by Zsolt Kerekes,
editor - August 2012 |
| In many ways the enterprise SSD market
resembles a jungle and the creatures within it are evolving fast.
The bugs haven't read the blurb on the bug spray - and don't realize
they are supposed to stay away - or be dead.
There's no cellphone
signal and the satphone quickfinder always points to somewhere behind the
next tree or hill. (Help page says - begin by locating horizon... What
You've still got plenty of those little pills which make
the water safe to drink - but something always seems to land in it and swim
around after it's been filtered - and BTW it looks a funny color and tastes
horrible. (That's the water. The swimmy things look pretty and taste nice.
What are they? Ask.com doesn't know if they're poisonous.)
Jungle used to be a tropical paradise - far away and expensive to visit - so
only the bold and rich went there. But now it's grown and mutated. You
might go to bed one night in the city - and wake to find the SSD jungle has
already taken over the streets.
Unlike the original
which couldn't climb stairs - and unlike old fashioned gentlemanly
vampires which could be kept
outside by judicious placement of garlic and not inviting them in - the SSD
Jungle creatures are getting everywhere. You can't afford to ignore it.
already written many different
guides to the
enterprise SSD market and I wondered - is it feasible to say everything
important in one small set of bullet points? The Hitchhikers Guide to the
Galaxy says the most important thing you need to know is the location of
your towel... For the time being - the SSD market is smaller than the Galaxy
so packing everything you need to know about it in a single article should
- Don't believe everything SSD companies tell you about the past, present
or future of the SSD market.
If SSDs are going to be a big part of
your business future wouldn't it be nice to have a world view or future outlook
for the type of products you're looking at?
It's been a tradition in
the computer market that users and integrators look to see what their
suppliers say about the future of the market and defer to those visions. Other
good places to look for answers were universities (theoretical concepts) and
market research companies (numbers). None of that works with enterprise SSDs.
This is disruptive market where what happens next doesn't follow on
the smooth curve trajectory of what happened before.
I talk to a lot
of SSD business leaders about the market. There are a lot of different views out
they aren't always
compatible. But - right or wrong - an SSD vendor's world view of the SSD
market does determine where they focus their resources and also the types of
SSDs they make.
Here are my paraphrased shortened versions of what
some companies have said in the past
- PCIe SSDs will make the SAN obsolete -
- there won't be enough flash manufacturing capacity to replace hard drives -
- because we make the memory - we can design better SSDs -
- PCIe SSDs don't
give us any performance advantages in our racks compared to
SAS SSDs -
- SSDs will coexist in harmony with HDDs - many vendors
- SSDs will make HDDs
obsolete - many vendors
- SSD have already rendered HDDs obsolete in arrays -
- Software used to be SSD's enemy. Now it can be SSD's best friend.
storage software used contained a lot of hard wired assumptions about the best
way to optimize performance - which were based on the intrinsic
characteristics of hard
drives:- your grandfather's generation of random disk access time, but
oversprayed with modern tones of streaming R/W thoughput once you got to the
right cylinder. That meant when users connected modern SSDs to traditional
software they often got performance which was less than they expected - due to
many hidden slugs and choke points buried in the code.
Modern SSD software makes
it much easier to extract the maximum performance from SSD hardware (when using
legacy apps and legacy storage hierarchies) and - if you're building new SSD
apps for which performance is the business game-changer - then using new SSD
APIs can deliver latencies and IOPS which are 20x faster than the best
you can get with legacy compatible APIs.
Whether your SSD app is
legacy or new
dynasty (and some of you will have both in your organizations) you'll find
that new generation of SSD-aware software will get you SSD acceleration which is
faster and sooner.
Is there a risk of vendor lock-in with new API's?
Sure there is. Some SSD products are very sticky.
That's good news
for some - like investors in sticky leading SSD companies - bad news for
If you're a user who's worried about vendor lock-in then
you can stay on the legacy side of the SSD software fence. There's plenty of
support for this choice. You won't get the ultimate performance - but you'll get
more performance than you get now.
