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2.5" NVMe PCIe SSDs market guide

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor -

NVMe is the new SCSI.

The history of SCSI shows that although the immediate attraction was the high speed convenient direct interface to hard drives and SSDs - its enduring value was that it virtualized the key conversations needed to talk to high capacity drives while still getting good throughput performance. That's why SCSI was resurrected in many forms over 3 decades into iSCSI, Serial Attached SCSI, SCSI Express etc.

In a much shorter period - less than 5 years - NVMe has already been supported as a low latency fabric connection (NVMe over ethernet, NVMe over Infiniband) and NVMe is supported by leading edge SSDs in form factors ranging from M.2, 2.5", standard PCIe HHHL and even upto rackmount boxes.

The 2.5" form factor has a strategically unique role to play in NVMe SSD adoption. That's because it's a viable form factor for arrays of drives (such as used in high end solid state storage) and also intersects with the needs of the server market too. It's also the most important form factor in which the hot swappability of NVMe SSDs is being deployed.

SSD market history
high availability enterprise SSDs
the Survivor's Guide to Enterprise SSDs
Decloaking hidden segments in the rackmount flash market
where are we heading with memory intensive systems and software?
90% of the enterprise SSD companies which you know have no good reasons to survive.
market consolidation - why? how? when?
"My guess is that 1 in 4 fast enterprise 2.5" SSDs
will be PCIe rather than SAS in 3 years time."

comment - re SAS SSD market cannibalization
(September 2012)

2.5" PCIe SSDs

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor, - May 21, 2012

A new family is planning to move into the enterprise end of SSD street - removable 2.5" SSDs which have a PCIe interface.

The market for 2.5" SSDs which have a PCIe interface marks the soon to be crowded intersection point of 3 different SSD market strands.
  • the next step in the SATA-IO (ORG) performance roadmap for SATA 3 SSDs in the form of SATA express (with 2 lanes of gen2 PCIe) instead of a 12Gbps scaling of Serial ATA - which option was rejected in 2011 as not offering a competitively viable standard.
  • an alternative upwards (or sideways migration route) for systems designers who need a next step after 12Gbps SAS SSDs.
  • a virgin market opportunity for vendors who already have IP assets in the crowded enterprise PCIe SSD market and who want to stretch those assets into new application areas for removable PCIe SSDs.

    One way to think about the scale of the market opportunity is this.

    Suppose you're in the controller business and already have a PCIe SSD IP which sells well in enterprise server slots.

    In classical SAN architecture - for every SSD you sell which plugs into a server slot - there's a lot more drive slots out there in the storage racks.

    OK the reality is that - in competition with the SAN view of the enterprise - we now also have the scalable storage as software - or cloud types of architecture too.

    But whatever may happen in the end - the thing which will undoubtedly happen next - is that the number of potential SSD slots in SAN storage racks is a bigger number (10x) and will grow faster than the SSD slots in new servers.
The only complicating factors which are going to slow down the race to get products into the 2.5" PCIe SSD market are detailed marketing decisions about whether to ship vanilla SSDs or use the new form factor as a way to leverage new features which users will specifically value or expect too see in this particular module form factor - due to the cultural heritage and experience with earlier types of 2.5" SSDs. They relate to:-
  • SSD software:- the specific type of virtuualization. The 2.5" paradigm supports hot swap and upgrades. Ideally the software should support almost instant benefits if users decide to plug in new 2.5" SSDs.
  • standards: - what language will the 2.5" PCIe SSDs speak? PCIe is a neutral physical connection. The emerging SCSI Express standard is just one of many possibilities. Others include standard storage networks such as SAN, iSCSI etc.
  • fault tolerance:- what type of architecture will underpin the 2.5" PCIe SSD rack? Possibilities range from standard RAID like systems upto proprietary schemes which can provide much better resilience at greater efficiency.
  • pricing strategy:- the new form factor will open up new application slots - some of which will be positioned above those of existing 2.5" SAS SSDs. But less obviously by negating the essential need for on-board controllers some of the new SSDs could be positioned in the cost gap between high end enterprise SATA SSDs and fast-enough SAS SSDs too (see more below).

How will the 2.5" PCIe SSD market affect the business of current PCIe SSD companies?

