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the Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2008 Q4 - 7th in this series

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

Today (January 2009) there are over 92 active listed SSD oems (50% more than 12 months ago). Another 4 or so I know in stealth mode, another 10 I'm checking out as imminent maybes and more than 12 SSD oems (previously listed in our SSD directory) have already exited the market.

I expect the total number of SSD oems to go north of 150 in 2009. 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.
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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 6 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 a 10 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 The problem with this approach in a market that's growing so fast - is that revenue data can be 3 to 6 months out of date when collected and may not sample any data at all from important new companies which have recently entered the market.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 2009 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 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 millions of article views related to hard SSD content and our 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.
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The Top 10 SSD OEMs

The listing below is based on storage search volume on this site. This metric samples strong follow up interest generated by browsing our SSD directories, following up news stories or articles and following links from ads. But it excludes product ads. As we track every manufacturer in the market and any manufacturer can (and does) send us their content related to SSDs - this is a measure of how our readers have reacted to that content.
Top 10 SSD OEMs - based on reader search volume in 4th Quarter 2008 - © STORAGEsearch.com
rank manufacturer SSD technology notes....................................................
1 Memoright SATA flash SSDs Same as before.

In December 2008 - an article in PCgameshardware.com showed that Memoright's SSD performed substantially faster in some benchmarks than supposedly "headline spec faster" devices from Intel.

The weakness of Intel's SSD in some situations has also been noted by others.
2 Mtron Flash SSD Same as before.

There were no new product announcements by Mtron in Q409.

The company publicised several benchmarks in which it had got good results in comparison to some selected competitors - notably Samsung.
3 Samsung Flash SSD Up 5 places since the last quarter.

In October 2008 - Samsung publicly withdrew its offer to buy SanDisk.

Also in October 2008 - Samsung said it was shipping "faster" server oriented 2.5" SLC flash SSDs with 25GB / 50GB capacity. Throughput is significantly below competing best in class 2.5" SSDs - but nevertheless a big improvement on previous laggardly products from the company. No details were disclosed about IOPS at launch date. This is a criticism which the company took on board - and fixed when it announced new server products later - in January 2009.

In November 2008 - Spansion filed a multibillion dollar patent infringement suit with the ITC against Samsung related to flash memory IP.

Also in November 2008 - Samsung announced it was shipping a fast 2.5" SATA MLC SSD with 256GB capacity in standard 9.5mm height, with 220MB/s read, and 200MB/s sustained write speed.
4 STEC Flash SSD Down 1 place since the last quarter.

In December 2008 - STEC issued new guidance for revenue in Q4 2008. STEC downgraded its revenue guidance for the 4th quarter by 20% - which is unremarkable given the current state of the economy.

Notwithstanding that - STEC said its SSD business was expected to have revenues in 2008 5x the level in 2007. That is remarkable - given the strong competition in the overall flash SSD market.
5 Intel Flash SSD Intel's long awaited first appearance in these top 10 tables was an indication that the market liked what the company was saying (better late than never) about the SSD market.

In October 2008 - Intel started shipping the X-25E - a fast 2.5" 32GB SATA SLC flash SSD. Read latency is 75 microseconds and a 10 parallel channel architecture enables it to sustain R/W throughputs of 250 / 170 MB/s. Random IOPS performance is impressive with a 10 to 1 R/W ratio which is inline with the best designed enterprise flash SSDs. Using 4kB blocks - random R/W IOPS are 35,000 and 3,300 respectively.

In December 2008 - Hitachi and Intel announced they were jointly designing a new range of high IOPS flash SSDs with Fibre Channel and SAS interfaces for the server market. The new products, which will be exclusively marketed by Hitachi GST - are expected to ship in Q1 2010.
6 Fusion-io PCIe flash SSDs Up 3 places since the last quarter.

Fusion-io said this was a good period for its sales and business development. In January 2009 - the company announced that - for the months beginning September '08 through November '08, Fusion-io added 151 customers across the Fortune 1,000.

Fusion-io didn't announce any new products in this quarter but instead issued a string of announcements aimed at increasing confidence in the company's strategy and products, including:- independent lab tests confirming its high throughput, IBM certification and Apple's co-founder, Steve Wozniak, joining its advisory board.
7 Texas Memory Systems RAM SSD
Flash SSD
Down 2 places since the last quarter.

In October 2008 - Texas Memory Systems announced it had installed a 20TB flash SSD system with 1 million random read IOPS at an unnamed customer location.

In my view - the point of the story was not the technology itself (which was merely an enhanced 40U wall of its standard RamSan-500 units) - but a market milestone signaling that real-life SSD end-users were now ready to deploy systems of this scale.

"We were installing a 20 terabyte one-million IOPS RamSan-5000 at a customer site while other vendors were announcing lab results," said Woody Hutsell, Executive VP at Texas Memory Systems. "We won the business because the system met strict performance requirements and was determined to be the most cost-effective solution available, today or on the horizon."
8 Solidata Flash SSD First appearance in these top 10 tables.

In October 2008 - emerged into international view and previewed its X1 series of 2.5" flash SSDs which will apparently offer sustained read speed of 240MB/s and sustained write speed of 220MB/s.
9 BiTMICRO Flash SSD Down 5 places since the last quarter.

BiTMICRO's lowest ever ranking in these top 10 tables is a sign that past success in pioneering and dominating a market is no guarantee of future leadership in large fast growing markets.

BiTMICRO didn't made any major new product announcements for 3 consecutive quarters in 2008.

But in November 2008 - BiTMICRO said it had started customer shipments of 128GB models from its E-Disk Altima family of 3.5" 4Gbps Fibre Channel SLC flash SSDs.
10 Adtron Flash SSD Down 3 places since the last quarter.

Adtron was the first company to ship "true industrial grade" SLC flash SSDs with 128GB capacity in a 9.5mm-high package - in the 2nd quarter of 2008.

In the 4th quarter Adtron's parent company, SMART Modular Technologies started shipping the Xcel-10 SSD - a 2.5" SLC flash SSD with upto 128GB capacity.

Sustained read speed is 115MB/s, and write speed is 125MB/s. (It really is faster than the read speed). It delivers 5,580 IOPS at 100% read or 980 IOPS at 67% read, 33% write, for random I/O using 4K block size.
Waiting in the wings - just below the top 10 in this period were:- RunCore (#11), Violin Memory (#12), and SanDisk (#13).

Unlucky 13 is SanDisk's lowest ranking ever in (or outside) these tables. It was #1 back in Q3 2007. During 2008 SanDisk was often in the news for the wrong reasons (being an often mentioned target in takeover rumors). I have little doubt that it will bounce back.
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 1 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.

You can see below the movements in the top 5 positions in past quarters.
Top 5 SSD OEMs - © STORAGEsearch.com
rank Q408 Q308 Q208 Q108 Q407 Q307 Q207
1 Memoright Memoright Memoright BiTMICRO BiTMICRO SanDisk STEC
2 Mtron Mtron BiTMICRO STEC SanDisk BiTMICRO Samsung
3 Samsung STEC Mtron tied with STEC Mtron Mtron Adtron Adtron
4 STEC BiTMICRO . Memoright STEC Mtron Mtron
5 Intel Texas Memory Systems SanDisk SanDisk Memoright STEC BiTMICRO
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