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who's who in the SSD market in China?
by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - October 16, 2017
Nowadays you can't expect to understand the worldwide SSD market and realistically predict the likely source and direction of strong influences without having some cognizance of the SSD market in China.

As the publisher of StorageSearch.com I have been in the fortunate position that (since the 1990s) the founders of many SSD companies have contacted me. Consequently during a long span of SSD history I've had thousands of conversations with influencers in this market trying to understand the unfettered potential for memory systems products and discuss how to solve the barriers of technology, education and creating new markets.

In the early days of earning my living from the SSD market the principal movers and shakers were mostly US based companies. But from about 2006 I started to see significant products entering the international SSD conversation from companies who were coming from China.

Communication wasn't as fluid as talking to US companies because my working language is English.

But I quickly realized from our common language (the technical characteristics of the SSDs themselves) and from our email discussions that there was a treasure trove of talent in China which had independently been looking at SSD related design problems and solving them for their own customers.

By the time some of these China based SSD companies emerged as "newcomers" to the international markets via news or ads on my web site and others some of them were already fully operating companies and had more actual customers than is typically the case for US tech companies when they emerge from stealth or seek VC funding or launch their first products.

StorageSearch has always been an international publication.

By the close of 1993 my previous enterprise publication had customers and readers in over 23 countries. So I've always been receptive to learning more about companies which are pushing the boundaries forward in the technology segments I write about regardless of where they are. And with single exception of the military and aerospace SSD markets - where the proximity of the manufacturer and customer are an essentially intertwined and primary part of the qualification equation - I mostly think that - SSD technology has no geographic boundaries.

That's why I've never published a list of "SSD companies based in China". Although if you wanted a list like that you could make a good start and prepopulate it - were you minded to do so - by a Google search of the SSD news archives here on the mouse site.

If you prefer a commercially off the shelf list of China SSD companies, however, I recall that - in March 2016 - Forward Insights announced a report Opportunities in China's SSD Market which among other things listed oems, controller suppliers and others in that region of the SSD ecosystem. (See more SSD market analysts, list of market research companies who have been mentioned in storage context.)

And another thing you could do if you were interested in the SSD market in China would be to look at events like - China Flash Market Summit - which took place last month.

All of which above is long way of setting the scene for a very long conversation I had last Friday with Michael Wang who is founder of Saniffer whose company is the leading distributor of special test equipment and bus analyzers for SSD companies in China.

Saniffer logoEarlier this year I had added Saniffer's logo - which is a dragon - to my list of animal brands in the SSD market.

I had noticed Saniffer as a presence in the storage test market some years before but I didn't have a reason to write about it. We only started talking to each other about the SSD market this year. That's when Michael told me he first noticed my SSD articles about 10 years ago.

We had fun talking about the early days of the SSD market in China and we both knew many of the same people who had founded companies which went on to achieve worldwide recognition.

He asked if I had been to China. I said - no - I don't travel anywhere for work reasons because I find being connected is more efficient use of my time.

Another explanation is I tend to get lost easily. Even if my starting point is less than half a mile from where I live if you want to know the worst of it. (And a story popular in my family is how I spent 3 days in 1974 walking around the streets of Southampton without being able to find the university where my degree in Electronic Engineering was due to commence. When I got hungry I abandoned my quest to get food and then started searching again. This loop was exited only when I met some others doing the same course - one of whom later became my wife.)

What did the SSD mouse learn from an SSD dragon?

Location, location... Because of where he is, and the nature of his business, Michael Wang is in an ideal position to become aware of SSD drive and controller companies in the China market from the time they are being designed.

I've written before about the business benefits of SSD customization and Michael confirmed that he's seeing some of his customers designing custom SSDS and even new controllers and he said there are new SSD startups in the China market which will be significant when the outside world gets to hear about them.

I was already sold on the strategic visibility and potential of the design tools market. I told Michael that in 1990 when I stuck a bus analyzer on multiprocessor systems to see what really was happening to data in real-time and how data went through memory from SSD and HDD storage compared to what everyone expected it confirmed that bottlenecks existed in many places. We could fix them because in those days we had a lot of the source code and the software mix was simple and under our control. But in today's SSD market the software comes from many places and controllernomics is the limiting factor for everyone.

It's a big problem to solve in which bus analyzers and machine learning all have a part to play.