I've spoken to a representative sample of enterprise SSD companies about the new form factor. This includes companies which currently make PCIe SSDs and also some who don't.

The general view is that 2.5" PCIe SSDs represent additional new business - compared to installing PCIe SSD cards and multi-card modules into server slots.

How will 2.5" PCIe SSDs impact the business of SAS SSD makers?

In the long term I think it will reduce the market size for SAS SSDs because the new types of SSDs will provide faster throughput and lower latency - and the possibility of offering fast-enough SSDs at lower cost too.

However SAS SSDs work here and now - and it could take another year or so for 2.5" PCIe SSDs to get firmly established in the market.

My guess is that initially some vendors of 2.5" PCIe SSDs will position their products as options which sit above the performance capabilities of their SAS SSD product lines.

But other options are possible too. For example a 2.5" PCIe SSD - which offloads its flash controller functions to the host server (like Fusion-io's products) could deliver lower power consumption and higher capacity than traditional SAS SSDs - and at lower cost. In the non-offfloaded flash management design (which other vendors may also introduce too) - the new 2.5" PCIe SSDs could be designed at a lower cost than SAS SSDs (because they don't need the controller).

That's one of the reasons that SAS SSD makers are looking at this market too.

Why do we need yet another type of SSD component in the enterprise?

The simple answer is that some users prefer the unit of upgrade or fault replacement to be a drive instead of a whole rack.

And although it's possible to upgrade or replace PCIe SSDs at the card level - it's more convenient to do so at the module level.

The new 2.5" PCIe SSDs will affect the variety of options seen inside fast SSD racks. They have been a long time coming and are already included in my earlier published models about SSD market silos.

As I said above - there will soon be more than 20 companies in this market - and the new products will be the showcases for new configuation possibilities.

Companies which have already publicly announced such products and demonstrated prototypes, or are shipping them include:- OCZ, Micron, Fusion-io and Samsung.

2.5" footprint enables higher performance density than traditional slots

In March 2014 a reader designing large scale high performance systems told me that one attraction of 2.5" PCIe SSDs was packing density and performance compared to traditional HHHL modules.

Based on analyzing anticipated products he said - "Replacing one HHHL card with two SFF SSDs you consume the same physical volume, get the same capacity but have twice the power budget and can get almost twice the bandwidth."

...Update:- September 2012

The subject of 2.5" PCIe SSDs and related standards such as NVMe came up in several papers and blogs centered on the Flash Memory Summit (August 2012).

Here are some links and notes.
  • "2 competing enterprise initiatives have emerged in the attempt to align the industry around PCIe based SSDs - SCSI express (led by HP) and NVMe (led by Intel and Dell). While a 3rd standard - SATA express - is aimed at clients and hybrids. In the 2.5" drive size - a multi-function bay can support both SAS and PCIe SSDs with the same SFF-8639 connector" - HGST paper - enterprise interface trends (pdf)
don't all PCIe SSDs look pretty much the same?
When you look at the photos and headline specs for high speed PCIe SSDs - it's easy to come away with the impression that they all look the same and have about the same performance.
click to read the article After all - how different can they be? A lot. the article
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Now Cinderella embedded systems with low cost budgets and low wattage footprints can go to the enterprise NVMe performance ball.
SSD news - (April 19, 2017)
SanDisk announces the late arrival of its 2.5" NVMe SSD
Editor:- February 10, 2017 - SanDisk recently recycled the "Skyhawk" SSD brand - which had previously been associated with a rackmount SSD product (launched in October 2014) from Skyera - another SSD company - like SanDisk - which was acquired by Western Digital and by coincidence whose founder's new company emerged from stealth this week. (See the story about Tachyum in SSD news.)

The new SanDisk Skyhawk is aimed at the 2.5" NVMe PCIe SSD market.

Although SSD brand names can be important the significant thing about SanDisk's new Skyhawk is that it fixes a longstanding strategic weakness in its enterprise PCIe SSD product line which I commented on in October 2015 (when WD announced it would acquire SanDisk).

