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the Top SSD Companies - in 2012 Q2

21st edition in this multi year series

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor, StorageSearch.com - July 13, 2012

Who are the top SSD companies?
... the companies which you absolutely have to look at if you've got any new projects involving SSDs? Here they are...
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.. the top 10 SSD oems ... StorageSearch.com is proud to pre-announce the probable future winners in the solid state storage market.
...
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Top SSD Companies - © StorageSearch.com

based on reader search in 2nd Quarter 2012
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rank.... company notes...........................................................

1 Fusion-io Same as before.

This is Fusion-io's 14th straight quarter at #1.

Fusion-io's search volume was nearly 2x the level of the #2 ranked company in this list and 5x the level of the #10 company and 10x the level of the #20 company. That seems like a big difference - but compared to previous editions of this list - the gaps between the top 10 companies are shrinking.

2011 was the year of the FIO IPO.

Now one of the big SSD trends in 2012 appears to be the business impact of DSP IP inside flash SSDs.

So I recently asked Fusion-io to reveal what they were doing with this new technology.

I got the answer that they didn't want to disclose that level of detail right now.

OK - so why did I ask?

Isn't it obvious that at some stage in the future FIO (and nearly everyone else in the flash SSD market) will use the new technology? It's just a matter of timing... Some other enterprise SSD makers also declined to reveal their exact plans in this area.

Yes - but let's re-examine why FIO is in the market position it's in today. If you strip away its first mover advantage in enterprise PCIe SSDs, its comfortable software fit with big server architecture and its superb execution at marketing - Fusion-io is the company which has the lowest component cost when it comes to delivering a PCIe SSD at any given performance level.

Adaptive DSP IP enables SSD designers to significantly lower the cost of their memory bill of materials and deliver faster SSDs in the fast-enough SSD segment - when using the cheapest flash.

Those factors cancel out the cost, electrical power and reliability advantages which FIO's (we don't need controller chips) minimalist hardware architecture has long had over all its competitors in the fast-enough PCIe SSD segment.

The result would be to level the competitive playing field in raw hardware costs compared to companies like STEC.

There are 3 ways FIO can deal with this challenge
  • compete in the market without adaptive DSP IP. Customers who use the company's software API's in new dynasty applications can achieve speedups which are 10x bigger than traditiona API's. So why care about a mere 2x speedup from a new flash technology?
  • FIO can develop its own adaptive DSP technology and integrate it within its existing software stack. (My guess is this is what the company will do - or may have already done.)
  • FIO can license an IP set from another source - such as DensBits. When DensBits spoke to me last April I immediately saw that FIO would be the broadest fit to adopt their technology from the technical point of view - because both companies have very scalable architectures. The only downside for FIO - if they choose this course - would be the licensing cost which is a percentage of the whole SSD market price.
When and if FIO do publicly announce their DSP IP adoption strategy - they'll go back to having the lowest cost BOM - although if they're paying a license for the technology it may narrow their competitive lead.

2 Violin Memory Same as before.

In this quarter - Violin announced it had secured $50 million in Series D funding, which the privately owned company said gave it at an extrapolated market value of more than $800 million.

It's been a year since Violin established itself in the minds of the market as the new trend setter in rackmount SSDs - a role previously occupied by Texas Memory Systems.

Like TMS - Violin uses its own big SSD controller architecture - although - unlike TMS - Violin doesn't offer any SSD products in smaller form factors (yet) like PCIe SSDs.

In the past year many other companies have entered the newly emerging market for high availability SSDs. And in the fast-enough enterprise SSD market - Violin's competition is also getting tougher.

Can Violin sustain its lead in the rackmount market?

It will get more difficult as the rackmount SSD market itself fragments more clearly into different types of products. Violin has enough market momentum and presence to stay in the top end of the SSD companies list - but I don't believe that any single company can be a sustainable leader in more than 1 or 2 of the 5 headline segments within rackmount SSDs. The technologies required and market experience are too diverse.

My guess is that from its vantage point Violin will cherry pick the segments in which it does best.

Will adaptive DSP IP in SSDs impact Violin?

Yes. And like FIO - Violin will be unable to use this technology unless it develops the technology itself or licenses it.

I think that before that happens - Violin's competitiveness (which come from the efficiencies it has in overprovisioning ratios due to its big controller architecture) will be eroded by rackmount competitors being able to use arrays of cheaper but relable DSP flash - in the form of SAS SSDs. But it could take another few quarters before Violin sees its cost advantages shrink.

3 STEC Up 1 place since the last quarter.

In many ways this quarter has been a turning point for STEC.

In June I said in our main SSD news pages that the company had "improved its enterprise marketing" and that "the company has doing new things which it didn't do before - rather than just doing the same old things better."

