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the Top 20 SSD OEMs - in 2011 Q2

17th in this series - by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - July 6, 2011
Who are the top 20 most important SSD manufacturers? - the companies which you absolutely have to look at if you've got any new projects involving SSDs?
Top 20 SSD OEMs - based on search volume Q2 2011 - ©StorageSearch
rank company editor's comments and recent milestones

main SSD technology

InfiniBand SSDs
Same as before.

This is Fusion-io's 10th straight quarter in the #1 slot. Fusion-io's search volume was 68% higher than the #3 ranked company in this list.

Fusion-io has become the yardstick by which all other enterprise PCIe SSD companies are judged - having achieved design wins with most of the world's leading server oems and having set many performance records.

Fusion-io epitomizes what I call the New Dynasty architectural trend in the enterprise SSD market. What I mean by that is that Fusion-io's technology is more suited to new SSD aware server installations and less suitable as a bolt-on accelerator for legacy setups.

That nevertheless still leaves a wide door open for other competitors to walk into the legacy side of the PCIe SSD datacenter - and encouraged by Fusion-io's legitimization of this interface and form factor more than 30 SSD companies have launched products in the PCIe SSD market since Fusion-io started to pioneer this segment in 2007.

In this quarter Fusion-io became a $2.4 billion (market cap) publicly traded company.

In the leadup to that I got many more questions from investors about the enterprise SSD market than usual - and questions about how all the various companies compared.

Who competes with whom? Who's going to win etc? Even when these were coming from readers who had already done a lot of research and talked to other SSD market analysts it showed that a lot of stuff which is clear to me (and a few others) is still muddled and foggy out there.

Suggested reading...

Can you trust SSD market data?
Decloaking hidden memory segments in the enterprise
Where are we heading with memory systems and software?
consolidation in the enterprise SSD box market - maladies and cures

main SSD technology

flash SSD Controllers
Up 1 place since the last quarter.

By any measure SandForce today is the best known and most successful designer of SSD controllers - with over 30 SSD oems using its technology.

To my way of thinking one of the strengths of the top SSD oems series is that our search volume methodology was sensitive enough to predict this success and catapaulted SandForce staright into these listings in the same quarter as it emerged from stealth mode.

Most people don't need SandForce driven SSDs. (Other controllers are available.) But today any company which sells 2.5" SSDs almost has to apologize to web readers if it doesn't use SandForce inside and explain the reasons why. That's how strong the positioning of SandForce has become.

From the technical perspective - within the 2.5" form factor - there are several competing SSDs which go faster. And if fibre-channel is your preferred interface - there isn't a standard bridge chip solution for the SF processors yet. (And I doubt if FC is a priority.) The company told me last year that PCIe bridging (and scaled performance) is technically feasible for them to support and may be an attractive business prospect - if and when the PCIe SSD market size gets big enough.

SandForce's skinny cache architecture makes it easier to fit into smaller form factors too. And several industrial SSD makers have adopted their controllers for that reason - even if they have are using other solutions in their 2.5" products.

With the financial markets waking up to the idea of SSDs in this quarter I was asked a lot questions about SandForce - including how much would they be worth? You can see my answer in their profile page. I'm glad I made it a relative number and not an absolute figure - because in the SSD bubble - dollar numbers are wearing out faster than x5 MLC flash.

See also:- SSD company acquisitions - who acquired whom
main SSD technology

military SSDs
Down 1 place since the last quarter.

STEC has been making flash drives for embedded applications for 15 years - but although their SSD technologies have changed a lot in that time you could easily be forgiven for thinking that the thinking behind their marketing hasn't changed much since the mid 1990s. By which I mean - they still behave as though they were swimming in an SSD pool of 5 sharks rather than hundreds.

Nowadays many people who look at the markets which STEC helped to pioneer learned their own SSD market education from competing SSD companies - and they don't buy into the STEC implied concept of "trust us - we're an SSD company and know best" argument which in the absence of any other clear messages (or hard technical data) - has been the inferred marketing groove which STEC has been stuck in for the past several years.

And potential customers aren't impressed by the fact that EMC might have designed STEC's SSDs into its storage boxes a few years ago - because they also know from STEC's financial reports that EMC didn't sell them fast enough. And anyway EMC isn't a leader in the SSD market - and could buy a different bunch of SSDs - or a different SSD company - next week. EMC's endorsement or lack of it doesn't count for much in the SSD world - because EMC is a long way behind the installed capacity of SandForce or Fusion-io's various partners.

