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ratios in SSD design
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can memory chips be made in the wrong country?
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re IBM's FlashSystem 9100

Editor:- July 18, 2018 - A recent blog - Introducing the FlashSystem 9100 NVMe with FCM - by Barry Whyte at IBM - provided for me - a satisfying sequel and finale to the story of whatever happened to the longest running enterprise SSD accelerator product line in the history of the market - the SAM>RamSan>FlashSystem - which were all fast big shared memory boxes.

(The new heir in the family saga - the FlashSystem 9100 is a 2U box with NVMe SSDs inside which provides 403TB usable uncompressed - and GbE, FC or SAS host connectivity.)

You can get a taster of the family story in these 2 marker articles - selected from my numerous scribblings. IBM's FlashSystem 9100?

It's the same kind of horse show (in market role) but with a different technology animal inside and the recent changes in the design architecture today in 2018 are as significant as when TMS redesigned the main memory array in the RamSan product line from RAM to flash in their 2007 model - the RamSan-500.

Barry Whyte's new blog says among things:-

"The storage development team in Hursley started work on the design of a new generation box back over 3 years ago when I was still based in the UK. The idea was to build a low rack density, and high performance control enclosure that could take NVMe Flash drives, both in terms of NAND Flash based, and look to the future of SCM technologies, such as 3D Xpoint, Z-SSD and whatever else will come along." ...read the blog

Editor's comments:- throughout the 30 or so years history of the RamSan and the multi OS supported SAM - Shared Access Memory system which came before and the new FlashSystem (which cane after (and which may have changed its name again depending on when you read this) is the the idea of a product line which evolves to accomodate new memory technologies but retains the legacy purpose of putting data in a box where it can be accessed by many different servers at the lowest practical latency cost.

See also:- rackmount SSDs
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SSD ad - click for more info
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inaccessibility of LTO-8 tape may be a good thing
Editor:- July 14, 2018 - I haven't written much about tape drives and tape libraries in recent years (less than 8 news stories in 8 years) because the writing which had already been appearing on the wall for a long time - about the mainstream migration away from tape - was still clearly legible despite having been written long ago and crumbling in the dusty vaults of web pages deep down in the logfile statistics.

But a recent blog - Top 8 Reasons To Purchase LTO 8 Tapes - by UK tape reseller ODSI - prompted me to respond on linkedin with this.

tape drives
.. tape drives
"Reason #4 for liking this tape / LTO-8 (resistant to instant malware attacks because data on tape is effectively offline) is a clever way to argue that a negative feature can have positive aspects when viewed in a particular context. Shows that the art of tape marketing sophistry hasn’t been lost despite the demise in significance of the tape market itself."

see also:- SSD security, roadmap to the petabyte SSD
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"GridGain is to memory defined software - what Texas Memory Systems was to SSD accelerators on the SAN, and Fusion-io was to server based SSD accelerators - a long term innovator and pioneer. So when you see educational articles like this you know theres real authority."
Zsolt Kerekes - editor - StorageSearch.com - commenting on linkedin (June 21, 2018) about a new article - Memory-Centric Architectures: What's Next for In-Memory Computing written by Abe Kleinfeld, President & CEO at GridGain Systems - and published on The New Stack.

Editor's comments:- among other things I liked (apart from the whole article) were the examples of customer metrics using IMC.

For example:- Abe mentioned this...

"Workday uses its in-memory computing platform to process about 189 million transactions per day, with a peak of about 289 million per day. For comparison, Twitter does about 500 million tweets per day." ...read the article

What I like about Abe Kleinfeld's market wake up call articles about IMC is it shows the proven power of using this type of technolgy.

In the early days of the mission critical SSD market customers who got massive computing gains from using SSD acceleration preferred to keep quiet about it - which could be frustrating for the pioneering vendors who had educated them, analyzed their bottlenecks and installed their impossibly faster systems. Users didn't want competitors (or enemies) to learn what had been done.

See also:- SSD education, why use SSDs? (2003 to 2005)
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If you could go back in time and take with you - in the DeLorean - a factory full of modern memory chips and SSDs (along with backwards compatible adapters) what real impact would that have?
are we ready for infinitely faster RAM?
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industrial mSATA SSD
industrial grade mSATA SSDs
>2 million write cycles per logical block.
from Cactus Technologies
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To be or not to be?

Mice or mouseless? - that is the question.
Editor:- June 18, 2018 - If you trawl the archives of Shakespeare's scribblings (even the fake plays and musicals) I'm pretty sure he didn't have anything to say about the role of mice as icons on a data storage web site. Although he did have a lot to say about life, changes, revolutions, dynasties and successions.

So why the question? - mice or mouseless?

StorageSearch.com is for sale.

I'm retiring - and I'm looking for a new owner for the site who will value my readers.


