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Boundaries Analysis in SSD Market Forecasting

enterprise SSDs - exploring the limits of the market in your head
This article looks at the usefulness of analyzing pivotal market boundary conditions and stress tests to help you understand what's going on now and what could happen in the future enterprise SSD market (without needing a PhD in electronics).

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - September 2012
A critical test of whether you really understand the dynamics of a complex market like enterprise SSDs - is whether you can predict what rational buyers might do when offered new product options at the extreme limits of - for example - price.

That's why - in the thousands of conversations I'd had about the SSD market - I've always been just as interested to learn about users doing something which the vendors hadn't expected - but which worked out OK in the end - as I have been to learn about new memory management techniques and SSD architectures.

All this raw material goes into the SSD market model grinder - although it can be many years before it's clear whether what was predicted - turns out to happen that way.

When thinking about SSD market boundary conditions the starting point is often... this is what we expect most people to do - if we make the usual set of common sense assumptions.

But what if we change some of the assumptions? Maybe stretch them to breaking point. Maybe change what we're comparing things to? Is there a point where the market would behave in a completely different way? And what can we learn from that?

These mental modeling tricks and stress tests can change markets - for those who believe in them - because they get can reveal insights about the future by using a cheaply available tool - the human imagination.

When I talk to SSD companies - an interesting part of the conversation is often trying to figure out how products which barely exist yet will compete and fit into an infrastructure which doesn't yet exist anywhere and which itself may rely on several dependent SSD market revolutions which haven't happened yet.

Resolving the gaps and equilibrium points between different types of SSD products and technologies happens in these discussions not only many years before they hit the market - but as part of the thought process for many SSD company founders who can see the gaps for themselves and have good ideas of how they will fill them with a new startup business venture.

In the past - most of the SSD predictions that people were interested in were related to SSD's impact on the hard drive market.

I used boundary condition analysis and user value propositions as the launchpad for several influential articles which described SSD inroads which went way beyond what the conventional analyst wisdom was saying at the time to predict what turned out to be useful market roadmaps for a bunch of SSD vendors. These early examples were:-
  • My 2003 article - could SSDs become a $10 Billion Market? - which indicated that the enterprise SSD accelerator market wouldn't remain a niche market of last resort for performance distressed users - but would instead grow to become the mainstream multi-billion dollar market we're seeing emerge today.

    That article also correctly predicted BTW that once any one of the main server companies - HP, IBM, Dell or (at that time Sun) - started shipping factory installed SSD accelerators - all the others would rapidly have to follow suit to remain competitive.

    My analysis there showed that it was irrelevant how much SSD capacity cost compared to HDDs. The only relevant factor was how the cost compared to the alternative of more server CPUs - which I later named SSD-CPU equivalence.

    The conclusion was:- SSDs could make servers run faster. SSDs meant users could do the same workload with a fraction of the servers. Or they could run their apps faster and still use about 50% less servers.

    In 2012 - year of the enterprise SSD goldrush - this is now the conventional wisdom. A recent survey (August 2012) of visitors to VMworld suggested that over 60% of attendees already have SSDs in their datacenters
  • My 2005 article - 5 User Value Propositions for buying SSDs - explored all the forseeable markets for SSDs at that time.

    It was clear that even within the price competitive notebook market - there were use cases in which SSD based notebooks would be attractive for some users even when SSDs cost high multiples of HDDs.

    But the SSD notebook market growth was initially delayed for many years due to badly designed notebooks which were mostly old HDD designs with SSDs installed as an afterthought.
  • My 2010 article - this way to the petabyte SSD - was stuffed with many technology ideas - but as several SSD vendors said to me in the months and years following its appearance - the key message they came away with - was that SSDs will replace HDDs as raw storage capacity devices in datacenters - even if the hard drives are free.

    That was the key foundation of the article.

    Everything else in it was exploring the technology and market ecosystem which would lead to that market boundary event - the end of HDDs in the enterprise.
Where are we now?

It should be clear from the above notes that most of my early applications of testing SSD market boundaries were driven from the perspective of seeing how enterprise SSDs would fare in their role as the memory barbarians at the datacenter gate. In those days the SSDs were on the outside battering their way in.

In the past few years I've turned the focus of my analysis to try and understand how different types of SSDs will compete with each other.

SSD market boundary analysis can be used to answer a whole bunch of interesting (and sometimes less interesting) questions - which I pose from time to time as the backdrop for new articles - or more often - are the reaction to reader questions such as:-
  • how will vendor X be affected by new products from vendor Y?
  • what's the future of server side caching vs caching on the SAN?
  • will PCIe SSDs make SAS SSDs obsolete?
  • is there a future for this that or the other interface / memory technology - or new product idea etc?
  • what's the role of SSD software? - and which type of product or company will dominate?
Even though I didn't explicitly say so at the time (March 2012) my SSD Silos article - which lists the sustainably different types of SSDs that can co-exist in the all solid state storage datacenter of the near future - came into being after a series of sanity tests in which I inserted these boundary concepts into real time conversations with many SSD industry leaders (and also email dialogs with selected readers) over a period of several quarters to see how well they stood up.

