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the Top SSD Companies

24th quarterly edition - based on search metrics in Q1 2013

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com - April 17, 2013

The Top SSD Companies is always one of the most popular articles here on the mouse site.

If you're one of the more than 5 million SSD readers who have seen earlier editions of this series - or if you work for one of the companies which you think might be in this list - you might be tempted to skip this preamble and just scroll straight down to the rankings.

But before getting there - I'd like to comment on the value of this series for new readers who may not have seen it before and to reaffirm the value of these lists for the hard core SSD readers among you who I know spend hours and days getting intricately involved in analyzing the nuances of what these results might signify.

how the list was born

When I started compiling and publishing the Top SSD Companies List in early 2007 - my idea was to provide a useful shortcut to help you identify significant SSD companies based on a proven rational analysis technique - which is analyzing search volume and traffic within a specific vertical market context - and filtered by consistent quality criteria.

I correctly (as it turns out) expected that the SSD market would grow from a small number of relatively easy to track companies into the 500 plus companies (and it hasn't stopped growing yet) SSD ecosystem that we're now seeing today.

But there was another factor involved too. That was the growing economic importance of the once niche SSD market.

In 2003 I had explained (in the first of several SSD market penetration models) why I thought that the SSD market had the potential to grow more than 100x bigger in revenue than it was at that time.

SSDs would become a big revenue market. But nearly all the SSD companies - at the start of the series - were privately owned. In the opening edition of the series I explained that financial data and shipment data - which is always backward looking - is not much use as a guide when making decisions about which companies really matter in fast growing disruptive markets.

I also hinted at the time - and have since written more about the reasons why traditional market research companies failed entirely to participate in the early stages of SSD market development (because no one was paying them to get involved) and then (when there was a market for their reports) they were prone to flaws due to sampling errors - because they were not fully engaged with key elements of change driving the SSD market, and so didn't understand what lay behind the changes going on.

where are we today? - do we still need it?

In some ways the situation for anyone trying to understand the SSD market and where it's going is much better today than it was 6 years ago.

There are now thousands of web sites which discuss SSDs and maybe 50 to 100 companies which sell reports or services to help you undestand the details better.

Remember that SSDs = $$$ thing I mentioned earlier?

Some of the most knowledgable people about the SSD market I talk to today aren't just the usual people who manage SSD companies and their customers - but people who work in many of the world's leading financial institutions.

Some of these professional investors spend more of their time devouring and analyzing SSD reports and blogs and conferences than anyone else on the planet. And that's why - when they ask questions - they can reveal important gaps in the state of knowledge and understanding about the market - which it can be useful for people like me to write about.

So - with all these many other sources of quantifiable SSD market data (financial reports, market reports etc) has the need for a "search based" view of the SSD market gone away?

No.

Instead I think the need for continuing this series - at least for another 2-3 years remains compelling. Here's why...
  • the SSD market remains a disruptive market
  • factors which lead to market success in any one year do not guarantee success in the next
  • the number of technology and market variables which are in the SSD mix are more varied and complex than they ever were before
The hardest question which any you face is - where's the best place for me to spend my time looking for data to initiate new SSD supplier, partner, business development, acquisition or investment decisions?

We've all got time pressure. It's impossible to analyze everything. That's why we need a rational system to help set priorities.

In a market which changes so fast and where steady state safe reference points are conspicuous by their absence - the closest approximation to a "safe" window on the SSD future is the maxim - the market will decide.

You need to capture search data from a significant set of proven market change forces - and you need to temper that with an analytical commentary (for each company) which explains short term anomalies. If I was designing a methodology and template to cope with those uncertainty problems today - it would be the methodology and template of the Top SSD Companies.

Luckily I did this before. So, instead of having to rely on theoretical successes of the series - I can pick out many past success stories. Here are a few of them...

Detecting future winners fast!

You've all heard of Fusion-io and SandForce right?

It didn't take too long for these companies to enter the Top SSD Companies Lists.

It was 2008 Q3 - in the case of FIO. And 2009 Q2 - the same quarter as it exited stealth mode BTW - in the case of SandForce.

There are many similar examples in the 24 editions of these lists.

More recently - other companies which have progressed straight from stealth and into the SSD list of fame in the shortest possible period have included:- DensBits and Skyera - both in the 2012 Q2 edition.

Advance detection of SSD company acquisitions

The first time that any pure SSD software companies entered the Top SSD Companies List - both companies were soon acquired.