That was after years of eviscerating comments about the company's routes to market and marketing.

So if you believe that marketing can have a beneficial effect on company performance you should expect to see better results from the company in the coming year (compared to what it would have achieved otherwise.)

In this quarter - STEC announced the general availability of the company's EnhanceIO SSD Cache Software for Linux and Windows environments.

I'm not convinced about the long term sustainability of a hardware SSD maker offering their software for use to accelerate competing SSDs. And I know that many other SSD ASAP products provide better performance - because they use more complex hot spot algorithms. Nevertheless - STEC has opened the SSD software gate as a new portal for customers to do business with the company. And that will lead to new business opportunities.

4 OCZ Up 1 place since the last quarter. This is OCZ's highest ranking in the history of these lists.

OCZ's SSD revenue for its fiscal quarter which overlaps 2/3 of this calendar quarter grew 54% year on year to reach $106 million. The immediate market reaction was negative due to reported losses and a reader asked me to comment on that while I was writing this piece.

I said my starting point for evaluating the company would be this. If OCZ wanted to – it could sell its controller business today - Indilinx (which does have its own adaptive flash DSP IP) for 20x as much as it paid for it. So why worry?

OCZ competes across a wide spread of markets - but within the enterprise market - it's tempting to make comparisons with STEC and Fusion-io.

OCZ's SSD software set is much more capable than that from STEC - but OCZ hasn't had more than a few quarters to integrate the powerful software set it acquired from SANRAD as a market leveraging tool. That's in contrast to FIO for which software has been in its DNA since founding. You can't use an ioDrive without the software. It won't work. In contrast - you can use most of OCZ's SSDs without being tied to their software.

Having said all that - due to the past history of OCZ, STEC and Fusion-io each of these companies is nearly as different in its accessibility to new customers as in its core technology - even when you're looking at superficially similar products like PCIe SSDs.

OCZ is the most accessible to customers from a broad market. Fusion-io has had the most impressive set of design wins and STEC - which had been for many years the most difficult company to do business with - has recently changed the way it markets SSDs.

Each of these companies have big strategic customers or markets which - for reasons of business preference or technology risk aversion - they can serve better than their "so-called" competitors.

5 LSI/SandForce Down 3 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter - LSI demonstrated its SandForce SF-2000 flash controllers working with Toshiba 19nm and Intel 20nm NAND flash memory. And the company said that its multi-generation roadmaps are a key reason that oems (currently 50 companies) like its way of doing things.

The 1st generation SandForce controller supported 4 flash generations from 5Xnm down to 2Xnm and its current generation started at 3Xnm geometries and already supports 3 generations of flash down to 20nm.

LSI says that one of the reasons it can support so many generations of flash from the same generation controller design is that it uses firmware as part of the flash management IP.

However, a safe inference from the market activities of some of LSI's oem customers is that in this quarter LSI was not yet shipping adaptive DSP enhanced IP in its controllers.

6 Texas Memory Systems... Same as before.

In this quarter - TMS didn't launch any new products - and instead concentrated its marketing communications resources towards customer success stories and collaboration with yet another SSD software company - DataCore.

Here's a warning! - If you do a web search for the words "DSP" and "SSD" you may get misdirected by mindless search-engines to some of TMS's earliest projects with SSDs as data capture devives - or even to the company's recent range of DSPs which are supported by SSDs.

Those juxtapositions of the words "DSP" and "SSD" aren't what we're talking about today. Although it is how some of us got into the SSD industry.

As I was saying recently to a VP in a different SSD company who like me also had a data acquisition background - we may be among the few people in the enterprise SSD industry who understand what DSP means. (OK there are many thousands of you in the industrial and military markets who know too.)

7 SanDisk Up 1 place since the last quarter.

In this quarter - SanDisk launched a new family of bootable enterprise PCIe SSDs - the Lightning range - which leverages SSD IP from 2 previously acquired companies (Pliant for the controller hardware and FlashSoft for the auto caching software).

8 Virident Systems Down 1 place since the last quarter.

Virident didn't launch any new products in this quarter.

One of the contexts in which Virident has been mentioned in this quarter - is the validity of different types of SSD benchmarks - and how some products have better performance symmetry than others.

The company has developed a new SSD benchmarking tool which would produce better conformity between lab benchmarks and the experience in real-world applications.

This is one of many areas where the interests of better SSD education intersects with those of business development.

The general argument - which most vendors would agree with - is that the more that users understand SSDs - the more readily they will buy more SSDs.

But can you extrapolate that to specific buyer behavior?

By that - I mean - if a benchmark designed by a particular SSD company shows that their own product works better than a competitor's product are you more likely to buy it? Even if it's true?

