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the Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2009 Q3 - 10th in this series

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SSDs - reaching for the Petabyte
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Editor's intro:-

Who are the top 10 most important SSD manufacturers - the companies which you absolutely have to look at if you've got got any new projects involving SSDs? A decade ago there was an easy answer. "All of them!"

It wasn't till 1999 that our online SSD directory tipped over the 10 companies mark.

Today (October 2009) there are over 163 active SSD oems - including those who design SSD controller chips. That's 3x as many as 2 years ago). New companies are entering the SSD market every week, and already more than 15 SSD oems (previously listed in our SSD directory) have exited the market..

The new storage gold rush is chasing an opportunity for storage systems companies that could eventually be worth 5 to 10 billion dollars a year. And despite the downturn in other parts of the storage market caused by the recession, there are many segments in the SSD market which appear to be recession-proof.

Indeed some classes of SSD products are doing better because of the recession. That's because users don't have the budgets to buy the latest rehash of architecturally bankrupt server solutions touted by traditional suppliers. Instead, users are looking more carefully at ways to make their applications work better at lower cost - even if it means going through a painful learning curve of SSD education and vendor qualification.
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Who's going to dominate this market? It's not that easy to predict. There's already a lot of traction as you can see by comparing which companies have consistently remained in the top 10 list in the past 9 quarters.

Stakes have been put in the ground claiming desirable application or technology territories. A handful of SSD pioneers have already exited the market, gone bust or been acquired.

STORAGEsearch.com has an 11 year track record of accurately predicting the top 10 storage oems and major technology shifts within the storage market.
To go back to the question -which are the most important SSD oems to look at right now?

There are 2 empirical ways to form such a list based on different market research approaches:- financial data and search volume data.

(1) - financial data - looks at revenue and shipping volumes. The problem with this approach in a market that's growing so fast - is that revenue data can be 3 to 6 months out of date when collected and may not sample any data at all from important new companies which have recently entered the market. This traditional approach will probably work fine from about the middle of 2011 onwards. And if you can afford to wait that long before choosing SSD partners / suppliers that's OK. But is it really? I think waiting that long is very risky. Many companies will be at a severe competitive disadvantage if their competitors are using SSD technology first. Faster SSD accelerated ecommerce sites, faster databases and new SSD powered business applications will mean that waiting too long to hit the SSD trail could be damaging to your competitiveness.

To be frank - using revenue based reports to guide your way ahead in a fast growing market like SSDs is about as sensible as driving fast down the highway and steering ahead by what you see in the rear view mirror.
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(2) - search volume data - is a near real-time and (nearly) reliable way to see which way things are heading in changing markets.

One simple way to think about it is this. It's the world's biggest focus group of people with a strong interest in SSDs - typically 200,000 to 300,000 unique SSD readers in each past quarter.

What they think and do changes the industry.

Our methodology excludes measuring direct advertising impressions BTW. So although advertising (or editorial) on this and other sites does create awareness - and that feeds into what readers search for - the top companies in this list may or may not be advertisers.

I've got strong confidence in this approach having used it as an online publisher for over a decade to help me make predictions about emerging technologies and disruptions in the storage market. But search volume based market inferences only work if you have high volumes of search in the specific subject. That's why you're here... Because when it comes to SSDs STORAGEsearch.com has delivered tens of millions of article downloads related to SSD content and our SSD readership is growing fast. We've also been discussing the SSD market with nearly every SSD manufacturer (sometimes before they founded their companies) and with analysts and interested readers in a wide range of enterprises longer than any other publisher or analyst.
top SSD form factors September 2009
based on overall search volume

1 - PCIe SSDs !!!
2 - 2.5" SSDs
3 - 1.8" SSDs
4 - 3.5" SSDs
The Top 10 SSD OEMs.............................................................................
The listing below is based on storage search volume on this site.
Top 10 SSD OEMs - based on reader search volume in 3rd Quarter 2009 - © STORAGEsearch.com
rank manufacturer SSD technology notes re this quarter....................................................
1 Fusion-io PCIe SSDs Same as before.