IO Turbine qualified for an entry in the list in the very same quarter it was acquired 2011 Q3. The other SSD ISV - FlashSoft - was acquired 5 weeks after it made the same list.

But it's not just SSD software companies where this has happened.

Anobit was acquired contemporaneously with earning its first entry in the list in 2012 Q1.

The same thing happened to Pliant in 2011 Q2.

Anticipating downgraded expectations

It's tempting to focus just on success stories. But for every SSD company which climbs the rankings inevitably another drops down.

There have been many cases in the history of this series where an SSD company shot briefly to its best ranking - for example when the market anticipated something really interesting from a big newcomer to the market.

Then maybe a quarter or so later - these companies sank sometimes even out of the list altogether.

In hindsight many of these shooting star disappointemnts happened because these companies really didn't understand the SSD market as much as had been hoped. And the expectation that they might become leaders was tempered by the later reality that they were SSD followers. And a coping strategy for many SSD followers is to distribute and oem SSD technology from genuine SSD leaders until they can figure out which of these companies they should buy.

I could name names here. But you all know the kind of companies I'm talking about. And - apart from "opinions" - these lists were often the first data driven empirical confirmation that these "SSD Emporors" truly had no clothes.

why do companies get into the Top SSD Companies list?

In earlier editions of this series - simply making one of the fastest SSDs or highest capacity SSDs in a particular form factor might be enough to get a company into the list.

But in recent years the strength of a company's SSD architecture and IP set have become more important considerations.

In general terms companies get into the list because they are perceived to be doing something that's more interesting than what all the other SSD companies are doing.

That's mostly driven by positive factors. But sometimes the situation can get more complicated.

For example take the case of STEC.

In the opening quarter of this series 2007 Q2 it was ranked #1. You can safely assume that this was entirely due to its judged merit in technology and related SSD market reputation.

In the past year - however - there have been several conflicting reasons for different interest groups to follow up online interest in this company.

On the positive side - there's been a growing appreciation that STEC was a pioneer in an important technology - called adaptive R/W DSP ECC.

On the negative side have been shareholder concerns about the company's slide in SSD market share and a view (confirmed by the company itself) that it hadn't invested enough in sales and marketing resources.

It's clear in the case of STEC that there are both positive and negative tipping factors at play and that either or both sources of filtered search follow up have helped to maintain STEC in a high ranking in these lists.

That's because an investor who asks - should I sell these shares? and an acquirer who asks - should I buy this company? are scored in the same way as someone who asks - is this a company I want to do business with?

That's why I always say that you have to look at the narrative and context. The ranking of an SSD company in isolation doesn't tell you enough. And the list is just the start of telling you which companies are important to learn more about. The quarter by quarter changes in ranking can tell you if the company maintaining, gaining or losing market mindshare?

If your favorit company has gone down - please remember this. It's hard even staying in the same place - because there's constant pressure from newcomers into the market. Being in the list at all is more significant than moving up or down a place or so. (Unless the movement is in the top 5-10 where movements are hard.)

the importance of the Top SSD Companies List

If you didn't already know this - you can see now some of the reasons why people in the SSD industry regard the Top SSD Companies List as an important indication of what's been happening in the SSD market and what could happen in the future.

For that reason the first time that anyone - apart from me - sees the list is when it's published on this website. And I usually only see the final extracted list on the day I write and publish each new edition.

Now the wait is over - and here are the Top SSD Companies ranked by analyzing the search volume of StorageSearch.com's readers in the 1st quarter of 2013.

1 - Fusion-io - same as before

2 - Violin Memory - up 1 place

3 - STEC - down 1 place

4 - Skyera - up 1 place

5 - OCZ - down 1 place

6 - Virident Systems - up 3 places

7 - WhipTail - down 1 place

8 - Texas Memory Systems / IBM - same as before

9 - Nimbus - up 3 places

10 - Pure Storage - up 9 places

11 - Micron - up 4 places

12 - LSI - down 5 places

13 - BiTMICRO - up 1 place

14 - SMART - down 5 places

15 - Seagate - up 8 places

16 - Intel - up 2 places

17 - EMC - up 4 places

18 - SanDisk - down 5 places

18 - RunCore - down 7 places

19 - Kaminario - down 2 places

20 - Samsung - down 4 places

21 - Foremay - re-entry

22 - WD - down 3 places

23 - Memoright - re-entry

24 - Greenliant Systems - 1st time in this list

25 - Marvell Technology - 1st time in this list

That's it for now. For more notes about any of the companies listed - just click on their name.

For the series overview and links to all past and future editions - click here.
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