DWPD as a way of grouping SSDs for different roles I asked Hyperstone if they can supply an indicative range of DWPD for the new USB controller (when used with various classes of memory and DRAM size). I got this answer from Axel Mehnert VP Marketing who said this.

"Yes, we can give you such ratings Hyperstone has a web based lifetime estimation tool which can be accessed by registered users of our site. There you can play with several settings and Flash configurations in order to get DWPD data also correlating to several different access patterns."


new SSD Bookmarks by Cadence

Editor:- February 5, 2016 - You all know Cadence right?

So what set of online resources do you think they'd recommend to newcomers who want to learn more about SSDs? (BTW - Rules of this game disallow mouse links in the mix.)

You don't have to guess. I asked. And you can see Cadence's suggested SSD Bookmarks today in the new series on StorageSearch.com


Marvell is first to ship Host Memory Buffer feature in NVMe SSD controller

Editor:- January 5, 2016 - Marvell today announced expansion of its NVMe SSD controller technology to support Host Memory Buffer (HMB), an NVMe revision 1.2 feature enabling DRAM-less (skinny) flash SSDs to use host memory and achieve performance comparable to SSD designs with regular embedded DRAM but at much lower cost and power consumption.


3 new educational flash blogs

Editor:- December 11, 2015 - Here are some flash SSD blogs I've seen this week which are aimed at educating SSD specifiers in embedded markets.
  • Soft-Decoding in LDPC based SSD Controllers - from PMC-Sierra - includes clear explanations about some of the read again (re-read) recovery strategies which can be used as part of the tool set in adaptive R/W and DSP ECC when things go wrong.

    For example - "Read the same section as the original hard data but use a different set of read threshold voltages inside the NAND."

    These techniques are rarely shared publicly in such detail and are real life optimizations unlike the imaginary techniques I discussed in my 2011 fictional company profile of XLC Disk
  • SSD 101 - Everything You Ever Wanted to Know - aimed at newcomers to the concepts and jargon in industrial SSDs is a new framework overview from Cactus Technologies which links together a bunch of their earlier short blogs. These articles include good diagrams of flash planes, controllers and cells.

    Re the title "SSD 101 etc" - how far it satisfies "everything" you want to know is debatable. But if you're starting out in flash and need the reassurance that the technology background is sound - this series is better than many others I've seen.



Processors in SSD controller design - a new series

Editor:- October 12, 2015 - Coming soon on the mouse site - a new series... aspects of SSD design - processors used in SSDs. This is for those of you who know in your bones that to get the SSD you want - you need to design your own controller.


Datalight's SSD firmware to go into manned spacecraft

Editor:- September 17, 2015 - Datalight today announced that its embedded filesystem (Reliance Nitro) and FTL (FlashFX Tera) have been selected by NASA for use onboard future manned spacecraft being developed as part of the Orion program.


Mirabilis discusses role of deployment level simulation to optimize reliability delivered by SSD controller design tweaks

Editor:- August 16, 2015 - "A diligent system designer can extend the life of an SSD by upto 60% by proper control of over-provisioning, thus reducing TCO" says Deepak Shankar, Mirabilis Design in his recent paper Extending the Lifetime of SSD Controllers (pdf) which discusses the role of application and deployment level simulations to explore the impact of changing brews in controller architectural coctails.

See also:- SSD overprovisioning articles 2003 to 2015


Altera launches adaptive endurance controller for PCIe SSD market

Editor:- June 23, 2015 -Altera today announced availability of a new flash controller reference design for the NVMe PCIe SSD market which uses adaptive R/W endurance.

The Arria 10 SoC (pdf) which includes among other things an integrated dual-core ARM processor uses flash IP from Mobiveil and NAND optimization software from NVMdurance to simplify the design of gen 3 PCIe SSDs having 7x better endurance than classical non adaptive designs.

Editor's comments:- Since the market criticality of adaptive DSP flash controller techniques for enterprise SSDs began to emerge in 2011 and then clarified in a big way in 2012 - it has become an essential capability for most product lines. This standard product from Altera fills a much needed gap in their offerings.

The SSD controller page in past years.

Readers doing research on the evolution of the SSD controller market have tiold me they find it useful to see archived versions of this news page.

The internet archive lets you see the SSD controller page from 2009 to the present day.

Other options are archived storage and SSD news from 2000.