I will stop updating StorageSearch.com on December 25, 2018. And I'll freeze the site after that date - pending the formal closing of the sales process.Mice or mouseless will be one of the branding questions to be determined by the new owner in 2019 - whoever they may be.

As part of this plan I have also told advertisers that the web ad model (which has worked so well since 1996) is now EOL. This means the site will be offered for sale without any ties. ...read more about this

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Memory Defined Software - a new market in the making
There's a new software idea that's been experimented on in the AI skunkworks in the cloud and as patentable secret enhancements in next generation embedded processor designs. This new concept and exciting new market (for the VCs reading this) will be more significant than a new OS and will mark a break in the way that the enterprise thinks about software.

You had had plenty of warning about the new chips but memoryfication doesn't stop with faster storage. The idea didn't have a name when I started writing about it. But what it should be called is obvious.

Memory Defined Software doesn't have to work at being backwards compatible because the legacy storage industry will import and export to it if they want to play in data's future.

See more about this in my blog - introducing - Memory Defined Software. (Sometimes you can change the world with software which breaks all the rules - if you can find the right platform to run it on.) ...read the article

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ReRAM based architectures for Processing-In-Memory (guide to papers and deep thinking)
Editor:- May 1 , 2018 - Processing in memory and ReRAM are both making their mark independently as noteworthy technologies which each promise new fashions in the shape of future memory systems design. But how about combining both?

A new paper - A Survey of ReRAM-Based Architectures for Processing-In-Memory and Neural Networks (pdf) by Sparsh Mittal, Assistant Professor at Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad summarizes the state of art.

In his abstract Sparsh says "As data movement operations and power-budget become key bottlenecks in the design of computing systems, the interest in unconventional approaches such as processing-in-memory (PIM) and machine learning (ML), especially neural network (NN) based accelerators has grown significantly. ReRAM is a promising technology for efficiently architecting PIM and NN based accelerators due to its capabilities to work as both: high-density/low-energy storage and in-memory computation/search engine. In this paper, we present a survey of techniques for designing ReRAM-based PIM and NN architectures. By classifying the techniques based on key parameters, we underscore their similarities and differences." ...read the article (pdf)

Editor's comments:- It's fascinating to see how researchers in computational memory architecture have blended techniques borrowed from classical analog computers with pragmatic local digital cleanup and pure digital logic to create hybrid analog digital computing elements which make the best use of latency and resolution to create multiplier accumulator and search by value blocks while using ReRAM.

My first reaction was like that when I saw the specifications of DSP chips in the early 1980s - not very good analog combined with not very good digital - but from those earliest days we got new industries.

ReRAM ML engines may have very niche uses and be incredibly difficult to design but it only takes one or two killer applications to make new technologies unignorable.

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after AFAs - what's next?
Throughout the history of the data storage market we've always expected the capacity of enterprise user memory systems to be much smaller than the capacity of all the other attached storage in the same data processing environment.

after AFAs - click to read rhe articleA classic blog on StorageSearch.com - cloud adapted memory systems - asks (among other things) if this will always be true.

Like many of you - I've been thinking a lot about the evolution of memory technologies and data architectures in the past year. I wasn't sure when would be the best time to share my thoughts about this one. But the timing seems right now. ...read the article

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AccelStor NeoSapphire  all-flash array
1U enterprise flash arrays
InfiniBand or 10GbE iSCSI or 16G FC
NeoSapphire series - from AccelStor

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If you're one of those who has suffered from the memory shortages it may seem unfair that despite their miscalculations and over optimimism the very companies which caused the shortages of memory and higher prices - the major manufacturers of nand flash and DRAM - have been among the greatest beneficiaries.
consequences of the 2017 memory shortages

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Don't expect business to pick up where it left off when the next memory boom bust correction kicks in.
questions re trajectory of SSD market's onward rebound

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The industry will learn a lot about the "goodness" of new memory tiering products by stressing them in ways which the original designers never intended.
RAM disk emulations in "flash as RAM" solutions

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earlier noteworthy stories in the SSD news archives
April 2018 A research study of Google consumer workloads showed that in memory processing could at the same time halve power consumption and execution time.
March 2018 Nallatech entered the in-situ SSD market.
February 2018 Gen-Z specification 1.0 released for futuristic memory fabric designers.
January 2018 Foremay launched its new "Immortal" brand of radiation hardened military SSDs.
December 2017 ChinaDaily reported that China's NDRC was looking at complaints about high prices in the semiconductor memory market to determine if there was evidence to open an antitrust inquiry.
November 2017 IntelliProp demonstrated a memory controller for the emerging Gen-Z memory fabric.
October 2017 Quarch Technology launched a test suite which measures real-time SSD watts.
September 2017 Toshiba announced the winner of the $18 billion beauty pageant to find a suitable buyer for its memory and SSD business.
August 2017 Western Digital agreed to acquire Tegile which had pioneered innovative "utility" based customer pricing models in the hybrid storage array market.
July 2017 Viking shipped 50TB planar MLC 3.5" SAS SSDs based on a controller platform designed by rackmount SSD maker Nimbus.
June 2017 Toshiba began sampling the world's first 64 layer QLC (x4) nand flash memory. The 768Gb chips were the highest density nvms available.
news archive 2000 to 2018
storage history
SSD history ..
SSD SoCs controllers
SSD controllers ..
SSD symmetries article
SSD symmetries ..
image shows megabyte waving the winners trophy - there are over 200 SSD oems - which ones matter? - click to read article
top SSD companies ..
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archived storage news - this news page from 2000 to 2018
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SSD news