The irony is that Fusion-io (which created the enterprise PCIe SSD market and by whose acquisition SanDisk hoped in June 2014 to broaden its flash presence in the enterprise market) had been one of the earliest companies to demonstrate a prototype 2.5" PCIe SSD (in May 2012). But Fusion didn't productize that concept and chose instead to move upscale in form factor to boxes.

Decoupling from the complex legacy of the past is why it has taken nearly 5 years for SanDisk to launch its me too Skyhawk 2.5" NVMe SSD now.
Foremay ships aerospace 8TB 2.5" U.2 NVMe SSD
Editor:- September 26, 2016 - Foremay today announced volume production of 8TB models in its rugged secure 2.5" U.2 NVMe SSD product range - which with PCIe x4 lanes has R/W speeds up to 1.2GB/s with latency as little as 25 microseconds. Optional features include:-
  • Military secure erase and fast erase features.
  • Rugged designs with anti-shock and anti-vibration, meeting MIL-STD-810G/F standards.
  • Anti-radiation and anti-emission, both electrical and magnetic, for aerospace applications subject to the customer's specifications.
Liqid controller inside fastest 2.5" NVMe flash SSD
Editor:- August 9, 2016 - In a joint press release today Liqid and Kingston gave details of the "fastest 2.5" PCIe NVMe flash SSD ever benchmarked" - which they're showing this week at FMS.
Micron has 2TB 3D 2.5" PCIe NVMe SSDs for desktops
Editor:- May 31, 2016 - Micron today announced it is sampling new 2.5" PCIe NVMe SSDs based on 3D nand for the consumer market. The Micron 2100 with 2TB capacity is expected to be in [roduction in the summer.
Micron acquires stealth mode NVMe SSD controller company - Tidal Systems
Editor:- October 3, 2015 - Micron has acquired Tidal Systems (a stealth mode controller company whose home page has the statement "Enabling PCIe NVMe Flash Storage Development".
Seagate enters 2.5" NVMe SSD market
Editor:- August 11, 2015 - Seagate today announced details of 2 new families of NVMe SSDs which will be available in 2.5" (October) and M.2 (in early 2016) form factors.
OCZ's new 3TB 2.5" hot swap NVMe SSDs
OCZ 2.5 inch hot swap PCIe SSDEditor:- May 20, 2015 - OCZ today revealed more details about the new models shipping in its NVMe compatible PCIe SSD family - which was first announced last September. We had already heard before these new models include 2.5" hot swappable versions.

Today OCZ said this model - the Z-Drive 6300 SFF will be available with usable capacities of 800GB, 1.6TB and 3.2TB (in this quarter) followed by 6.4TB (later this year).

R/W performance is upto 2.9GB/s and 1.4GB/s respectively. Random R/W IOPS are 700K IOPS and 120K IOPS. Latencies are 30s (write) and 80s (read). Endurance options are 1 or 3 DWPD.

high availability and reliability features

The new Z-Drive 6000 models are dual ported so that 2 host systems can concurrently access the same SSD.

Additionally, the Z-Drive 6000 Series supports hot swapping of 2.5" drives, pre-set power thresholds and temperature throttling to support many types of enterprise ecosystems.

Editor's comments:- for various reasons to do with a combination of standardization efforts and changes of ownership for nearly every major enterprise PCIe SSD company in the market - you've had to wait 3 years since the idea of this kind of product was first discussed seriously on these pages and at conferences.

What has become clear to systems architects is that these new products offer far more flexibility in their roles than merely performance upgrades to high end SAS SSDs and traditional storage arrays.

Among other things these new types of products will enable lower cost mini SSD server clustering at PCIe latencies which will spur growth in the SDS market. At the high end - they could become the new building blocks inside the world's most powerful computer arrays.

Power consumption and heat in these NVMe SSDs?

I know from talking to systems architects that the electrical power and thermal footprints of 2.5" NVMe SSDs is a critical detail when considering the design of dense storage arrays so I asked Scott Harlin, OCZ for more information these factors. Here's what Scott said.