Instead what people want to know are hard facts and better reasons why they should be looking at STEC. And that analysis starts with comparing STEC to other companies. Some of the questions I've been asked recently - have been.
  • how does STEC compare to Fusion-io?
  • how does STEC compare to SandForce?
  • is SanDisk's acquisition of Pliant a big threat to STEC?
STEC is well aware of what I think about the weakness of their past marketing communications strategy - because I talk to them - like I talk to most of the other hundreds of SSD companies listed on this site. STEC does have a good story to tell - although why they've left it so long to begin talking about their internal flash technology assets is a real mystery to me.
4 (joint)
Violin Memory

main SSD technology

Rackmount SSDs
Up 2 places since the last quarter.

Violin is another SSD company which investors and analysts were frothing about in this quarter. I'm surprised I got anything written for the website at all - with all the emails and calls flying back and forth.

I'd already written a lot about Violin before this buzz started. You can read my various comments and an interview linked in their profile page.

As usual - most people start by comparing them with Fusion-io - which in my view shows that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Fusion-io and Violin are in the same set - when t comes to the "big versus little SSD architecture fence". But they are in different sets on the "new dynasty versus legacy divide." They're in 2 segments of my 6 segment enterprise SSD market model - which I partly described in my Petabyte SSD article. These 2 companies make SSDs which fit into complimentary rather than competing roles.
4 (joint)
Texas Memory Systems

main SSD technology

Rackmount SSDs
Same as before.

Texas Memory Systems, has been operating continuously in the SSD market longer than any other company. Despite that the company has often surprised me with its technical and marketing innovations.

In this quarter TMS demonstrated that it was staying in the race for hot rod enterprise PCIe SSDs - with the launch of a new model designed to fit into smaller slots and appeal to oems (read launch news interview).

TMS also filled a long vacant 1U market gap in the fast SAN SSD market.

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
Down 1 place since the last quarter.

Earlier this year OCZ bought itself an SSD controller company (well downstream performance-wise to SandForce and nestling comfortably at the entry level consumer end of the market). Despite that OCZ still uses SandForce controllers in its faster SSDs.

OCZ has been a sales phenomenon ($69 million SSD revenue in the recent quarter) but in some ways it reminds me of early dotcom companies - which focused on growth regardless of whether such market share was worth having.

To me OCZ's product line looks more like a scaled up consumer distributor than that of a mid range enterprise or industrial company.

At some stage I think the company is going to have to decide what markets it's really in - and exit the least profitable segments.
WD Solid State Storage

main SSD technology

1.8" SSDs
2.5" SSDs
Up 1 place since the last quarter.

WD's SiliconDrive SSD family - aimed at high reliability applications in the embedded systems market - was first launched in 2004. WD still uses its own controllers in its SiliconDrive (SLC) industrial SSDs - but 3rd party controllers in its (MLC) notebook range.

The big change in WD's SSD business is going to happen later this year as a result of its previously discussed acquisition of Hitachi GST.

Although the costly part of this $4 billion deal is a hard disk business - the interesting part (in this context) is new enterprise SSDs which will become part of WD's product family.

WD has cultivated a good reputation for reliability - in its SSD customer base - but the company's present product line occupies performance bands well below that of SandForce driven SSDs. The new enterprise SSDs from Hitachi will take WD's SSD reach into markets currently targeted by STEC, SandForce and SanDisk (Pliant).
Pliant Technology
Up 4 places since the last quarter.

By more than coincidence Pliant and SanDisk both moved up 4 places and remained closely coupled in their rankings in this edition of the top SSD companies list - as well as closely coupling in the real world - where they were joined in a $327 million acquisition which was announced in May.

Here's some of what I said when the deal was first announced.

"This acquisition theoretically fixes complimentary strategic weaknesses for both companies:- no customers (Pliant) and no enterprise IP (SanDisk)."

The way I viewed this was that Pliant's main value to a memory maker was they had designed a fast SSD controller - which they had proved worked - because they had a few oem customers.

The only problem was - this wasn't Pliant's original business plan. They thought they would be an SSD company and take a slice of STEC's SSD pie.

But SandForce killed those prospects in the 2.5" market - because many oems thought they could serve themselves better to STEC pie using a SandForce steel shovel rather than a silver plated spoon from Pliant. (They preferred adding their own profit margins to the flash memory thanks very much.)

And you know what I said about STEC's marketing communications (above) not being in the same class (school really) as Fusion-io etc. Compared to Pliant - STEC's marketing was pretty good.

That's the past - what about the future?

If SanDisk doesn't mess this up... big pause there - because they've got no track record worth a figleaf in the enterprise market - and you can read what I said about their past enterprise aspirations in earlier editions of this series - anyway to continue.

If SanDisk doesn't mess this up... it can attack the high end 2.5" SSD market and leverage Pliant's controller to be the #50th or so entrant in the PCIe SSD market too.

What SanDisk currently lacks in enterprise marketing brains may not matter much initially - because as a consumer company - they're culturally more used to the idea of investing money in ads and marketing messages.