The increasing complexity of memoryfication systems means that there are many prizes to be won.

Knowing what happens is better than guessing. SSD arrays can be improved by discovering behavior which is optimized for a different view of dataflow economics compared to the target installation.

The SSD test and verification market sounds like an exciting place to be.

So - going back to the title of this blog - what answer can I offer to the question of - who's who in the SSD market in China?

Bearing in mind that all market data is imperfect and that even when you have "reliable" data the way in which you interpret it is stilted by what your own position and preconceptions the answer is... no one knows all the answers but it always helps to find others with similar interests who might know more than you.

That's how we learn. From each other.

BTW - Michael Wang suggested that for those in China a new (to me) SSD engineering community web site is SSDfans.com
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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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"Recently DARPA come out with new initiative programs among which is:- 3D Monolithic System-on-a-Chip (3DSoC) - to develop 3D monolithic technology that will enable > 50X improvement in SoC digital performance at power.

At the upcoming IEEE S3S 2017 (October 16 to 19) - MonolithIC 3D Inc will present a monolithic 3D technology that is ready to be rapidly deployed using the current transistor process."
Zvi Or-Bach, CEO - MonolithIC 3D in his blog - DARPA calls for Monolithic 3D – 3DSoC Learn all about Monolithic 3D at IEEE S3S (September 19, 2017)

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"When Rob Commins, VP of marketing at Tegile looks into the crystal ball, he sees one large shared memory pool as opposed to a shared storage pool."
Above quote from the blog - How Will All-Flash Storage Look in 5 Years? - EnterpriseStorageForum.com (September 12, 2017)

Editor's comments:- The big tiered memory appliance having more capacity than today's AFAs was the home page blog on StorageSearch.com in April 2017 - see cloud adapted memory systems - "raw chip memory... how much as SSD? how much as memory?"

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What's the new business plan for Nimbus?

Does selling SAS SSD drives replace selling petabyte AFA systems?

How has Nimbus been affected by the memory shortages and higher memory prices?
sauce for the SSD box gander


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earlier in the SSD news archives
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.

Micron's Inotera fab scrapped 60,000 wafers - equivalent to 1 month of worldwide 3D nand flash wafer starts.
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.
May 2017 Micron enters the rackmount SSD market.

Everspin's MRAM exits emerging status.
April 2017 IP-Maker released NVMe FPGA IP to enable use of enterprise performance SSDs in low wattage "no CPU" embedded systems.

Rambus said it was working with Microsoft on the design of prototype super cooled DRAM systems to explore avenues of improvement in latency and density due to physics effects below -180 C.
March 2017 Excelero - emerged from stealth.

Everspin began sampling an NVMe PCIe SSD based on its ST-MRAM.

Intel began sampling an NVMe PCIe SSD based on Micron's 3DXpoint memory.
February 2017 Tachyum emerged from stealth mode
January 2017 Pure Storage said the "new stack" is becoming the standard thing.

Crossbar announced it was sampling 8Mb ReRAM based on 40nm CMOS friendly technology.
December 2016 Violin sought bankruptcy protection.

4Gb MRAM prototypes unveiled by SK Hynix and Toshiba
November 2016 Silicon Motion announced the "world's first merchant SD 5.1 controller solution."
October 2016 Rambus announced it was exploring the use of Xilinx FPGAs in its Smart Data Acceleration research program.
September 2016 Everspin filed its IPO to expand MRAM

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Toshiba lost flash fab output due to malware

Editor:- October 19, 2017 - Adding to the catalog of manufacturability yield woes which we already knew had contributed to the recent memory shortages and their various impacts on the SSD market there were reports earlier this week that Toshiba had lost production due to the impact of ransomware.

Digitimes - the first to report this story - said malware had delayed about 100,000 wafer starts. Later comments on Bloomberg and Objective Analysis put the story into a better context.



New Visions for Digital Storage

Editor:- October 11 , 2017 - The 2017 Storage Visions Conference . will be held Monday, October 16, 2017 in Milpitas, CA..

The conference theme is "New Visions for Digital Storage" and the conference will bring together the vendors, end users, researchers and visionaries that will meet the growing demand for digital storage for all aspects of unstructured and lightly structured data. Among other things expert panels will include:-
  • Bringing Compute to the Data.