Hi Zsolt you are correct the 2.5 drives can get a little toasty packing in the higher densities into this form factor -- typical power consumption of the Z-Drive 6000 series is 25W active and 9W idle. So we included a few items to address these concerns:

1. - Temperature sensing and thermal throttling to maintain consistent operating conditions even under adverse temperature variances

2. - User-selectable power envelopes, in 15W, 20W and 25W settings, reduces wasted power when maximum performance is not required while efficiently addressing temperature requirements in support of a variety of ecosystems

3. - An innovative flow-through case design enables more airflow to critical components, keeping the device cool while reducing airflow requirements

Editor's comments:- that user selectable power envelope- in graduated steps - seems like a really useful design attribute. So I'll be watching out for it in future arrayable SSD launches.
Memblaze enters 2.5" PCIe SSD market
Editor:- March 16, 2015 - Memblaze today announced it is showing a 2.5" NVMe PCIe SSD variant of its PBlaze series at CeBIT in Germany.

Memblaze was the 27th most highly searched SSD company by readers of in Q4 2014.
HGST samples 3TB 2.5" PCIe SSD
news image - 2.5 inch NVMe SSD - click for infoEditor:- March 11, 2015 - HGST is sampling a new range of SSDs for the 2.5" PCIe SSD market.

The 2.5" NVMe Ultrastar SN100 (pdf) has upto 3.2TB capacity. No DWPD data was available when I looked.
8TB 2.5" PCIe SSDs sampling soon from Novachips
Editor:- March 4, 2015 - Are you interested in a world's first 2.5" 8TB (15mm height) PCIe Gen2 x4 SSD (pdf) with a single controller developed by Novachips. in Korea?

Novachip 8TB 2.5 inch PCIe SSDThat was an email I got recently from Sean Oh, based in Kronberg, Germany, ( who is the sales representative for these products in Europe.

What would you say? I did the same. After reading up the info he attached (there's a SATA version too) I asked some questions about availability. Here's what Sean said.
  • The working engineering samples have been available since last year.
  • The 1st customer sample comes out in the next 30 days.
  • We plan to start a mass production in 2nd half of this year.
Editor's comments:- part of this story has its roots in a news story from May 2007 - when a company called MOSAID was talking about a new, light capacitive load, ring based, flash memory topology called HLNAND. To make it work they needed a controller. Novachips collaborated on the design and recently acquired the assets and patents.
OCZ samples hot swap, fast 2.5" NVMe SSDs
Editor:- September 9, 2014 - OCZ announced that this month it will begin sampling a new 2.5" hot swappable enterprise PCIe SSD - the Z-Drive 6000 - a native PCIe 3.0 NVMe 1.1 solution - which the company says "provides industry-leading IOPS per dollar".

It has a SFF-8639 connector, internal RAID, power loss data protection, "consistent low latency", and encryption.

Editor's comments:- Although OCZ demonstrated the SSD industry's first working 3.5" PCIe SSD prototype 4 years ago - in August 2010 - the company didn't follow through to establish an early lead in its natural successor - the 2.5" enterprise PCIe market.

The main reason for that being financial problems in OCZ in the years which immediately followed - which mitigated against products which didn't have a short term guaranteed market.

Now, however, with OCZ having been almost a year as a Toshiba group company - the small form factor enterprise NVMe market looks like a natural fit for OCZ - as an extension of its long running conventional form factor PCIe SSD accelerator business.
Intel's new 2.5" PCIe SSDs
Editor:- June 3, 2014 - Intel has announced details of new NVMe compatible 2.5" PCIe SSDs - the P3700 Series - which will offer upto 2TB (20nm) capacity in a 15mm high hot-swap form factor.
Samsung 2.5 inch PCIe SSD image ... Our new 2.5" NVMe PCIe SSD is 3x faster than 12Gbps SAS SSDs - says Samsung

SSD news - March 25, 2014
2.5" PCIe SSDs were the most significant new SSD product type seen in 2012.
Strategic Transitions in SSD (December 20, 2012)
Micron's turning up the heat for adoption of 2.5" PCIe SSDs.
Editor:- May 2, 2013 - Micron announced it's sampling a new model in the hot swappable 2.5" PCIe SSDs market - the P420m has upto 1.4TB MLC capacity and can deliver 750K R IOPS. ...more in SSD news
2.5" PCIe SSD - Dell talks to Micron
Editor:- October 22, 2012 - Removable 2.5" PCIe SSDs are the subject of a new video today from Micron - which features Microns Ed Doller and Dells Brian Payne.