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the SSD Heresies

Why can't SSD's true believers agree

on a single shared vision for the future of solid state storage?

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - June 8, 2010
One of the things which demonstrates the extraordinary range of diversity in thinking about the SSD market is the different answers you get to these 2 simple questions.
  • what's the best way to design a flash SSD?
  • where's the best place to put it?
Nowhere else in computer architecture will you get so many industry experts disagreeing on such fundamental questions.

Try this thought experiment for yourself replacing the concept of "flash SSD" with "microprocessor". As in ...why can't we all agree about the future of microprocessors?

For products like servers, notebooks and cell phones there's fairly uniform agreement about how to design a microprocessor that's appropriate to the performance and power/cost budget levels of these recognized standard products - and whole families of micros which have been optimized for specific categories of applications - so the designer of a dishwasher for example doesn't have to waste time researching trends in 256 core 64 bit CPUs.

Those of us old enough to witness the excitement and confusion of the early microprocessor market remember a similar state of confusion.

Mainframe companies thought that micros might have an arm's length role in peripherals like VDUs. Minicomputer companies initially thought micros were irrelevant because they didn't have operating systems and compilers. First the hungry micro companies ate the minis - then they ate the mainframes too. In other product areas too - I remember having debates about whether it was excessive to design products which had 2, 3 or more processors. It was easier to get the job done with more - so that's what we did. And having crossed that line - and proven it was a good idea later products used a lot more processors.

Will it go the same way with SSDs?

They're already eating the server microprocessor market due to SSD-CPU equivalence - as I predicted in 2003.

Will SSDs eat the VTL and tape library too? Yes (but not soon) - it's a hungry market but getting accustomed to a rich and diverse diet takes time.

The norms for what makes a good storage design in user environments are changing faster now than at any time in history.

And in the past 3 years in the SSD industry we've seen a lot of learning going on by designers of SSD controller chips - as successive products have demonstrated good features (which make products work better for users), bad features (which made the products look good in benchmarks but didn't work so well in applications and missing features (important functions which are required for a hassle-free user life-cycle - which never got into the original design).

That complex picture of shifting sands of assumptions in the SSD market is the reason that has thousands of pages of content devoted to the subject of SSDs. (It's still not enough - I know.) And it's why thousands of bloggers are writing on this subject. Just when it seems for a brief moment that there's agreement about a topic - such as what's a good notebook or server SSD? - Then a new technology generation - or article comes along raising a new important issues - and it's back to having no safe answers any more.

Debate is good - and where we end up with SSDs is going to look a lot different to where we are today. The SSD analysts agree on some things - but disagree on others. Each SSD manufacturer would like to think that their own way is best.

I have my own views about the future of the SSD market and what it's going to look like. And they may be different to yours. But maybe we can all agree and get accustomed to the idea that what we are seeing now in SSD design and usage is still a long way from where we will end up.

Tactically the SSD product decisions you make today may be different to what you would do in 3, 6 or 12 months from now.

Surviving the present to get to the future and retaining flexibility by avoiding routes which limit your future options seems like a good way to go. Translating that into customer strategies - may mean don't worry if your notebook SSD choices and suppliers are completely different to the SSDs you use in your servers. And the tick lists will be different too. Server SSD choices? Just fix the problem you have today - because your server assets may look completely different tomorrow.

Remember how email and the web transformed the server assets for most companies in the early 1990s? That's the kind of seismic change SSDs will have too. So having a 5 year SSD server plan may not be a realistic idea.
click here to see our directory of SSD market analysts Thanks for reading the latest SSD squeaks from the mouse site. I hope you find the articles and ideas you see here helpful in stimulating your own thoughts - and helping you avoid obvious pitfalls. If you like what you see - why not tell your friends and colleagues to take a look too.
First you take a bunch of flash chips and a controller and make an SSD.

Now you've got flash storage.

Then you add some software to boost all that chip data entropy.

Now that flash storage can replace DRAM.

When all storage is made from memories the dividing line between storage and memory is much more fluid than it has ever been before.
where are we heading with memory intensive systems and software?
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How can you replace all enterprise hard drive capacity with SSDs?

Will there be enough flash in the world to make it so?
meet Ken - and the enterprise SSD software event horizon
"The Chinese companies giants are amazingly diverse, even within one datacenter, and arguments on architectural direction are raging within these Internet giants it's healthy and exciting.."
Restructuring the datacenter ecosystem: - episode #3 - by Rob Ober, LSI (March 31, 2014)
The enterprise SSD story...

why's the plot so complicated?

and was there ever a missed opportunity in the past to simplify it?
the golden age of enterprise SSDs

Here are some useful SSD overview directories

SSD news

the Fastest SSDs

SSDs - perspective

the Top SSD companies

popular SSD articles

are we ready for infinitely faster RAM?
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the SSD Heresies

Memory touches more software points than storage so we shouldn't be surprised that the Memoryfication of everything (coupled with even more native memory types than the SSD market had to play with in its formative years) is likely to create even more permutations of product possibilities and arguments which defy any speedy and plausible roadmaps to a stable market .

the importance of being earnest about 3DXPoint and other SSD memoryfication heresies (June 2018)
SSD ad - click for more info
The simple idea - that one new SSD thing can replace one old SSD thing - is rarely as simple as the advocates of the new thing say.
PCIe SSDs versus memory channel SSDs
AFA features which are regarded as desirable by vendor X are seen as bad for vendor Y's customers - because they simply add to the cost and do nothing of value for users.
Value and Differentiation - Janet Downes Downes Strategic Marketing
missing segments for enterprise rackmount flash
examples of differing views about important topics within the SSD industry.
  • flash SSD capacity - the iceberg syndrome - how does the amount of flash inside a flash SSD compare to the capacity shown on the invoice? - There are huge variations in different designs as vendors leverage capacity to tweak key performance and reliability parameters.
  • What's a server in the SSD world? Is it best described by its processor or its population of SSDs? Is there an easy way to summarize what it can do?
  • Adaptive R/W and DSP ECC are market changing tools in SSD controller IP - but only a small number of SSD vendors have this technology. Those who have it - say it's a gamechanger. Those who don't have it - say they don't need it. This looks like a replay of the flash versus RAM SSD wars - only this time the stakes are higher.
  • Efficiency in SSD design architecture (how many chips and how much cost are needed to get the same SSD specification) could become a key business differentiator among leading SSD companies. That's because there are many different techniques which work at different levels.
  • the question of what's RAM really? by which I mean RAM in an SSD context became increasingly complicated after the open declaration of the SCM DIMM wars era. This was due partly to the successes of enterprise flash which seemingly flattened traditional latency gaps. However this was an illusion because the SSD ecosystem would eventually prove to stretch latency bands into more usable spectrums than had ever existed before.

    Lifting the fog from DRAM-centric virtual memory latencies which hadn't improved for over a decade unveiled new opportunities for non DRAM memories.The next evolution may be that all storage from the CPU to the cloud should just be regarded as context adaptable memory.
  • There's no single best place to locate all the IO and management intelligence of a big SSD - was one of the big SSD ideas of 2015
  • consolidation pressures in the enterprise - mean that in the long term the number of different SSD reference platforms and brands will be much less than today. But the new ideas needed introduce new opportunities too. So the number of SSD companies will rise before it crashes.