In July 2009 - Fusion-io announced the results of TPC-H benchmark tests sponsored by, and running on, Dell servers, and audited by Performance Metrics, Inc. The tested system achieved 28,772 QphH on a 100GB database, at a cost of $1.47 per database transaction. (The typical 3 year cost of ownership for the whole system including software is quoted as $41,998.)

In September 2009 - a historic milestone for the whole SSD industry was passed - when overall search volume for PCIe SSDs surpassed that for 2.5" SSDs for the 1st time. That helped Fusion-io - which had already established for itself the iconic brand recognition of being the SSD company most strongly associated in customer minds with the PCIe form factor .

That recognition is due as much to clever marketing as cleverly designed products and is despite the fact that Fusion-io wasn't the 1st company to launch such a product - and also despite the growing high number and quality of competitors in this segment.

Fusion-io's search volume was more than 2x as high as the #4 ranked company in this list indicating overwhelmingly high reader affinity for learning more about this company.

...Later:- in October 2009 - Fusion-io published a case study showing how their ioDrive SSDs helped MySpace reduce server count, claim back 50% rack space while increasing application performance (compared to its legacy SAS RAID system) and massively decreasing electrical power.

As a result of this initial project - MySpace plans to replace all remaining 1,770 2U servers with Fusion-io enabled servers as they reach their end-of-life.
2 SandForce flash SSD Controllers Same as before.

In August 2009 - SandForce announced the availability of the SF-1000 family Evaluation 2.5" SSD featuring 34nm flash from Micron.

In September 2009 - SMART Modular Technologies announced it has selected the SandForce SF-1500 SSD processor for use in its next-generation enterprise-class SATA SSDs sampling later this year.

Everyone wants to be in the SSD market - and the growing number of flash SSD controller & IP companies is just 1 of the 3 factors breaking down the barriers to SSD market entry. SSD IP companies make it much easier for SSD oems to fill gaps in their product lines or freshen up tired old product ranges.

But companies like SandForce also represent a potential threat to SSD makers who target the high volume oem market. That's because high end server oems could tactically make their own brand SSDs once they have proved there is sufficient demand using merchant market SSD products.

SandForce's dual frenemmy nature may be a factor in the high interest levels in this company. Even if you're not planning to use their products - you can't afford to ignore them - because their technology may pop up in another place close to your own interests.

...Later:- in October 2009 - SandForce published a new article called - Data Integrity Challenges in flash SSD Design. It describes what's needed inside the next generation of fast flash SSDs to ensure data integrity and to eliminate the risk of "silent errors."

In November 2009 - SandForce announced that it has closed $21 million in Series C funding.
3 STEC SAS SSDs
military SSDs
Up 5 places since the last quarter.

In July 2009 - STEC announced it had received $120 million order for its ZeusIOPS SSDs from a single enterprise storage customer for delivery in the 2nd 1/2 of 2009. This followed an earlier announcement that the company has partnered with a leading defense systems contractor to supply its MACH8 industrial SSDs for integration into a platform designed on behalf of the U.S. Military as part of a 12 month, $28 million supply contract.

In August 2009 - STEC said it will ship 6Gb/s SAS flash SSDs in both 2.5" and 3.5" form factors in Q4. STEC's new ZeusIOPS SSDs will deliver 80,000 IOPS random read, 40,000 IOPS random write with transfer speeds of 550MB/s read and 300MB/s write. STEC also said it's sampling a faster version of its 3.5" FC compatible SSDs. STEC also announced a new policy of offering MLC flash in so called "enterprise class SSDs".

Over many years STEC has earned a good reputation for shipping boringly reliable, high-quality fast SSDs which its oem customers can install and forget.