eASIC to be acquired by Intel

Editor:- July 12, 2018 - eASIC has agreed to be acquired by Intel - it was announced today.

Editor's comments:- For Intel this will strengthen and lengthen its architectural chip supply engagements with customers who are looking for customizable extensions to their data processing chip sets and who are at the stage where they have a proven proprietary concept which they want to use in an energy and performance footprint which is better than the FPGA implementations enabled by products like those from Intel's earlier acquisition Altera.

In Intel's earlier history (1970s to 1980s) its chipsets which supported common functions around its processors helped the company remain at the center of design and architecture decisions made by its systems customers. But because the company's PC and standard server business was so successful it decided that it didn't want to get involved with idiosyncratic customized consumer platforms - a strategy which lost it the mobile phone and tablet markets.

(Intel had dabbled in the server grade ASIC and gate array markets in the late 1980s when it gained access to IBM's custom IP. That experience - which was judged to be a failure - showed that the custom business was more competitive and more difficult for Intel than the safer option of extending markets for its own standard processors.)

Today the biggest users of processors and memory are cloud scale companies which are all (already or soon) designing custom accelerators and useful chips sets to improve the effectiveness of their infrastructures. FPGAs, customizable controllers and ASICs are all part of that product mix. IP solutions like those from eASIC can be useful in applications where the volumes and changeability of designs make ASIC too slow to market and expensive - but the energy footprint and memoryfication requirements make FPGAs a less than optimal fit for large volumes.

This acquisition will give Intel greater visibility and flexible capability in the next wave of application specific memory and processor enhancers.

See also:- glue chips in the SSD and storage market


Micron says patents claimed by UMC injunction in China were already prior art in other countries

Editor:- July 5, 2018 - Micron today issued a statement about the recent injunction (see earlier story below) related to the sale of certain memory chips and SSDs in China.

Among other things - Micron said...
  • "The affected products make up slightly more than 1% of Micron's annualized revenues."
  • ""Micron is disappointed with the ruling by the Fuzhou Intermediate People's Court. We strongly believe that the patents are invalid and that Micron's products do not infringe the patents. The Fuzhou Court issued this preliminary ruling before allowing Micron an opportunity to present its defense."
  • "Micron has submitted compelling evidence to the Patent Review Board of China's State Intellectual Property Office demonstrating that the patents are invalid because they are directed to technologies that were previously developed and patented in other countries by other technology companies."



Micron memory sales in China at halt risk

Editor:- July 3, 2018 - UMC today announced that the Fuzhou Intermediate People's Court of the People's Republic of China today issued a preliminary injunction against Micron Semiconductor - which effectively could prevent ongoing sales and supply of 26 DRAM and NAND-related items in China.

UMC said - it filed patent infringement lawsuits against Micron with the mainland China courts in January, 2018, covering 3 areas, including specific memory applications related to DDR4, SSD and memory used in graphics cards. "With today's ruling, Micron's products now face injunction for violating UMC's patent rights in a court verdict that applies to all of mainland China."

Editor's comments:-Just as tides follow gravity and the winds so too does geoplitics look down from on high on the worldwide memory market which for many years had the illusory guise of a defragmented, friction-free, borderless market. I wrote about how those illusions were being blown away in my April 2018 blog - can memory chips be made in the wrong country?

Later:- (July 5, 2018) - Take a look at this interesting comment from within the memory industry- from Sang-Yun Lee, President & CEO at BeSang - who said today on linkedin ...

"I feel that it is a power game between Micron backed by US government and UMC backed by China government and its DRAM partner in China. In terms of memory IP, Micron should be much stronger than UMC and its China DRAM partner. Though, intention of UMC and China government is clear: cross license or settlement for the clear path to DRAM market for China DRAM startups. Micron's intention was to give hard time to China DRAM startups using its strong IPs. Unfortunately, Micron got a strong counterpunch from China government." ...read more comments related to this


despite over $1 billion / quarter in storage revenue

Micron remains a confident DRAM company at the core


Editor:- June 24, 2018 - Micron disclosed some useful metrics and opinions about the SSD and memory market - related to its experience in the quarter ended May 31, 2018- in its recent earnings conference call (transcript on seekingalpha.com).
  • 71% of Micron's revenue in the quarter came from DRAM. DRAM revenue grew 56% yoy.
  • Storage Business Unit revenue (mostly SSDs and managed nand) was $1.1 billion.
  • 3DXPoint sales were "very little".
Micron seems confident that demand for memory products will continue to grow faster than in past memory business cycles due to new usage factors (the memoryfication of everything factor).

