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2011 - Year of Reality Checks for SSD Makers?

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - December 2010

The movie What Women Want has a funny scene where Mel Gibson is putting on panty hose. That could be a metaphor for product marketers in the SSD market too.

So I think 2011 is going to be the Year of Reality Checks for SSD makers. This will be good for some (who discover that their markets are much bigger than analysts predicted) and bad for others (who discover that no one really cares if they exist or how their SSD IOPS compares with a hard drive).
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11 predictions for the SSD market in 2011 - from


moving from the language of storage speed to Nx apps speedups

Moving the language of SSD apps acceleration closer to something which is meaningful to customers - some enterprise SSD marketers will move away from quoting discredited technical benchmarks like IOPS and closer towards promising actual Nx speedups for specific popular applications.

...A few weeks after publishing this - an amusing blog was published on the same theme - "One million IOPS. Yawn! Is that all you've got?"

See also:- Speed and Strength Metaphors in SSD brands

2 plunging deeper into MLC flash SSD babble is enterprise's best defense

Continuing to satisfy the needs of technically minded SSD users who have already digested everything there is to know in the 2010 version of SSD jargon dictionary - the SSD industry (including this editor) will talk in a lot more detail about nuances within MLC flash technology, such as the differences in different types of so-called "enterprise grade MLC flash" and why some MLC SSDs are nearly as good as SLC (as long as you don't cook them) while other sorts of MLC are only good enough for consumers (and sometimes not even good enough for them).

...Later:- these market and technology trends were confirmed during 2011 and are discussed in the article - sugaring MLC for the enterprise.

3 enterprise SSD market - growing faster than predicted

Storage market analysts - (in the terabyte tallier category - that is to say - who publish reports on how big the various segments of the market are with respect to historic revenue) will reveal to everyone's "surprise" that the enterprise segment of the SSD market grew much faster in 2010 than they had predicted - whereas the opposite case was true for notebook SSDs.

...Looking back on 2011 - there was a flurry of new investor interest in the enterprise SSD market which arose from Fusion-io going public and SanDisk's acquisition of Pliant. These taken with the details revealed by various SSD makers about how many petabytes of SSD storage they had shipped - confirmed that the enterprise SSD market was moving into uncharted revenue regions faster than previously anticipated.

In my discussions with leading enterprise SSD companies - the underlying reason appears to be when when a big user organization has tested and confirmed the benefits it gets from its first few cautious installations - the customers become more confident about what they can achieve with SSD acceleration in other parts of their business.

4 SSD accelerated disaster recovery will publish a news story - "Business Saved by SSDs!" - about an online enterprise which recovered from a disaster recovery situation in just a couple of hours (accelerated by SSDs) instead of several days (using traditional hard disk technology and tape).

The case study will shine a new light on what SSDs can do for backups - and will help to open up a new strand of the SSD market.

...Later:- although we haven't published such a story yet - many SSD vendors have told me that one of the benefits their big enterprise customers are seeing is faster backup and restore.

...Later:- a blog by SANRAD said - "...You can nearly double the utilization of your flash resources by sharing the stored data for the dual purposes of both volume replication (protection) and volume acceleration (performance)."

5 Auto tiering SSDs / SSD ASAPs

In 2011 we'll see some clarity emerging in the SSD ASAP market (auto tuning SSD accelerators which work alongside legacy hard disk arrays). The attractiveness of this concept is that while SSDs remain too expensive to replace HDDs and there's a shortage of the expensive technical talent which can tune apps for SSD acceleration - these black boxes can in theory deliver 2x to 3x speedups by learning data hot spots and adapting their caching accordingly.

2010 was a phoney war in the ASAPs market - because they were too new and unproven for users to trust them. So vendors had to fight hard to get any decent beta test sites with live customer data.

In 2011 - the year of reality checks - vendors of SSD ASAPs will have to refocus their marketing efforts on specific types of applications where their boxes work well - and avoid wasting sales resources on applications where their algorithms don't work at all - and even make things worse.

There will be attrition too - because (based on some of the benchmarks I've seen and reported) some of these ASAP solutions are uneconomic and don't deliver any speedup benefits at all compared to not being installed. On the other hand - those which do work - could start to make a lot of money if they are promoted effectively.

6 notebook SSD market

The notebook SSD market had a murky 2010 - and in 2011 the range of options being offered to users will continue to puzzling and bewildering.

At one end of the spectrum - companies like Seagate will continue flogging what I believe to be the dead horse of hybrid drives - insisting that just because this concept failed to delight users in previous manifestations - this time the breeding process has resulted in a product which will work and negate the need for users to transition to pure SSD storage.