But in the next 5 years all
enterprise systems software will migrate to being an SSD and cloud biased model
instead of just HDD biased. And all
infrastructure will become SSD - even if it's being marketed as "slow HDD
type." For more see -
where are we now
with SSD software?
- The memory inside most enterprise SSDs is irrelevant.
I mean by this is - If you're a user or integrator you don't need to worry much
about 1X, 2X, 3X
nm and SLC, MLC, TLC in most well designed enterprise SSDs (upto and
including fast-enough speeds).
Good design is more important than
good memory. A clever designer with generation X memory can craft an SSD that
competes with generation Y. And the other way around. It's the surrounding SSD
IP sets which matter more.
- In SSDs - rules are made to be broken.
Don't get too
attached to any particular set of safe, handy rules to guide you.
recent years we've seen that each new significant generation of flash memory
was only made possible - not simply by shrinking chip geometries - but by
changing the accepted rules of what was safe in a memory chip design.
Supporting those changes were assumptions about the lengths to which
designers would go in order to live with the new memory defects and hide them
in order to get increased storage density at lower price points.
- The most important technology factors in the enterprise SSD market
today and near future are:-
- the ability to leverage software
- the ability to customize commodity flash by techniques evolved from
write cycles coupled with DSP IP
- unifying high
availability and high performance into a single seamless competitive
architecture (or plausible segmented marketing model).
- the ability to remarket and productize
big or small
controller architectures outside their original comfort zones.
comparative weaknesses of small controller architecture are inefficiencies in
raw to usable capacity, reliability and performance. DSP IP - which is shipping
in smaller drives first - may be a competitive equalizer at the rack array
level. (I discussed the impact using
FIO as examples in
the recently published
Top SSD Companies.)
with large controller architectures will have to remarket more of their IP in
smaller form factors - such as
PCIe SSDs and
2.5" PCIe SSDs
- in order to get better economies of scale.
Texas Memory Systems
already does that. Violin
doesn't yet. Bitmicro
- will probably launch their new big controller as a module or card - instead
of a rack.
- Flash will remain the highest capacity memory element in SSDs for
another 3 to 5 years
While it's true that flash shrinkability will
slow down - so you won't see so much more usable capacity coming from the raw
flash each year - compared to the gains seen before - many of these physics
limited scaling issues will be more than outweighed in the balance by better
architecture, packaging and software.
For example:- in many of today's
SSD racks - upto 50% of the
capacity isn't usable capacity - because it's allocated to reliability and
performance roles. Those inefficiences can be reduced by application specific
technologies. That's as much benefit to users as a significant die shrink.
we'll see power management, TLC (3 bits per cell), real-time compression and
dedupe all play their part in helping to keep flash density competitive
compared to other
storage media in most roles.
That's not to say that
RAM and other types of
nv memory won't find
their own markets too. But they'll have niche roles in the SSD market such as
fastest SSDs and
inside flash SSDs as
- The enterprise SSD market will become more complex and confusing -
before it becomes any simpler.
If I thought it was going to become
boring and predictable - I would've hung up my keyboard and written my last
article about the SSD market a long time ago.
That's not going to
happen anytime soon. Instead as more people become aware that the transition to
solid state storage in computer architecture is
1 of the 3 most
important and exciting things which have happened in the digital electronics
market in the past 40 years - we will see even more mind boggling shifts and
turns in these titanic struggles.
At stake is what can you do with
factories of the future will be as significant to world economies as the
auto factories of the past. SSD is the pivotal factor which will move us from
the iron age of data processing to the thought age - in which
much more will be possible - if you can code it - at the speed of a click.
(And sometimes - anticipating what you will probably decide to click on - will
give you the data before you press any buttons at all.)
|It looks like you're seriously interested
in SSDs - so please bookmark this page and come back again soon. Also - if
you've got the time - you might want to take a look at
the top 100 most
popular SSD articles here on the SSDmouse site.|