Or will it simply mean that competitors will design their own versions of benchmarks which make their own products look best? (It's easy enough to pick preferential tests.)

In general I think that efforts to increase the level of SSD education are a good thing athough the side effects are:- it can give you a headache, or it can soak up your time, and you may be even more confused at the end of the education process then at the start when at least you were certain that you didn't know anything at all.

9 WhipTail Up 2 places since the last quarter. This is WhipTail's highest ranking in the history of these lists.

In this quarter - WhipTail launched a multi-protocol HA SSD rack called the INVICTA ($250,000 for a 6TB 6U 250K IOPS 200 µS latency model).

WhipTail is the highest ranking rackmount SSD company in the Top SSD Companies List - which uses arrays of open / COTS SSDs instead of its own proprietary flash controller architecture.

10 Kove Same as before.

In this quarter - Kove published new record latency numbers for its fast RAM SSD - the XPD L2 - which achieved continuous and sustained 5 microsecond random storage read and write when connected via 40Gb/s InfiniBand adapters from Mellanox .

11 BiTMICRO Down 2 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter - BiTMICRO announced it had obtained over 600 IP assets from QualCore whose portfolio includes analog, digital, and mixed-signal IC design. Engineers retained from QualCore's IP and ASIC services team have joined the recently established BiTMICRO India.

12 SMART Same as before.

In this quarter - SMART showed it can turn even more tricks by leveraging its adaptive DSP IP inside SAS SSDs.

The 1st of these was in preconditioning flash memory in unmodified LSI/SandForce driven SSDs (without adaptive DSP) - with new default write programming parameters harvested from its DSP population - thereby yielding 5x better endurance.

The 2nd of these was another stretch of its DSP enhanced SSDs - in new models which guarantee 50 full random drive writes per day for a period of 5 years. (About 10x the previous industry benchmark established for this class of SAS SSDs by STEC.)

13 Anobit Up 1 place since the last quarter.

Although Anobit was acquired by Apple last December that hasn't stopped people being interested in what the company had been doing.

Why? You guessed it. It was one of those pioneering DSP IP in SSD companies.

Gregory Wong founder of Forward Insights told me recently that his report - ECC and Signal Processing Technology for Solid State Drives and Multi-bit per cell NAND Flash Memories 2nd Edition - which costs $6,500 - has been his best selling SSD report.

14 RunCore Up 2 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter (among other things) - RunCore launched some pre-packaged MiniDOMs leveraging its rSSD (tiny SSD) aimed at the industrial SSD market.

And the company also released a seriously bad (but in an interesting way) video - aimed at the consumer SSD market - which redescribed its phone-zap and RFID security technologies.

15 Intel Up 2 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter - Intel launched another new SSD aimed at the consumer SSD market - the 330 Series.

16 DensBits First appearance in the top SSD companies list.

When I spoke to Amir Tirosh at DensBits in April I knew within a few minutes that DensBits would be a company which would go straight from stealth mode into the Top SSD Companies List - within the same quarter - and I stuck my neck out and said so to my readers.

If you've been reading the earlier parts of this article - instead of just scrolling down to spot who the new companies are - you've already learned to appreciate the significant importance of that adaptive DSP IP in SSDs thing.

DensBits is a company which offers SSD oems and memory chip makers (but not controller companies) the combination to the magic safe that holds these secrets.

Unlike some of the other SSD companies who have also developed this technology for themselves for use in their own specific markets - the DensBits tool box isn't limited in scale to vertical markets. Their IP can be adapted (in different ways) to tune SSDs in consumer, industrial and enterprise markets.

In this quarter - Seagate announced it will use DensBits's flash care technology in the design of forthcoming consumer and enterprise SSDs. Seagate also made an equity investment in DensBits.

17 EMC Down 2 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter - EMC acquired XtremIO for $430 million.

18 WD Down 5 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter - WD didn't launch any new SSD products or make any significant SSD related announcements.

19 Samsung Down 1 place since the last quarter.

In this quarter - didn't launch any new SSD products or make any significant SSD related announcements.

20 Nimbus Data Systems re-entry after an absence of 2 quarters.

In this quarter - Nimbus didn't make any significant announcements. Its marketing communications were all on the themes of performance validation, compatibility etc.

In common with all rackmount SSD makers - which use SAS SSDs inside their arrays - in the next few quarters we can expect to see speedup stories from Nimbus and others which ride on the back of the 12Gbps broncos which will probably be the final generation in this interface's roadmap.

(The need for faster SAS - beyond the 12Gbps generation will most likely be headed off at the pass by 2.5" PCIe SSDs - although SAS will still be useful in less demanding parts of the enterprise SSD silo.)