Or put the words "SSD controller" into the site search box below. (It's all here on this site if it was important in the SSD market.)
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storage search banner
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SSD SoCs - on  storagesearch.com
firming up the reference design
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The big question in next generation enterprise infrastructure is how much of the raw semiconductor memory should be configured as storage (like SSD) compared to how much should be treated as memory (virtual RAM)?
cloud adapted memory systems
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SSD ad - click for more info
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SSD testing / reliability / CPUs in the post modern SSD era
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In the current state of the SSD market it's possible for systems companies to use array level software to deliver efficiencies and reliabilities which are as good and sometimes much better than any controller company can deliver in the best solo SSD while the array company uses me-too or not very impressive controllers in each SSD.

The consequences are that the SSD controller market will fragment into:-
  • lowest cost for standard functions, and
  • ability to customize (and collaborate) by software
  • outstanding capability for high value markets in a solo SSD
The array market will become a can't sell zone for any controller company which tries to over-deliver unwanted features (and fool's gold value) in its solo SSD nodes.

And at the same time well see systems companies doing more customization of controllers.

That means controller companies which do introduce standout features will have to figure out where they stand with respect to future standardization and customization.
StorageSearch.com editor in conversation (August 2016)

custom matters in SSDs
SSD market changes in 2016
controllernomics - is that even a real word?
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DRAM stayed stuck in the Y2K era of enterprise latency and that's why its future will go the same way as the 15K hard drive.
latency reasons for fading out DRAM
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SSD SoC / IP vendors list
3S

Altera

Anobit (acquired by Apple)

ASMedia Technology

Cadence

CAST

Crocus Technology

Cypress Semiconductor

DensBits

eASIC

ECC Technologies

Emulex

Eonsil

Faraday Technology

Global Unichip

Greenliant Systems

Hyperstone

Indilinx

IP-Maker

ITE Tech

JMicron

Liqid

Marvell

Mobiveil

NeoMagic

Northwest Logic

NovaChips

NxGn Data

OCZ

Phison Electronics

PLDA

PMC

Rambus

Renice Technology

Sage Micro

Scanimetrics

Seagate

Silicon Integrated Systems

Silicon Motion

Skymedi

TDK

Waitan

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SSD ads from SSD history

Renice ran the banner ad shown below in 2012 on StorageSearch.com to promote awareness of its USB 3 flash controller.

The SSD market's first web ads for SSD controllers began here in 2011.

That was for SandForce.

The SandForce controller ads continued through the ownership by LSI and subsequently Seagate right upto the first quarter of 2017.

See the 2010 article Imprinting the brain of the SSD for the story of how the merchant SSD controller market suddenly became important and how SandForce helped to make that awareness become mainstream.

The first SSD ads for enterprise SSDs started here in 2000.
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SSD ad - click for more info

above - an SSD controller ad circa 2012
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Surviving SSD sudden power loss
Why should you care what happens in an SSD when the power goes down?

This important design feature - which barely rates a mention in most SSD datasheets and press releases - has a strong impact on SSD data integrity and operational reliability.

This article will help you understand why some SSDs which (work perfectly well in one type of application) might fail in others... even when the changes in the operational environment appear to be negligible.
image shows Megabyte's hot air balloon - click to read the article SSD power down architectures and acharacteristics If you thought endurance was the end of the SSD reliability story - think again. ...read the article
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"after numerous delays, a new wave of next-generation, nonvolatile memories are finally here. One technology, 3D NAND, is shipping and gaining steam. And 3 others - Magnetoresistive RAM, ReRAM and even carbon nanotube RAMs - are suddenly in the mix"
Mark LaPedus, Executive Editor - Semiconductor Engineering - in his new blog - Gaps in the memory hierarchy have created openings for new types of memory - which is flavored with some strong opinions from leading memory analysts. (September 16, 2015)
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What's the best way to design a flash SSD?

and other questions which divide SSD opinion
More than 10 key areas of fundamental disagreement within the SSD industry are discussed in an article here on StorageSearch.com called the the SSD Heresies.
click to read the article - the SSD Heresies ... Why can't SSD's true believers agree upon a single coherent vision for the future of solid state storage? ...read the article
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How (and when) did the SSD market change from...

Who cares? - to - You care! - about the identity of SSD controllers?
Imprinting the brain of the SSD
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1.0" SSDs 1.8" SSDs 2.5" SSDs 3.5" SSDs rackmount SSDs PCIe SSDs SATA SSDs
SSDs all flash SSDs hybrid drives flash memory RAM SSDs SAS SSDs Fibre-Channel SSDs

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