The result? - was to add more granularity to the different SSD types - as I realized the market would be big enough to support more distinctly different speed classes of SSD rack than I had envisaged in earlier versions of my model just a few years before.

stories from the market

I love it when I get anecdotal feedback from the market in stories which provide some more meat on the flesh of these bare bone concepts and shows that the outline predictions were correct - even if the exact factors determining user preferences were unknown (or unknowable) at the time.

For example - in my 2011 article - written as a response to reader questions about PCIe SSD vs rackmount SAN SSDs (if Fusion-io sells more does that mean Violin and others will sell less?) - I concluded that it was a mistake to think of this as an Either / Or case - even if in some applications (such as a first time installation) either would solve the problem. I confidently said that...

"PCIe SSDs make the locally attached server faster. But SAN SSDs (including Infiniband) will always be needed for environments (legacy command and control business architectures) where data is shared across more than a threshold number of servers. Another complication is that a PCIe SSD itself can be a component inside a rack such as bunch of cards rack (Nextio) or as an internal cache (NexGen)."

Fast forwarding to the present - in August 2012 I heard 2 examples confirming this analysis from "competing" leading SSD market vendors.

Rich Petersen Director, Marketing Management at SanDisk told me about a customer they had in the financial services market who knew they could meet their performance goals equally well from the technical point of view with either a server-side acceleration system (using PCIe SSDs) or a bunch of rackmount SAN SSDs.

Petersen told me that in this case - the SAN solution would have resulted in a lower hardware cost. But instead the customer went for the more expensive option of adding more PCIe SSDs into their servers.

"This customer had the money to afford whatever option they wanted" he said. "And they had previous experience with SSDs..."

He said the reason they went for the server-side acceleratuion was that all their SAN based storage infrastructure was tied into security, reliability and legally mandated data management processes which would have added a ton of extra support costs to the SAN solution. Making their servers faster was easier - because they were managed in a different way.

Meanwhile - in another conversation at about the same time which confirmed another customer's preference in exactly the opposite direction - Thomas Isakovich, CEO of Nimbus Data Systems told me about a customer they had - who was already using a significant bunch of PCIe SSDs (from Fusion-io - and had a lot of experience with SSDs) in their servers - who had decided to buy high availability rackmount SAN based based SSDs from Nimbus to solve their performance problems - instead of more server side SSD accelerators.

Nimbus may be saying more about that in a future case study - so I won't go into details here - but the inference you can safely draw is that if a user is on the roadmap to multiple petabytes of SSD and has an organization that stretches across more than a few thousand feet (the present limits of cheap PCIe clustering) and across multiple sites, and if the user has legacy style apps then the need for SAN based SSD isn't going to go away.

Just as predicted the sustainable co-existance of both types of SSDs in exactly the same customer sites should come as no surprise.

There are many other examples I could have given here.


SSD market boundary analysis - in which various assumptions about technology, price and markets are stressed to breaking limits can yield useful insights into possible future market behavior and help to determine the positioning of product classes and vendors upto several years before these trends become clearly observed in the market.

This type of thinking can also be used to test the viability and probable market success of blue sky SSD products which don't yet exist - but which are being explored to fill market gaps identified by other types of analysis.

This technique can be applied to problems ranging from the trivial upto problems which are market wide in their impact.

It's fun to do. I enjoy it. And the outputs from this type of thinking have yielded useful results in the past for those - like me - who have been looking for clear trackways through the coagulating chaos of the SSD market present of today through to a clearer picture of the possible future.

Once you get into the habit - it's hard to look at the SSD future any other way. You can become your own SSD futurologist. Although I hope you'll still come back to these pages to compare notes from time to time.

what else is there?

Buyer behavior is only one aspect of understanding SSD market futures.

Another useful stress testing analysis technique I've found is exploring gaps and application fits in SSD technology and - in particular- imperfections and asymmetries in SSD design architectures.

For those of you who are more interested in technology than marketing babble - I've already written an article on that very subject. It's called how fast can your SSD run backwards?

Here are some more articles in the "SSD thought leadership" series - which have appeared on the home page of
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It looks like you're seriously interested in SSDs. 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.
"nice vs naughty flash"
sugaring flash for the enterprise

90% of the enterprise SSD companies which you know have no good reasons to survive.
consolidation in enterprise flash arrays
why? when? and how much?

If someone could offer a memory system which had the same storage density as mainstream RAM - but was infinitely faster - could we use it? - how much would that be worth? and how would it change markets?
are we ready for infinitely faster RAM?

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other SSD articles worth seeing
For experienced enterprise SSD readers if you're new to the SSD market
  • SSD history - will give you an idea of how the market developed and tell you everything you may have missed.
  • the Top 20 SSD Companies - whatever your interest in SSDs - these are the companies which are attracting the most interest amongst your peers.

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As you know from market history - the proposition 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

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"Using inanimate words which suggest Power, Speed and Strength for your SSD - enables SSD marketers to draw on a much wider set of cultural references than just limiting themselves to animals."
Inanimate Power, Speed and Strength Metaphors in SSD brands

Heck no! - whatever gave you that silly idea?
Can you trust SSD market data?










Just as "day zero" malware can remain undetected by anti-virus software so too can "year zero" patterns of enterprise SSD customer needs fail to be recognized by SSD vendors.
Decloaking hidden and missing segments in the analysis of market opportunities for enterprise rackmount flash