Sanjay Mehrotra, President & CEO Micron - said - "...AI driven, AI training driven compute workloads have like 2x the amount of DRAM and 6x the amount of SSD. So, these trends are really secular in nature. We are at the very, very beginning. And same way in mobile in terms of our low power DRAM where we have very strong position, DRAM contents requirements are going, continuing, to increase." ...read the article


comparing new embedded memory characteristics

free overview from Objective Analysis


Editor:- June 20, 2018 - New Memories for Efficient Computing (pdf) - is a free white paper by Jim Handy - Founder - Objective Analysis which summarizes and compares the technology status (cell size, R/W, endurance, retention, temperature and manufacturabilty) of all the main embedded memory types which are competing for design wins with DRAM, SRAM and flash in the memoryfication market today.

Among other things Jim notes this...

"Another important consideration is the scalability of the technology. Certain emerging memory technologies, particu-larly FRAM and PCM, have proven challenging to scale. FRAM has not been successfully scaled below 90nm and PCM's "On" resistance increases as the cell size decreases, making the technology more noise sensitive as the process shrinks, although PCM researchers successfully successfully developed a 5nm cell over a decade ago.." ... read the article (pdf)

Editor's comments:- Throw away your dusty old text books and scrub the old web bookmarks. Jim Handy's free 2018 memory selector guide lists all the memories whose names you can't quite remember.

Churchill said his staff kept mixing up Iran and Iraq in WW2 so he insisted on them being called Persia and Iraq in memos.

Likewise you may find FRAM, ReRAM MRAM NRAM, PCM etc fading in and out of memorability in your organic brainspace having waited nearly 20 years for them to become really emerged - which they finally did in 2017 thanks in part to the price of flash and DRAM having moved backwards in time and upwards in $/bit by 2-4 years compared to earlier expectations as a result of business decisions by big memory suppliers during the self inflicted memory shortages.


new report lists malware attack vectors for memory in processors

Editor:- June 14, 2018 - Security Issues for Processors with Memory is a new report (90 pages, $975) by Memory Strategies International with ramifications (I had to use that word) for the memoryfication of processors market.

The report includes a comprehensive list of the dimensions in which security can be attacked and outline of design mitigation directions.

Among other things the scope includes:- "Issues of volatile vs. non-volatile memory for cache and main memory involve consideration of security hazards. Cryptography in multicore coprocessor systems are an issue. Security of data on network buses is critical for military, medical and financial systems with remedies suggested for replay attacks..." ...see more about this report

See also:- is data remanence in persistent memory a new risk factor?, optimizing CPUs for use with SSD architectures, SSD security, PIM, in-situ processing and other SSD jargon


in-memory cache as a cloud service - beta from GridGain

Editor:- June 12, 2018 - GridGain Systems today announced the beta release and free trials of GridGain Cloud - an in-memory cache-as-a-service that allows users to rapidly deploy a distributed in-memory cache and access it using ANSI-99 SQL, key-value or REST APIs. The result is in-memory computing performance in the cloud, which can be massively scaled out and can be deployed in minutes for caching applications.

See also:- SSD empowerment in cloud


DRAM costs lifted server revenues in Q1 - says Dell'Oro

Editor:- June 12, 2018 - The top 4 Cloud Service Providers - Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook consumed most of the 920,000 white box servers shipped in Q1 2018 according to a report by Dell'Oro Group who also attribute higher average server selling prices to the DRAM price factor.

Editor's comments:- in recent years CSPs and other internet scale actors have switched roles from being early adopters of SSD technologies (which they had been since the early 2000s) and - impatient at waiting for big brand datasaurs to understand their requirements - these big users have been at the forefront of designing new architectures to increase the efficiency of storage and also push the boundaries of memory systems performance.

See also:- who does storage market research?


dogs can sniff out USB drives and phones

Editor:- June 11, 2018 - Police dogs have been trained to find hidden flash drives - according to a recent story in the Verge.

See also:- consumer SSD guides, data recovery, fast erase SSDs


Memblaze launches new PPR enhanced 2.5" NVMe SSDs

Editor:- June 8, 2018 - it seems like a long time since I heard from Memblaze. Today they announced new dual port products aimed at the long established 2.5" PCIe SSD market. (This form factor first headlined in SSD news pages and related events in 2012).

Like many past products in this category from other manufacturers - a key feature is the balance between raw data access performance and power consumption the "performance-to-power ratio".