Since nobody understands the SSD market anyway (You Dear Reader are the exception) - this could be a time of opportunity when talking loudly and sending out lots of messages about a new SSD gets the job done just as well as talking quietly and sensibly behind the intranet and at events that nobody goes to. We'll see.

PS - it's reasonable to ask - what would the rank of the combined SanDisk/ Pliant SSD company had been in this quarter? That works because the businesses had no market overlap. If I filter out the effect of the acquisition announcement on Pliant - then the combined SSD business would have been #5 in this list.

main SSD technology

1.8" SSDs
2.5" SSDs
3.5" SSDs
Down 3 places since the last quarter.

RunCore's announcements in this quarter mostly had a samey element about them.
  • This is a new show we're going to.
  • This is our new SSD model with SandForce inside.
  • This is a new review which shows how great our products are.
You know the sort of thing I mean. I can't get excited by these things - which are the same as hundreds of other SSD press releases I see every month. I don't think they merit mentions in my news pages. But they might have been mentioned in other publications.

main SSD technology

military SSDs
Down 1 place since the last quarter.

I've lost count of how many compamies have said they offer terabyte 2.5" SSDs in 9.5mm high packages since January 2009 when the first such product was announced.... Lots.

Anyway you can now add Foremay to that list.

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
Down 3 places since the last quarter.

As far as I know nobody acquired Intel, and Intel didn't acquire any SSD companies in this quarter.

Too busy talking about its processors - I guess.

main SSD technology

notebook SSDs

Re-entry into the top 20 list.

In this quarter Toshiba announced it was sampling 19nm MLC flash memory. If you're not au fait with memory geometries that's a size which technologists once predicted would be difficult / impossible to achieve with flash.

I guess that's why we're all using PCM / MRAM / PRAM based SSDs nowadays then instead of flash which as we now know became obsolete in about 2006 according to many nv RAM futurologists.

I recently noticed that Toshiba has some good educational / market intro style videos on its SSD videos page - which discuss reliability, MLC versus SLC endurance and performance - which also put into context reliability issues versus hard drives.
SMART Modular Technologies

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
military SSDs
Up 3 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter SMART announced that it had agreed to be acquired by investment firm Silver Lake Partners in a deal worth approximately $645 million.

main SSD technology

Down 4 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter Seagate said it aims to raise $600 million in a bond deal.

The company didn't say anything interesting about its SSDs - but its SSD education page - which mostly consists of papers which it paid IDC to write - is much better reading than it used to be.
Virident Systems

main SSD technology

First appearance in the top SSD companies list.

This has been a long hard road for Virident - who shipped its first enterprise accelerating PCIe SSDs in June 2010.

One of the reasons for that delay may be because the PCIe SSD market has been getting very crowded and in all the confusion about who's doing what with whom and who intends doing things but hasn't done anything yet - one company - Fusion-io started before anyone else and has been much better at getting its message out. And so Fusion-io is the name which most people have come to associate with this market.

But there's more than one way to use PCIe SSDs, more than one fastest product, and many routes to market.

Virident - whose marketing communications volume setting was stuck on mute for several quarters - was actually proving to a bunch of serious enterprise oems that its products worked and had the desirable feature of sustaining performance even when the capacity was full. That's a complicated positioning message which is only understood by people who already have done a lot of comparative benchmarking.

In this quarter Virident announced that it has been chosen as a winner of the Red Herring Top 100. And it was also one of several named technology partners in a launch by auto tiering SSD software developer FlashSoft.

main SSD technology

Down 3 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter Kove announced that its XPD2 4U SSD had achieved over 11 Million IOPS in a single addressable space and 28.5GB/s bandwidth, along with round trip latency of 6 microseconds for read and 8 microseconds for writes.

main SSD technology

Rackmount SSDs
Up 2 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter EMC announced it had created a flash business unit and will enter the PCIe SSD market later this year.

The company did many SSD announcements - but in my view they were mostly along the lines of announcing the intention to do things in the sometime fuzzy future which I would have expected they would already have completed if they were truly leading rather than following SSD technology trends.

main SSD technology

industrial SSDs
military SSDs
Re-entry into the top 20 list.

BiTMICRO had got so quiet in recent years that I wondered if they had gone back into stealth mode.

It seems like they have a clearer positioning at the high end of the performance range in the embedded enterprise and industrial SSD market.

Their fastest product (2.5" fibre-channel SSD) uses their own controller and has peak performance at the top end of the range for this size of product.

They also published an excellent whitepaper on the design factors associated with surviving sudden SSD power loss. You can find the links to that - and other related papers in my article.

main SSD technology

Re-entry into the top 20 list.