    Over the entire history of computing data has resided in storage and memory, and has been summoned to the data processing element as it is needed. Today the industry is discovering that the movement of Big Data to the processor consumes inordinate power and incurs significant time penalties.

    This panel, featuring leading companies who address this issue, will discuss their current efforts to move compute to the data to save power, accelerate processing speed, and even improve scalability, in order to greatly enhance the cost/performance of tomorrow's computers.
  • Hardware Visions for Ubiquitous Storage and Memory.

    Emerging non-volatile solid-state storage technologies are set to replace or supplement DRAM in many applications. New fabric technologies will enable fast network storage using NVMe devices.

    Flash memory is moving to more and more 3D layers with three-level cells and four-level cells capable of reducing the costs for flash memory and driving its use. At the same time, HDDs as well as magnetic tape and optical storage are getting faster.
...see conference agenda

Infinidat secures $95 million C round

Editor:- October 3, 2017 - Infinidat today announced it has closed a $95 million Series C financing round. Equity raised by the company to date totals $325 million.

Infinidat says that several hundred enterprise customers have adopted its (hybrid storage) InfiniBox platform with more than 2 exabytes of storage deployed globally.

See also:- SSD Bookmarks - from Infinidat, VCs in SSDs


Seagate confirms $1.25 billion stake in consortium to acquire Toshiba Memory

Editor:- September 28, 2017 - Seagate today confirmed its participation in the consortium led by Bain Capital Private Equity that has entered into an agreement to acquire Toshiba Memory Corporation.

In the agreement, Seagate has committed to provide up to $1.25 billion in financing to support the acquisition, to be provided at closing, which is expected by March 2018. In addition, Seagate expects to enter into a long-term NAND supply agreement with Toshiba Memory that will provide continuity of raw NAND for Seagate's expanding SSD product portfolio.

Editor's comments:- Seagate's involvement in this acquisition was speculated in some earlier reports on other sites but is now confirmed.

Although Seagate is not the biggest supplier of finance in this deal it is the most interesting for me because its competitor Western Digital also has a different kind of stake in Toshiba Memory.

The inevitable conflicts of interest will require resolution agreements (or lawsuits) to determine how to compartmentalize and allocate some of the memory products - particularly those which involve SSD IP from SanDisk.

TrendForce says nand flash shortages may end in 2018
Editor:- September 27, 2017 - After 6 consecutive quarters of shortages in the nand flash memory market TrendForce today said it expects "supply and demand will reach a balance in 2018, moving away from the undersupply situation of 2017."

TrendForce anticipates that seasonal effects may result in NAND temporarily swinging from undersupply to oversupply in Q1 2018. But says the overall market trend for the whole 2018 is toward a stable equilibrium of supply and demand. The global NAND Flash bit supply growth rate is currently projected at 42.9%, while the bit demand growth rate is projected at 37.7%.

Editor's comments:- In 2017 the market learned that all the past assumptions about how long the memory industry takes to stabilize yields for new devices (and how those projections compare to initial characterization phases) were wrong due to nth layer tax in high rise 3D. The memoryfication of computing (big memory as the new normal) is also creating entirely new use cases which create additional demands on chips in a parallel course to SSD but which are semi-independent of storage's migration towards more solid state. So there are more memory demand factors at work - not just more demand from previously well understood trends.

I explained why I think it's likely that 2018 will end with shortages too in my recent blog - miscellaneous consequences of the 2017 memory shortages.

See also:- other market research stories related to SSD


Toshiba says it will sell memory business to Bain led consortium

Editor:- September 20, 2017 - Toshiba today announced its long awaited decision about who it has chosen to sell its memory business to. It's a consortium led by Bain Capital using an acquisition cutout filter created for this purpose called K. K. Pangea. The transaction (worth about $18 billion) is "expected to close by the end of March 2018."

Editor's comments:- earlier reports which had speculated about the identity of members of the consortium named at various times Dell, Apple and Seagate.

Toshiba said in the above announcement "Western Digital has sought to prevent the sale of the interests of the joint parties (meaning Toshiba and WDC) to any 3rd party and Toshiba and WDC are currently engaged in litigation and arbitration."

An article on Bloomberg about the announced sale process says "The consortium members weren't named in Wednesday's statement to the Tokyo Stock Exchange."