As the performance gap between STEC and rivals has narrowed I would have expected it to become vulnerable to its customers switching away to lower priced products. Instead - STEC has been gaining from all the bad news stories in the industry about badly designed and inadequately validated SSD products shipped by other companies.

Each time an oem customer sees another flaky flash SSD news story - that's another reason to worry about the dangers of using nouvelle SSDs. And that is reinforced by the growing awareness that many engineers can't even rely on their own benchmarks to filter and shortlist products they can depend on in real applications.

These growing uncertainties mean that STEC may not have to worry unduly about Pliant Technology's long anticapted foray into SAS flash SSD turf.

...Later:- in November 2009 - STEC disclosed that its biggest customer, EMC, hasn't sold as many of its SSDs as expected - and will carry inventory into 2010. If this was a surprise to anyone it's only because they didn't read my analysis (published April 1, 2009) which appeared in the 8th quarterly edition of the top 10 SSD oems.
4 Samsung Notebook SSDs Down 1 place since the last quarter.

In August 2009 - Samsung Electronics announced it is targeting the PC gaming industry with its 256GB SSD. This seemed to confirm the consumer-led focus of the company's business strategy.

Earlier StorageSearch.com had said it doesn't think Samsung's SSD product marketing is good enough to achieve success in the enterprise server market. Not everyone agrees with that. Because in September 2009 - Samsung announced that HP was offering its SSDs as an option in ProLiant servers.

Also in September 2009 - Samsung announced it has begun producing 512Mb PRAM memory. PRAM combines the speed of RAM for processing functions with the non-volatile characteristics of flash memory for storage. This has been a Problematic (rather than a Perfect) RAM technology. Samsung originally announced a working prototype of the 512Mb PRAM 3 years earlier - in September 2006.

...Later:- in October 2009 - Samsung announced it has invested in Fusion-io.
5 WD Solid State Storage SLC Flash SSDs Up 5 places since the last quarter.

This is the highest rank which WD has achieved in these tables and is 2 places higher than the previous best for SiliconSystems - which WD acquired in March 2009. This indicates a positive market reaction to the strongly rebranded SiliconDrive product family.
6 Texas Memory Systems Rackmount SSDs
PCIe SSDs
Down 2 places since the last quarter.

In August 2009 - Texas Memory Systems launched the RamSan-6200 a 40U rackmount SSD with 100TB of SLC flash storage, 5 million IOPS performance and upto 60GB/s throughput - which uses approximately 6kW of power. It's a scaled up system that combines 20x RamSan-620s in a single datacenter rack and uses TMS' TeraWatch software to provide unified management and monitoring from a single GUI console.

In September 2009 - Texas Memory Systems expanded its IP base with the acquisition of data management patents and source code from Incipient. This technology acquisition will allow TMS to further differentiate its RamSan line of solid state storage solutions. Incipient developed scalable storage virtualisation and management capabilities over a period of 8 years. During that time, the company made significant technological advances and was awarded multiple patents.

Although other rackmount SSD oems have appeared in the top 10 lists from time to time - TMS is the only one which has consistently made an appearance in every edition.

I've tracked the company's solid state storage products for nearly 20 years, but they've been in the SSD market even longer than that. Maybe it's because of their longevity and endurance (no pun intended) they are regarded as being the "safe" choice for many high end conservative SSD buyers - in the same way that STEC is the "safe" (albeit expensive) choice in the small form factor SSD market.

Both companies have an intense focus on the duality of SSD performance and reliability. And yet both have the ability to surprise the market and analysts from time to time with new innovative products that push back the frontiers.

...Later:- in October 2009 - Texas Memory Systems announced that its RamSan-620 - (2U 5TB SLC flash SSD, price $220,000 approx) - has achieved a record setting SPC-1 result. It produced 254,994.21 SPC-1 IOPS with average response time of 0.72mS and at a cost of only $1.13 per SPC-1 IOPS - which is better than any competing RAID or Flash solution.
7 Foremay 1.8" SSDs
2.5" SSDs
3.5" SSDs
military SSDs
First appearance in these top 10 tables.