I haven't talked to the company recently so I'm guessing that DDRdrive simply got sucked up to this visibility level due to its unique intersection with 2 segments of the SSD market which have been getting a lot of attention recently - RAM SSDs and PCIe SSD cards.
Companies which dropped out of the top 20 list in this quarter include:- LSI, Solid Access Technologies, Samsung and PhotoFast.
the top 10 SSD oems
the top 20 SSD oems
Megabyte announced the future winners in
the SSD market predicted by search volume
on the longest running SSD publication.
about the top SSD companies list tracks over 300 manufacturers of SSDs.
That's 30x more than when we started publishing SSD guides in 1998 and 6x as many as when we started this quarterly top 10 SSD series in 2007.

Our search volume based rankings give you an idea of which SSD companies other readers like you have been following in the most recent quarter.

The series typically tracks hundreds of thousands of unique readers and millions of searches related to our SSD content in each quarter. For more information about each company and my comments and analysis - click on the company names below.
Past #1 SSD companies
You can learn a lot about changes in the SSD market by seeing which types of companies have occupied the top search slots in recent years and for how many quarters.
company QTRS when?
BiTMICRO 2 2007 Q4
Fusion-io 10 2009 - Q1
Memoright 3 2008 - Q2
SanDisk 1 2007 Q3
STEC 1 2007 Q2
The primary purpose of the series is to help our readers short-list and focus attention on future SSD market winners. I started tracking the relative search popularity of SSD companies in 2004 - when researching SSD market inhibitors and buyer preferences. But I only started publishing this info 3 years later - in 2007.

SSD market history shows that a company can be a winner one year and go out of fashion the next. Our tracking methodology - which now correlates more than 4 different types of searches - and millions of SSD related searches every quarter - is sensitive enough to pick up advance clues of business shifts upto several quarters in advance.
SSD ad - click for more info
SSD ad - click for more info
the 3 fastest PCIe SSDs?
Are you trying to shortlist flash SSD accelerators according to comparative benchmark tests?

If so a new article - the 3 fastest PCIe SSDs list (or is it really lists?) may help to take some of the pressure off you. Hmm... you may be thinking that StorageSearch's editor never gives easy answers to SSD questions if more complicated ones are available.
the 3 fastest  PCIe SSDs  - click to read article But in this case you'd be wrong. (I didn't say you'd like the answers, though.) the article
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. the article
SSD ad - click for more info
flash SSD capacity - the iceberg syndrome
Have you ever wondered how the amount of flash inside a flash SSD compares to the capacity shown on the invoice?

What you see isn't always what you get.
nothing surprised the penguins - click to read  the article There can be huge variations in different designs as vendors leverage invisible internal capacity to tweak key performance and reliability parameters. the article
sugaring MLC for the enterprise
When flash SSDs started to be used as enterprise server accelerators in 2004 - competing RAM SSD makers said flash wasn't reliable enough.

RAM SSDs had been used for server speedups since 1976 - and in 2004 they owned the enterprise market. (Before 2004 - flash SSDs weren't fast enough and had mostly been used as rugged storage in the military and industrial markets - and in space constrained civilian products such as smartphones.)

By 2007 it was clear that the endurance of SLC flash was more than good enough to survive in high IOPS server caches. And in the ensuing years the debate about enterprise flash SSDs shifted to MLC - because when systems integrators put early cheap consumer grade SSDs into arrays - guess what happened? They burned out within a few months - exactly as predicted.

Since 2009 new controller technologies and the combined market experience of enterprise MLC pioneers like Fusion-io and SandForce have demonstrated that with the right management - MLC can survive in most (but still not all) fast SSDs.

Now as we head into 1X nanometer flash generations new technical challenges are arising and MLC SSD makers disagree about which is the best way to implement enterprise MLC SSDs.

Which type of so called "enterprise MLC" is best? Can you believe the contradictory marketing claims? Can you even understand the arguments? (Probably not.)

And that's why marketing is going to play a bigger part in the next round of enterprise SSD wars as SSD companies wave their wands and reveal more about the magic inside their SSD engines to audiences who don't really understand half of what they're being told.
click to read article Unlike the Cola Wars - you can't take the risk of a bad enterprise MLC SSD taste test. the article
SSD ad - click for more info

Is more always better?
The ups and downs of capacitor hold up in 2.5" flash SSDs


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How to interpret thes rankings?
The most important thing is being included in the list rather than the position within it. As the number of SSD oems has grown - it's much harder than it used to be to break into the top 10.

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 #91 on Google could make a big difference to your company - our SSD rankings will make a difference to your business.

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.

I also get asked by companies - what can I do to get into the list and improve my rankings?

My reply is - "Design better SSDs. Improve your SSD marketing and spend more effort in communicating with important SSD market segments. Improve the customer experience of using your SSDs. Get your most enthusiastic customers to spread the word about you by telling people they know that you are such a great supplier."

The converse is also true.

related reading:-

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