Excelero accelerates Ceph

Editor:- June 6, 2018 - What would you do if you could find a way to reduce the latency of fault tolerant distributed storage on commodity hardware by an order of magnitude?

Keep quiet about it and don't tell your competitors - would be a common answer.

Instead one of Excelero's customers was happy to share their finding re Ceph platforms in a joint press release today.

After researching NVMe-oF options the customer (Germany based) teuto.net - tried iSCSI appliance-based storage solutions, then vetoed them as limiting seamless growth and increasing costs – as well as vetoing Dell EMC ScaleIO, which didn't support NVMe-oF and was costly.

Using Excelero's software enabled a 10x reduction in Ceph latency.


Flexxon's industrial SD cards show sophistication of a market once seen as simple

Editor:- June 2, 2018 - Flexxon recently announced a new family of industrial SD cards for use in automotive and medical markets.

Interesting to see that the range internal flash memories within this single (superficially fairly simple standard) family includes:- SLC, pSLC (2D and 3D), MLC, and TLC (which is 3D of course).

This shows how sophisticated and nuanced the embedded market has become at analyzing value and selecting the operating parameters for different use cases.

see also:- tell the buyer there's no such thing as a simple standard industrial SSD


NGD Systems announces GA of 16TB U2 in-situ processing SSDs

Editor:- May 31, 2018 - NGD Systems has announced the general availability of its 16TB Catalina-2 U.2 NVMe SSD which integrates the company's long anticipated and much discussed (Arm based) "In-Situ Processing" capabilities.


Burlywood says its software can save 40% of cloud flash

Editor:- May 22, 2018 - Burlywood - which emerged from stealth mode in August 2017 - today introduced its TrueFlash product a storage software and FPGA solution for cloud companies which uses flash more efficiently.

Tod Earhart, CEO of Burlywood said - "By using the latest flash available for a specific application, combined with an advanced programmable controller and Burlywood TrueFlash software, we are able to deliver an enterprise-class flash solution at a cost of up to 40% less while increasing performance and expanding capacity."

See also:- Efficiency as SSD competitive advantage (2012)


Micron samples industry's first QLC SATA SSDs

Editor:- May 21, 2018 - Micron today announced it is sampling the industry's first SSD built on next generation quad-level cell (QLC) NAND technology.

Micron's 5210 ION (2.5" SATA SSD) is intended to replace HDDs in read mostly cloud storage applications and will be available in capacities ranging from 1.92TB to 7.68TB.

Micron notes that the native endurance of the new 64 layer 3D QLC nand at the cell level is 1K P/E cycles. But for very low DWPD applications (0.3 for this product apparently) Micron indicates that QLC drives provides a more viable underlying technology to compete with and replace 7,200 RPM nearline hard drives than lower density TLC.

(For comparison - Seagate reported that the average capacity of nearline HDD it shipped in the first calendar quarter of 2018 was 6.5TB).

Editor's comments:- While the availability of QLC SSDs provides another hummable tune in the great solid sate storage songbook I think that storage systems users may not exactly leap into the air with unbridled joy at this announcement - coming as it does after 2 years of much higher ASPs for value based SATA SSDs than the market would have expected prior to the shortage fiasco.

And while the technical challenges of making QLC a working technology are awesome (and industry accolades should go to the designers of the memory internal P/E and read circuits and accompanying data integrity framework in the controllers) the battle lines for opening new markets in next generation memory systems are at the other end of the latency spectrum - in the application zone of what is to replace RAM - and how much of it will even resemble RAM to an degree which is recognizable.


no more anti-trust wait states

Toshiba Memory sale clear to close June 1


Editor:- May 17, 2018 - Toshiba Corp today announced it has received all required regulatory approvals for the sale of Toshiba Memory Corp. The sale to the Bain led consortium is expected to close on June 1, 2018.

See also:- Toshiba's SSD beauty pageant - timeline of stories


Dell EMC adopts M.2 SSD array concept

Editor:- May 17, 2018 - The idea of using M.2 SSDs as the raw flash elements mounted on enterprise PCIe SSD carriers and trays has gaining ground since it was proposed as an evolutionary step by Liqid in January 2016.

The M.2 array concept has the performance benefit of proportionality (from NVMe PCIe scalability) coupled with the strategic business merit that M.2 is a competitively priced, high volume form factor which ensures that such modules will be at the forefront of new technology adoption while also including within its ranks good value for money.

A recent story - Dell EMC Takes a Stab at 1PB/1U With High Density M.2 Sleds (on StorageReview.com) - shows a picture of a Dell EMC module with upto 10 M.2 SSDs in a single sled. ...read the article


Crossbar will demonstrate ReRAM AI accelerator chip

Editor:- May 14, 2018 - Crossbar today announced that it will demonstrate a test chip showing the capabilities of its ReRAM technology for AI in the form of a facial recognition accelerator at the Embedded Vision Summit next week in Santa Clara, California.