21 Skyera First appearance in the top SSD companies list.

For a company which was still in stealth mode during most of this quarter - and which still hasn't yet launched any products - it was a remarkable achievement to rocket straight in to the Top SSD Companies List - even if it is towards the bottom end.

If you've ever read my March 2010 article - this way to the petabyte SSD - you may have seen the press release from Exabyte SSD Appliance which describes their 2U Petabyte SSD Appliance (2PB uncompressed / 20PB usable). That article and press release describes the final elements needed to complete the set of solid state storage parts in the pure enterprise solid state storage silo. And the article also describes the business case for eliminating hard drives from the enterprise server farm - even if the price of HDD capacity drops to zero.

To put that into context - the article was published 5 months before Skyera was founded - and the company (Exabyte SSD Appliance) - and the press release were spoofs which I set in the future. But it was the simplest way for me to illustrate how the many complicated strands of the SSD market would come together in a product concept to fit a market niche which did not at that time exist - but would clearly materialize as sure as night follows day.

Since that article was published it has formed a useful part of the conceptual market backdrop in the many enterprise SSD roadmap discussions I've had with leading industry thinkers.

Going back to Skyera...

The simplest way to describe what I think Skyera is doing is that they are designing bulk storage SSDs - which are on the roadmap to delivering multi-petabyte scale SSD storage within 1 or 2 U rack space - at a cost of ownership which will make using hard drives in the server farm seem as old fashioned and quaint as using vaccuum tubes in a mainframe. That's it. We'll learn more when the company is ready.

Do they use adaptive DSP IP inside their SSDs?

That's a silly question. Of course they do.

In this quarter - launched today - Skyera's founder Rado Danilak claimed in a positioning video that his company's vertically integrated technology - which includes both a new SSD controller and supporting SSD software - can achieve effectively a 100x gain in endurance using new consumer grade flash.

22 Kaminario First appearance in the top SSD companies list.

The list of ingredients on the packet can be a guide to the product experience - but it's not always as simple as that.

The first time I read about Kaminario I thought it was this type of company. Then I mistakenly thought thought it might be that type of company. And it would be an accurate statement now to say that Kaminario are this type of SSD company.

I've talked to the company a few times and I'm glad they remembered that it was me who first suggested they should partner with Fusion-io.

But today I think the simplest way to describe what Kaminario is about is to say that - out of all the rackmount SSD companies - Kaminario is the one which probably has the best roadmap symmetry. (And if I start repeating too many things here which I've already explained somewhere else - I'm never going to meet my publication deadline. So you'll just have to click on the link if you want to find out what I mean.)

In this quarter - Kaminario announced it had secured a $25 million series D round of funding, bringing its total funding to $65 million.

23 KingFast First appearance in the top SSD companies list.

In this quarter - some non English language web sites published reviews of KingFast's (consumer) SSDs.

24 Micron re-entry

In this quarter - Micron finalized its plans to acquire Elpida for a lot of money - which is significant from a memory point of view - but irrelevant from an SSD viewpoint - because bulk flash memory is just useless junk unless it's inside an SSD.

What was more significant from an SSD viewpoint (OK my viewpoint) is that in this quarter I've been hammering on the walls of Micron's seemingly inpenetrable SSD castle to learn more about the internal details of their SSDs.

You can read their profile to learn more. I didn't learn much. But enough.

DSP etc? - Yeah that's a safe bet.

25 Toshiba Down 5 places since the last quarter.

In this quarter - Toshiba didn't make any significant SSD announcements.

Toshiba did complete a transaction with WD related to HDD assets and monopolies compliance. But that's only HDD stuff. Part of storage history and not very relevant to SSD's future.

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If you've got this far ...

...and are wondering what to read next...

How about? - the Top SSD Companies in Q3 2012 - which was the following quarter.

Or - the Top SSD Companies - series overview.

And here are some more suggestions for both very experienced SSDphiles and newcomers to the market too - in the SSD articles page.

The home page of StorageSearch.com often has content which is closely related to the themes discussed in this article.

If you're a VP of marketing at an SSD company, or a VC and would like to know how any SSD company (which is not listed above) may be doing in search visibility or you want to get my private comments about the effectiveness of a particular SSD company's marketing, business or technology plans or have a serious question about anything else which relates to how the SSD market can get bigger and better faster - just contact me by regular email using a non cloaked email and saying what your interest is.

If your question is interesting enough - or too difficult to find answers for - I'm more likely to spend time on it.

Finally - if you found this article useful or thought provoking - please tell other people about it (by whichever method works best for you).

Thanks. And I hope to see you again soon.

About the publisher -21 years of enterprise guides
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