A new alternative to hybrids - may come from SSD software vendors who are suggesting that auto tiering within a PC using a vanilla SSD alongside a vanilla hard drive will provide a better balance of speed, capacity and cost - than all-in-one integrated hybrids.

Meanwhile the SSD market will continue offering a well stocked cocktail bar of colorful SSD juices with different form factors, capacities and interface types and hope they can spot the mixture which appeals to most palettes. Adding to the obvious product appeal of performance, price and battery life - notebook makers will also start to integrate new "SSD only" features into high end products. RunCore demonstrated military style security features in a notebook SSD in Q1 2010 - in which the SSD can self erase if it is stolen. But integrating new concepts seems to take much longer in the PC market than in the more dynamic phone market - where there is more OS platform competition.

7 Data Integrity glass ceiling rises to Uber UBER

Although the primary incubator for flash SSDs was the military market - in the past 5 years or so most of the pace in architectural innovation in the flash world has come from companies in civilian markets. But one surprise for me in the military SSD market in 2010 was the combination of features in a new 2.5" SSD called the Guardian from Microsemi. As you'd expect in this sort of product it's got fast purge, and is stable during power fluctuations without the use of super capacitors or batteries - but it also pushes the boundaries for data integrity - specified as an uncorrectable bit error rate: better than 1 sector in 1030 bits read. Although some vendors in the civilian enterprise SSD (such as Fusion-io and SandForce) market have already started talking about the end to end data integrity offered by their SSDs - Microsemi's Guardian pushes data integrity specs to new limits. It shows that we can expect a new class of ultra high data integrity SSDs to emerge in the market in 2011, 2012 which start laying the foundations for petabyte SSDs.

8 RAM SSDs - growth accelerated by flash

The number of vendors in the RAM SSD market will grow in 2011 - and so too will revenue in this segment.

This is the opposite to what many people in the SSD industry themselves would have expected 3 to 5 years ago when some analysts were predicting that flast flash SSDs would kill the RAM SSD market.

The reasons why the RAM SSD market did better than most people expected in 2010 - and will do even better in 2011, and 2012 are analyzed in exclusive articles and reports on the RAM SSD directory page.

9 PCIe SSDs - not a clone market

The high market acceptance of PCIe SSDs has set new performance and price expectations which cannot be met by interfaces originally designed for HDDs such as SAS and fibre-channel.

With one bus - and speed as the over-riding reason for using it - you might think all PCIe SSDs would blur into a sameness of functionality - but there were already signs in 2010 that wasn't going to happen.

The sub groups and trends within the PCIe accelerator SSD market are described in the article - don't all PCIe SSDs look pretty much the same?

See also:- M.2 SSDs

10 rackmount SSDs - more sub-groups

The rackmount SSD market will continue to see increased diversity in architecture and the definition of what makes a good rackmount SSD.

This will make it harder for users to recognize what products might work for them - due to the morass of technical data in product descriptions which they have to wade through to filter relevant products.

One approach we'll see more of in 2011 is an increase in marketers promoting "application specific SSDs" which solve a single problem or group of related problems economically. It's tempting for SSD marketers to claim that their products work well in a wide range of theoretical applications. While that might be true - their products aren't necessarily affordable by everyone. For vendors who have invested the time to qualify their products with named apps - the decision to focus their marketing messages on niche user groups (while accepting the risks implicit in ignoring other user segments outside those niches) should result in faster sales ramps.

Being known as the #1 SSD vendor in a niche market may be a better business than being the 183rd best known vendor in the wider SSD market.

See also:- Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs

11 SSD patents and IP

I predict we'll see more stories in 2011 about patent licensing and lawsuits related to SSDs.

Like all technology markets - as the SSD market gets bigger in revenue - the opportunity for companies to garner revenue from technology and IP licenses becomes a viable business prospect. In this context "viable" means that a company which owns SSD related patents is still likely to have change left over after instructing lawyers to launch several lawsuits to protect its interests.

As SSDs get faster and bigger in capacity - we're going to see some "IP stretch" as data protection patents which were originally designed for RAID systems and hard disk arrays get redeployed into the SSD arena. In fact using RAID techniques to protect SSD chip arrays isn't new - and some of these RAID chips patents go back to the mid 1990s.

Patents related to data integrity, cache management, parallelization, memory segmentation and memory virtualization are some of the many topics waiting to be harvested by the IP legal ratpacks. That's before encroaching onto silicon related IP such as better ways to manage MLC flash.

What actually happened in the SSD market in 2011?

the notes above were written before 2011 began.

For the month by month summary read - 2011 - year of the FIO IPO
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