Sylvain Dubois, VP Marketing at Crossbar said - "The biggest challenge facing engineers for AI today is overcoming the memory speed and power bottleneck in the current architecture to get faster data access while lowering the energy cost. By enabling a new, memory-centric non-volatile architecture like ReRAM, the entire trained model or knowledge base can be on-chip, connected directly to the neural network with the potential to achieve massive energy savings and performance improvements, resulting in a greatly improved battery life and a better user experience."

Editor's comments:- It's a great idea for Crossbar to integrate the capabilities of their SoC compatible ReRAM technhologies into a demonstration accelerator like this as it cuts out a lot of guesses and the requirement to imagine what can be done with the new architectures so enabled.

Here's an example of this powerful business development idea from SSD history.

You all know (or have heard of) Fusion-io right?

They're the company(founded in December 2005) which transformed the enterprise server market from SSD deniers into born again PCIe SSD acceleration evangelists. Fusion-io was acquired for $1.1 billion in June 2014.

You might be surprised to know that despite its huge market impact Fusion-io's original business plan wasn't the one which they later followed.

After they became successful the founders told me their original idea had been to operate as a software and IP licensing company.

And they said that their prototype PCIe SSD cards - the ioDrives - had been intended simply to demonstrate the concept of what Fusion's software and architecture could do. The founders had expected that server makers would license the technology but build their own cards. However, when server customers saw what this acceleration technology could do for their own server sales (or those of competitors if they adopted it) they chose to buy cards instead. And that's how the PCIe SSD market got started.

It's possible that with the AI memory accelerator market we're going to see application specific products born out of demonstrators which are too good to stay in the labs. And that's a proposition which I also mentioned in my recently completed blog - are we ready for infinitely faster RAM?


Mercury says TLC can be used in avionics (if you know how)

Editor:- May 1, 2018 - Mercury Systems today announced it is offering TLC flash in a new SSD on a chip (22mm x 32mm BGA) for secure storage roles in SWaP constrained environments such as aircraft, unmanned systems and mobile ground applications including secure laptops and tablets.

Mercury says - "While TLC flash technology is ideal for high-capacity data storage in a smaller footprint than MLC and SLC technologies, its reliability and performance in military operating environments has been disputed until today. Mercury has eliminated these threats by custom-engineering a new variant of its ARMOR processor specifically for this new commercial memory technology enabling it to operate in SLC mode for high reliability and long-term endurance while sustaining high-speed read/write operations."

Editor's comments:- It is a notable milestone that a pedigree military SSD company like Mercury is using TLC in SLC mode for secure applications. The technique of virtual SLC and its reliability aspects is one of several described in this academic paper a Survey of Techniques for Architecting SLC/MLC/TLC Hybrid Flash Memory based SSDs (27 pages pdf) - which I mentioned in a news story last December.

Re the adoption of TLC nand (or any new mainstream memory) into successive markets SSD history demonstrates a timetable of adoption determined by how long it takes for the new devices to shake out processing fluctuations and how long it takes for application markets to deteremine they're good enough.

Traditionally consumer SSDs used to be the first target for new memories . Because consumer products have lower data integrity standards. Then some time later enterprise, followed by industrial and military (subject to temperature compatibility) and maybe later still - medical markets. At the latter end of this list the later adoptions are due to longer design times (to evaluate and integrate with other reliability features) and longer customer qualification times. However in recent years the order of memory adoption has changed with big cloud users jumping right in at the start contemporaneously with consumer. Clever cloud architects can live with and work around infant media defects - and are willing to put design effort into using new technologies - provided that the system benefits provide a statistically significant improvement in their systems costs.

As a yardstick for how long these successive adoptions can take...

It's 2018 now and this is the first news story about a significant military SSD using TLC. In my timeline sugaring flash for the enterprise - it was 2015 when TLC was considered good enough to ship in high quality enterprise all flash arrays.

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XTREME series SSDs - from Flexxon
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the importance of being earnest about 3DXPoint

and other SSD memoryfication heresies
by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com - June 5, 2018
the Memoryfication HeresiesWhen thinking back about the top level differences between raw data storage media in the 1990s one easy way to differentiate them was by latency.

So an ordered list from fastest access time to slowest would run something like:- SRAM, DRAM, flash (those were the main memories in those days) then winchester disks (the magnetic hard drives / disks we nowadays call HDD), optical drives and finally tape. And if you were sorting this list according to the cost per byte stored then no surprise it would be read about the same.

Like all such lists this is a simplication.

Optical drives of various flavors fought hard to be recognized as viable alternatives which could sometimes be cheaper or faster than hard drives - which sounded more plausible when drives were commonly moved from place to place as part of the data recovery plan in the days before fast internet brought us the cloud. And there were also many long battles in the early 2000s between hard drives and tape to determine which type of magnetic media delivered the lowest cost of archive. That's the kind of thing which used to be the subject of storage news pages like this.