Seagate renews custom supply agreement with Baidu
Editor:- September 18, 2017 - Seagate - which has admitted being negatively impacted by the memory shortages of 2017 and which sells SAS SSDs through its memory partner Micron (although "the quantity is not huge" - according to a recent article on SeekingAlpha.com) and anyway this legacy SAS enterprise segment is under attack from new competitors using Nimbus's reference design platform - today announced a new strategic agreement with Baidu which renews and expands an earlier collaboration agreement announced 3 years ago.

Among other things Seagate says - "With regard to new products, Baidu will be at the forefront of Internet users in China implementing Seagate's new storage products, and also the 2 sides will jointly develop customized systems to meet Baidu business needs. In addition, the procurement model for both companies will be further upgraded to save costs for each side."

Editor's comments:- In an SSD predictions article (Dec 2015) I said...

"The urge towards greater customization will be driven by the need to improve the efficiency of SSDs (cost of raw materials and competitiveness) and also technical characteristics (performance, power consumption, reliability etc) which are optimized specifically for well defined application specific needs."

Fast forward to now - In the next few years (2018/19) storage users and suppliers need to make plans for a memory ecosystem in which the traditional assumptions about downward memory pricing and ample availability may no longer be valid. These trends will drive all data-factory industries to look at opportunities to increase efficiency which - at system scales - will benefit from (and necessitate) custom rather than standard design products.

See also:- the business of custom SSDs


hyperscale is nearly 1/4 of all enterprise storage revenue

Editor:- September 14, 2017 - A new report from IDC confirms the growing size of the enterprise storage systems market related to hyperscale datacenters. Sales by ODMs to the hyperscale segment grew 73.5% year over year to $2.5 billion in in the 2nd quarter 2017 to reach nearly a quarter of the entire $10.8 billion in all segments.

Editor's comments:- 5 years ago in my article - the big market impact of SSD dark matter - I wrote about the future importance of web scale and cloud companies to the development of the enterprise SSD market. These users have been leading the curve in mainstream storage and memory architecture adoption because they get immediate cost. benefits from efficiency oriented designs.

These changes in storage market segmentation have also encouraged new rackmount SSD vendors to nurture significant business ambitions with unbloated lean product catalogs while ignoring traditional (declining) legacy markets.


Mercury's 3D BuiltSECURE memory will take to the skies

Editor:- September 11, 2017 - Mercury Systems today announced it received a $8 million order from a leading defense prime contractor for BuiltSECURE high density secure memory devices manufactured at its DMEA-trusted facility in Phoenix, Ariz. The high-speed memory devices will be integrated into active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar systems deployed on an advanced airborne military platform.

BuiltSECURE high density secure memory devices use Mercury's 3D packaging technology to transform a 2D array of discrete memory devices into a single, vertically stacked, dense ball grid array (BGA) package. Delivering space savings up to 75%, the memory devices are also precision engineered to withstand the harshest of operating conditions encountered during military operations.

See also:- military SSDs, what's RAM really?


Series A funding for RISC CPUs in DRAM

Editor:- September 8, 2017 - UPMEM - a fabless semiconductor startup - today announced 3 million Euros series A funding for its Processing In-Memory technology.

This integrates user-API accessible RISC processors as SoCs in DRAM. The company has been reported in eeNews (Oct 2016) as saying...

"The fundamental benefit of processing-in-memory is the combination of DRAM and CPU. We attach 1 DPU per DRAM bank. It means 16 cores per 8Gbit DRAM chip. On a 16Gbyte DIMM, we deliver 256 cores, and 8 of them can be added to a standard CPU socket. We end up with a co-processing system of 2048 cores together with 128Gbytes of DRAM per socket."

The PIM chip, integrating UPMEM's proprietary RISC processors (DRAM Processing Units, DPUs) and main memory (DRAM), is the building block of the first efficient, scalable and programmable acceleration solution for big data applications. Associated with its Software Development Kit, the UPMEM PIM solution can accelerate data-intensive applications in the datacenter servers 20 times, with close to zero additional energy premium.

"We are no longer in an era were CPUs and other hardware getting continuously faster would mask the slow speed of inefficient software," said Reza Malekzadeh, General Partner at Partech Ventures (among the investors). "UPMEM's solution addresses the performance needs of modern scale-out applications while preserving datacenter and infrastructure hardware investments."

Editor's comments:- As a fan of ratios in assessing new technologies - on linkedin I said...

