article originally appeared in
|Many enterprise users
- who wouldn't dream of approaching SanDisk to use its raw SSDs - seem more than
willing to use SanDisk's enterprise SSD software (FlashSoft). Can SanDisk
leverage this to transform itself into an enterprise SSD heavyweight?|
|Software is why more enterprise users are
talking to SanDisk|
Editor:- June 19, 2013 - SanDisk recently
a new version - 3.2 - of its
FlashSoft (SSD caching software)
for Windows Server ($3,000), and Linux ($3,500).
New in this release
support with low latency SSD mirroring for "safe write-back"
caching. Improvements include:- larger cache sizes upto 2TB per cache and upto
8TB cache per server. Also the number of volumes supported by a single cache has
increased from 255 to 2048.
Editor's comments:- I've reported
before about my many past
conversations with FlashSoft and my perceptions about the company from the
days when they were one of the leading independent hot enterprise SSD
software companies in the
3rd quarter of 2011
through to the first indications - about 6 months after the company had been
acquired by SanDisk in
February 2012 -
that contrary to what I had expected from earlier
SanDisk - there were signs that FlashSoft wasn't just going to provide
another demonstration of Newton's law of the conservation of SSD momentum -
translated to a marketing frame of reference - in which we should not be
surprised to see what happens when a small enterprise SSD pellet fired at
high velocity smacks into a huge consumer SSD cannonball at rest.
when I spoke recently to Rich Petersen
Director, Marketing Management at SanDisk - who had earlier been VP of
Marketing at FlashSoft - I was quickly able to pick up the threads of these
earlier conversations we'd had. And I got an illuminating update on the
picture of how SanDisk is changing as a result of what it's still learning
about the enterprise SSD market since having acquired FlashSoft.
can't give you all the details here - because I covered 3 pages of notes during
this ideas packed dialog - more than I have ever taken in any previous SSD
company interview. Hearing about what has been happening in SanDisk and what
they've been learning from their customers - and how they've been adapting
those ideas to their SSD plans - I started getting that sense of easy
familiarity I used to get when talking to some of the leading enterprise SSD
It was a weird feeling. I had to keep reminding myself -
this is SanDisk I'm talking to. And they don't have much to write home about in
the way of enterprise
SSDs. - But despite those handicaps they've been talking to - and
learning from - all these enterprise users who wouldn't give them the
time of day if it wasn't for this software.
So it looks like the
Trojan Horse in SanDisk's enterprise SSD infiltration plan is built from 2
- The FlashSoft product provided the foundations of a very capable
enterprise SSD software platform.
And instead of frittering this
acquisition away - as a tactical giveaway to merely sell a few branded SSDs
faster (as some other SSD companies have done) SanDisk is using the FlashSoft
product as a pivotal valued product in its own right. It's being sold - not
given away. It has been getting continuing investment into its development and
is playing a strategic part in seeding the enterprise grain into one of the
world's leading flash memory technology companies.
The result is - many enterprise SSD users - who wouldn't dream of
approaching SanDisk to use its raw SSDs in their enterprise projects - seem more
than willing to use their enterprise SSD software and share their ideas about
enterprise SSD problems and related experiences.
- FlashSoft supports leading 3rd party enterprise SSDs including products
which are - or could be - competitors to SanDisk's own SSDs. (The business case
for this was discussed in an earlier article.)
I asked if SanDisk has
a list of these products online. I was told - not yet - but it's coming soon.
In a Eureka moment I
said - "If I was being cynical I could say that acquiring FlashSoft is a
brilliant and sneaky marketing way for SanDisk to be having these conversations
and learning first hand from users the answers to - what do enterprise SSD
users want? and how would enterprise users change what they do if they were
offered different options? - instead of SanDisk wasting money on buying and
analyzing dozens of SSD
market analyst reports which
- can only give a disconnected. partial and dated overview of what might be
happening in the minds of enterprise users."
Here are some of
the other new things I learned.
- SanDisk eats its own dog food. Being acquired by a Fortune 500 Company gave
FlashSoft an entree into many new applications within SanDisk itself. SanDisk
has been using FlashSoft cached SSDs to enhance its own servers which are used
in many critical parts of the business.
- SanDisk wants the enterprise to be a bigger part of its SSD business. And
while the company still has a very thin hardware enterprise SSD product line -
it's been using the FlashSoft product - aligned to partnerships with other
enterprise vendors such as NetApp, Dell and Virident etc to help build awareness
of SanDisk in the enterprise SSD market.
- SanDisk has learned that people often like the storage they've already got.
And so while they can't easily justify ripping and replacing their SANs - the
leveraging power of an SSD cache - which can deliver 3x as many VMs per
host - makes a much easier SSD economics use case.
- SanDisk says they've seen users re-evaluating and reviving once
abandoned VDI projects based on the efficiencies and performance they can now
see being promised by FlashSoft accelerated virtual desktops.
- While the standard SSD workhorse of the FlashSoft environment will usually
be PCIe SSDs or
SAS SSDs - the ability
of the product to concatenate separate devices of different types into a single
logical volume coupled with the ability to assign different cache priorities to
different SSDs means that users can also mix and match lower cost enterprise
SATA SSDs into the
What's it all about? - Can SanDisk - a leading
consumer semiconductor company - really transform itself into an enterprise
SSD heavyweight? If you'd asked me that question 16 months ago - I would have
said (and did say on these pages) an emphatic no!
- Final quick notes... The FlashSoft caching engine is the same on all
platforms. This release brings the Linux and Windows FlashSoft feature sets up
to the same level. SSD capacity is dynamically allocated - which simplifies
scalability. Writes to flash devices are disciplined by filters which reduce
random write amplification - which - coupled with read caching has the
beneficial spinoff that some SAN users can see upto 90% reduction in their SAN
When I learned that
FlashSoft had been acquired by SanDisk I thought (and wrote here) - that would
be the last we would hear of that particular enterprise SSD software company.
I was wrong about that.
Can the tiny FlashSoft inject enough raw
enterprise intelligence back into the giant which swallowed it - in a way which
is both palatable and can change the way the giant thinks and behaves?
looks like there's a lot of creative energy and resources going into that. And
with the help of its business partners and customers there's a growing
enterprise eco-system attaching itself to the SanDisk core.
say - all that's missing now is a full spectrum enterprise SSD product line.
(And a track record.) But unlike other new companies who also want to get into
the enterprise market - SanDisk doesn't have to rely on what the analysts
say. They've now got their own unique window into the enterprise SSD user deep
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