The main lesson from being at the sharp end of such discussions in storage history is that the tidy ordered family trees which we see written by the inheritors of such technology wars do not sufficiently capture the confusion and strength of arguments which led to them.

That's because other issues which we take for granted later (like - how fast do we actually need the data? and what's the consequence of not getting it when we need it?) change over time as part of the evolution of computing.

And even when everyone is approximately agreed on a general future direction - such as towards more solid state storage - the differences in approach can seem like ocean wide chasms.

As part of my reporting on the new era of SSDs and talking to many evangelists in the SSD market I came up with a phrase - the SSD heresies - to describe how fierce these genuinely held differences in belief could be - even when designers were contemplating solutions to similar perceived product gap problems.

It's no surprise then that the enterprise memoryfication market has advocates pulling towards different priorities as the memory systems IP soil is fertile with opportunities created by new product gaps created by the mainstream adoption of SSDs while also benefitting from newly redefined value roles for older media types too.

The battleground for converts is a proactive cloud economy which is willing and able to measure and leverage the (lowest or highest) random asset value of entire populations of drives and will move towards exploiting valuable incremental differences with the currency of new software designs.

has the jury reached a verdict on flash tiered as RAM?

In 2015 - the opening salvo of SCM DIMM wars - it seemed plausible that flash tiered as RAM might pose an existential threat to growth in the DRAM market. The argument at the time offered by companies like Diablo Technologies being that a DIMM based solution which could transparently replace 80% or so of DRAM with tiered flash instead (while delivering similar and sometimes higher application performance - due to the affordability of bigger "RAM") would be a market changer because flash had much higher capacity than DRAM at lower cost. History (so far) shown us that such a transition didn't happen as predicted - even when the price and availability of DRAM escalated to the pain levels caused by the memory shortages of 2016/7.

Knowing as we now do that users in the market didn't all rush in droves to adopt the new flash DIMMs tiered as RAM - the evidence suggests a reinterpretation of the technology is due. And I think it would go as follows:-
  • flash tiered as RAM in DIMM form factors (from a cloud use perspective) is an incremental rather than a disruptive technology.

    The application benefits (when they occured) were typically a small improvement (maybe 20 to 30%) compared to tiering flash as RAM in other form factors such as PCIe SSDs or SATA SSDs. So the risk of switching to single source premium devices in DIMMs wasn't worthwhile compared to using "generic" SSDs in cheaper form factors.
  • software plays a big part in new hardware adoption.

    But proving that it works takes years.

    Memory products interface with more types of software than storage products. Therefore proving that a new memory defined software can be trusted requires either a very long time (for general solutions) or a narrower captive application set.

    The software approval and verification time to reach critical mass for general adoption by users is longer than the lifetime of a single memory product generation. That makes it difficult for a single memory product startup with its own unique software requirements to reach a stable funding level unless it has a cash cow niche application.
  • the RAM market itself is changing - so the ideal direction of change for users is memory solutions which can deliver applications outcomes in consistently shorter times while analyzing bigger datasets.

    Speed itself has an intrinsic value. And my blog - are we ready for infinitely faster RAM? - explains why there was a limited appetite for memory accelerators (much faster than DRAM) in the past - and why this appears to be changing significantly.
Intel vs Micron - emerging differences in assessing the near term strategic importance of recently commercialized nvms

As I hinted above we shouldn't be surprised that the SSD design heresies (what's the best way to design an SSD system - given all the permutations of memory, interface, software and controller IP) has - like a rolling stone gathering up sticky new moss - inevitably drifted into the memory systems design heresies.

On a note of SSD jargon - re the evolving change of use in what's an SSD? - for me - as everything involving memory systems design nowadays is intricately linked to controller design and software and architecture - I still think the term "SSD" covers it. Unless "memoryfication" catches on. SSD has the vitue of being short. (Rob Peglar, President at Advanced Computation and Storage LLC on seeing this said on linkedin - "I think you just invented a new word" - but actually - due its convenience as a shortcut spanning a wide slice of memory architecture trends - I've been using it since 2017.)

Going back to emerging differences of opinion re memoryfication futures - my point is that whatever any particular manufacturer may tell you about the overwhelming superiority of their own approach to memory product design (and whether they're a fabless IP startup or a memory T-Rex) the memory is still just a part of a data system - and in the rich memory sea we now have - other design approaches to memory soup may do the same job just as well. (This is exactly the same advice as the first bullet point - don't believe everything SSD companies tell you about the past, present or future of the SSD market - in my 2012 article - Enterprise SSDs - the Survive and Thrive Guide.)

A recent example is the differences in the strategic outlook for memories between Intel (infatuated with 3DXpoint) and Micron (still in love with DRAM) which have been aired in public statements about policy, investment directions etc.