"A simple way to understand the kind of application opportunities and limits of Upmem's solution is to look at the ratio of CPU cores to GB of DRAM. That gives you the power envelope and tells you what problems it's best suited for. The articles linked on Upmem's web site are very informative as far as they go."

Upto this announcement the spectrum of in-situ SSD processing solutions in the market had ranged in latency and benefit terms from:-
  • adding user deployable API and RAM in the flash controller (NxGn - which exited stealth July 2014),
The memoryfication of the enterprise and the aspiration towards doing more within memory systems (which will lead to storage systems being an emulation in memory and the obsolescence of the AFA as we know it) is being driven by new storage applications for big apps (as described in a slides by Parallel Machines in February 2017 .

PS - "The first time I suggested to a processor design team that they should look at adding support for solid state storage in their new CPUs instead of just adding more cores was about 2000. I got the response at that time - what's an SSD? And nothing more came of the matter." - from the blog - optimizing CPUs for use with SSDs in the Post Modernist Era of SSD and Memory Systems
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SSD news in Octobers of yore
  • October 2000 - Viking siad it would soon ship the industry's highest capacity CompactFlash cards to resellers nationwide. The 256MB components were for digital cameras, MP3 players, portable computers and PDAs.
  • October 2002 - Platypus Technology named customers and announced lower pricing for its fast (50,000 IOPS) QikDATA M-series redundant solid-state storage accelerators. The PCI bus 8GB model cost approximately $12,500.
  • October 2003 - Memtech said its Wolverine 2.5" military SSD (8GB 12.5mm high) was available with 8 years warranty.
  • October 2008 - IMEC started research on Resistive RAM (RRAM) cells as a potential candidate to replace conventional flash memory.
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"Productization of Gen-Z (a next generation uber PCIe memory fabric) is expected to happen in late 2019 and maybe early 2020."
Gen-Z Stitches a Memory Fabric - TheNextPlatform (September 5, 2017)

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"The unexpectedly higher price of DRAM and nand flash in the past several quarters due to demand and yield issues has been like manna from heaven to companies with alternative nvms.

The change in relativistic competitive landscape has had the same effect as if the alternative nvms could time travel 2 years into the future while nand and DRAM have stayed looped in Groundhog Day."
Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com commenting on - Making money is so DRAM easy for some memory-flingers - the Register (August 17, 2017)

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"Western Digitals Strength Revealed by Apples Tantrum"
headline of a blog on Barrons.com (September 11, 2017) reporting an analyst opinion from BTIG Research

Editor's comments:- In this context the rights to access memory supplies is like access to water rights in arid zones. I'm thinking - the Big Muddy in the Big Country (the western starring Gregory Peck).

See also:- salami slicing the memory delicay of Toshiba

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Top SSD Companies in Q1 2017
In this 40th quarterly edition shortages in memory, who owned the memory companies and the future memoryfication of the enterprise were ever present ingredients in the SSD news mix. ...read the article

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

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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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Despite the bewildering range of products in the market - the performance characteristics and limitations of ALL flash SSDs are determined by a small set of of architectural parameters.
understanding flash SSD performance limitations

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after AFAs? - the next box
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 new 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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Are we there yet?
After more than 20 years of writing guides to the SSD and memory systems market I admit in a new blog on StorageSearch.com - Are we there yet? - that when I come to think about it candidly the SSD industry and my publishing output are both still very much "under construction". ...read the article

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SSD jargon

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RAM has changed from being tied to a physical component to being a virtualized systems software idea - and the concept of RAM even stretches to a multi-cabinet memory fabric.
what's RAM really? - RAM in an SSD context

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If you're trying to predict and anticipate how the supply of next generation nand flash will ramp up in the next year compared to how you've seen memory successions before then the 3D nand flash market has presented many problems of analysis and interpretation.
3D nand successions?- more dimensions of analysis

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All the marketing noise coming from the DIMM wars market (flash as RAM and Optane etc) obscures some important underlying strategic and philosophical questions about the future of SSD.
where are we heading with memory intensive systems?

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I think it's not too strong to say that the enterprise PCIe SSD market (as we once knew it) has exploded and fragmented into many different directions.
what's changed in enterprise PCIe SSD?
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SSD controllers
the SSD news archives
Can you trust SSD market data?
what's RAM really? - RAM in an SSD context
Can you tell me the best way to get to SSD Street?
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