In July 2009 - Foremay announced a new 1.8" SLC flash SSD. The SATA compatible SC 199 Cheetah has sustained R/W speeds of 250MB/s and 220MB/s respectively. R/W IOPS are 6,000 and 5,200 respectively. Capacity options range from 16GB to 64GB. Endurance for the 16GB device is rated at 87 years assuming 50GB sequential writes per day.

In September 2009 - Foremay announced the SC199 Hi-Rel Series SLC flash SSDs in 1.8", 2.5" and 3.5" form factors which meet military standards MIL-STD-810G and MIL-STD-833G. Operational temperature options include -40°C to approx 100°C.

...Later:- in October 2009 - Foremay entered the PCIe SSD market with its EC188 Dragon series - which is now sampling. R/W performance is upto 1.5 GB/s and 1.3 GB/s respectively. Both MLC and SLC models are available. Capacities range from 128GB to 4TB. Random R/W IOPS is up to 27,000/12,000.

In November 2009 - Foremay announced it is shipping the world's fastest 2.5" SATA flash SSDs. The SC199 Cheetah Y-Series has R/W speeds up to 290/280 MB/s in 2.5" and 3.5" SATA form factors - which approaches the theoretical speed limit of the SATA-II protocol. It also delivers impressive R/W IOPS of up to 50,000/45,000 respectively.
8 SanDisk MLC Flash SSDs Down 2 places since the last quarter.

SanDisk which had reported a 10% year on year revenue decline for the previous quarter was more - talked about by SSD analysts - than talking itself about the SSD market - in this quarter.
9 RunCore Flash SSDs Down 4 places since the last quarter.

In September 2009 - RunCore, which has 20 patents in China, and a strong background with the defense market in the PRC, launched a family of military SSDs with -55°C to +125°C operation as well as an enhanced range of industrial 2.5" SSDs.
10 Intel 2.5" SSDs Reappearance in these top 10 tables.

Companies can get high visibility for negative as well as positive reasons. This was, alas, the case for Intel - which in a mixed good-news / bad-news quarter joined the notorious band of companies having once shipped flaky SSDs.

In July 2009 - Intel announced a process shrink for its X25-M - SATA 2.5" MLC flash SSD. The new 34nm devices deliver upto 8,800 (4KB) write IOPS and up to 35,000 read IOPS. R/W speeds are 250MB/s and 70MB/s respectively. R/W latenciy is 65µS and 85µS. The 160GB model is priced at $440 (1,000 unit price point).

But within days of announcing the new Intel SSDs - shipments were suspended due to an internal bug.

That was one reason - cited by Pillar Data Systems in this quarter - for publicly dumping Intel SSDs and switching to STEC.

In September 2009 - Kevin T Crow, Strategy Specialist, NAND Solutions Group, Intel shared his SSD Bookmarks with readers of StorageSearch.com.

...Later:- in October 2009 - Intel joined the growing roster of SSD companies who have announced support for Trim functions. These benefit flash SSDs which don't have internal fast active garbage collection. The company recommends users install the firmware update and toolbox, and run the Trim function daily to ensure best performance.
Waiting in the wings - just below the top 10 in this period were:- Mtron (11), DTS (12) and Violin Memory (13).
How to interpret the rankings?

The most important thing is being included in the list rather than the position within it. Having said that there's a 4x difference in pageviews between companies at the top or bottom.

I sometimes get emails from SSD product managers griping about the validity of these lists. My reply is that it's a marketing reality they have to live with. Just as being ranked #1 or #90 on Google could make a big difference to your company - our SSD rankings have tracked over 2 million readers since they started.

High rankings mean that more people in the market are interested in learning more about what you're saying. On the other hand - if your business plan is to be a leading shaker in the SSD market and your company has never appeared in these lists - then you have an uphill struggle - and success could take a lot longer than you think.

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