The blog - XP Dreams: Intel And Micron Diverge by analyst William Tidwell on SeekingAlpha.com - examines the "stark differences between the two companies". And among other things he says - "Intel has never ceased aggressively hyping the technology... projectecting up to $8 billion in XP DIMM revenue in 2021. Micron, on the other hand, has been almost completely silent, revealing little other than its branding and its confidence that the new memory has great potential." ... ...read the article

This evoked (on linkedin) a reaction by Sang-Yun Lee the founder of BeSang (a let's make memory chips better IP company) who asked on linkedin - "Why Intel is so obsessed with 3DXP?..."

I replied like this...

"Agreed that 3DXP doesnt deliver many benefits now. But it could be used as an incubator technology which enables software developers to explore new systems level optimisations which play around with closer integration of processors and low latency big local memory having fewer caches.

New memory defined software platforms will create big market opportunities as significant as Wintel, Unix, http were before. The new software doesnt need to be Intel memory based (could be done better today with other combinations of memory). But 3DXP provides ISVs a convenient reference point which is good enough to make such experiments easy to try. Intel needs just one of these experiments to succeed to save its processor future.

Big gamble? - sure. 3DXP is a honey trap for new software. Maybe not the best memory technology today but the software industry can still remember how sweet Intels past roadmaps used to taste.

That's despite Intel having been absent at the conception or birth of the enterprise PCIe SSD accelerator market which was the first transformative step in the memoryfication of the enterprise."

See also:- who d'you call for the SSD crystal ball?, why did we get into such a mess with SSD software? (2012), hostage to the fortunes of SSD (2013), the enterprise SSD story - why's the plot so complicated? (2015)
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did leading DRAM makers collude to protect high prices?
Editor:- May 1, 2018 - One of the almost predictable consequences of the memory shortages and price hikes centered around 2017 has been greater scrutiny of the memory market by regulators and now - a class action lawsuit (pdf) filed against the 3 largest DRAM makers (Samsung, Micron, and Hynix) which dominate the market.

Among other things the plaintiff document alleges - "Defendants combined and contracted to fix, raise, maintain, or stabilize the prices at which DRAM was sold in the United States from at least June 1, 2016 to February 1, 2018 (the "Class Period"). Defendants' conspiracy artificially inflated prices for DRAM throughout the supply chain that were ultimately passed through to Plaintiffs and the Class, causing them to pay more for DRAM Products than they otherwise would have absent Defendants' conspiracy."

As with many legal documents this one is a long read. In it the plaintiffs suggest that these memory companies communicated their strategies by means of public investor statements - "During the Class Period, Defendants continued their efforts to coordinate their DRAM supply decisions, as reflected in public comments by Defendants that urged each other to keep industry supply in check. Defendants each made public statements affirming their commitment to the common plan to curtail supply, and to not compete for each other's market share by supply expansion. For example, Defendants informed the other Defendants through public statements, that they would keep total wafer capacity flat in order to constrain DRAM supply growth, they would only grow DRAM supply between 15-20% in 2017, even as DRAM demand grew 20-25%, and that they would refrain from taking each other's market share." ...read the lawsuit (pdf)

Editor's comments:- The tactics each sales force used to decide allocation between different customers and bundling deals (if any) may come under scrutiny. Dealing fairly in a shortage requires very strong controls to avoid tipping into anti competitive behaviors.

The history of the memory market does include proven examples of past price fixing. You can read more about them by visiting https://www.justice.gov and searching for "DRAM".

See also:- RAM news - ain't what it used to be

a history of understanding and misunderstanding SSD pricing
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Mays of yore in SSD market history
May 2003 - Imperial Technology launched WhatsHot SSD - a hotspot analysis and tuning tool for fast rackmount SSD accelerators.

It would be another 6 years before the first storage arrays became available which integrated automatic caching of data between solid state storage and hard drives. That was the XcelaSAN launched in September 2009. But it wasn't till 2011 (when new SSDcentric software companies were entering the market at the rate of one each week) that the SSD software market became valued enough by investors and wouldbe acquirers.

May 2007 - MOSAID announced its HLNAND flash technology which could sustain 800MB/s.

May 2010 - SandForce announced the first branding program for SSD controllers.

That marked a turning point in how flash controller technology was viewed by the mainstream storage market. In less than 3 years (2007 to 2010) the perception changed from "who cares?" to "You care!" - which I wrote about in Imprinting the brain of the SSD.

May 2013 - Micron began sampling a new hot swappable 2.5" PCIe SSD with 1.4TB MLC capacity and 750K R IOPS.

May 2016 - Symbolic IO emerged from stealth mode unveiling an enterprise server/storage architecture which leveraged embedded persistent memory coding to provide data materialization, dematerialization and acceleration.
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