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SSD Year 2018?

3 things which have already happened and 1 which hasn't yet

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - November 12, 2018
. Megabyte's winter red hat
at this time of year Megabyte sets aside
more time for reading and re-reading
articles about SSDs
Is there an easy way to summarize the main developments in the SSD market of 2018 already?

In past years such articles have been publishable from around the start of November. And with a few cosmetic edits those past summaries have generally withstood the test of time.

But the closing months of the calendar aren't as non eventful as that suggests - and every now and again - vendors have used the news snooze of the holidays to perform acquisitions.

Here are some examples.
  • December 2012 - Samsung acquired NVELO (a flash caching software company).
  • December 2013 - LSI agreed to be acquired by Avago Technologies.
  • December 2018 - this hasn't happened yet - and is the "1" which I referred to in my headline
So on the subject of writing year end summaries of the SSD market - it's more accurate to say that - generally in recent years - it has been possible to capture all the major trends in such articles before all 12 months had elapsed. And looking ahead - if there isn't an acquisition story in the December 2018 news - then you should watch out for a note of one having been quietly done in January 2019.

So - what can we say did happen in SSD Year 2018?

For the essential month by month details you can see the SSD news archive pages in the sidebar links on the right.
But I didn't need to revisit any those pages to write my shortlist - of 3 things - which goes likes this.

3 things in SSD year 2018

1 - international trade barriers

In 2018 - the free flow of memory and SSD products between the US and China which had characterized business trends since the start of the modern era of SSDs - came to an end.

A growing set of patent disputes, government embargoes and the background worldwide babble of trade wars (related to other countries - not just involving the US and China - and related to other types of products too) created market conditions for memory and SSD companies in which the mood of doing business in 2019/2020 is expected to be different to how things had worked before.

Will this affect prices?

We saw the SSD market survive and thrive when the costs of memory doubled during the 2017 memory shortages. Set against that market robustness and expectations of falling prices again (the way they used to be) - then I think tariff barriers won't have a damaging effect on prices.

Will trade barriers affect SSD company prospects?

Yes - but it's a mixed picture.

Sme companies (whose business models leveraged the freedom of micro managing international differences in the costs of assembling products) will see initial setbacks and will have to redraw their supply chain maps.

On the other hand - there will be new opportunities for smaller companies arising from a trading climate in which there is more local protection from locked out dominant international competitors..

And companies which operate outside the disputed hot spots - will see opportunities to service markets in which they would have been uncompetitive before.

2 - memory cost outlook

In the 4th quarter of 2018 - the imbalance between supply and demand of traditional memory products (nand flash and DRAM) which had for 2 years flipped the price per bit curve outlook upwards from its historically established downwards direction - looked like it was getting ready to flip back again - according to price trends being reported by leading market reporters.

Looked at in isolation - it would be reasonable to expect that the memory industry's ability to ship more products in 2019 - than it could when still dealing with the overhang of yield issues related to the structural switch away from the last significant generation of 2D scaling - would inevitably lead towards expectations of lower prices.

However - the impact of trade wars introduces new variables into the cost outlook for memory systems.

The interplay between the industry's ability to manufacture traditional memory products - compared to the growing difficulties of legally shipping them into traditional geographic markets will create a rich vein of source material for SSD bloggers in 2019.

3 - memory defined processing

Because standards organizations have traditionally taken so long to say anything meaningful about the past disruptive trends in the modern era of SSDs (such as the gap between the proprietary PCIe SSD market invasion of the server market and its taming by the unifying language of NVMe) you know that when a standards ORG intervenes in this market - then something has really happened.

So in 2018 when SNIA said it was interested in getting involved in talks about taming the computational storage market - then that was another one of those things.

But a problem for the industry - which hasn't been solved yet in 2018 - is what to call this thing.

I 've touched upon it each time a news story has appeared on these pages and the SSD jargon page includes some (but by no means all) the examples which have been used by various companies which have implemented products.
  • in-situ processing
  • processing in memory
  • computational storage
  • in-memory computing (historically means something different - but is starting to sound like its meaning should change)
This is one of those subjects - like the original adoption of SSDs - about which we already know a lot - except what to call it.

It intersects with many other top level views of memoryfication architecture.

You can describe it as one of the eleven SSD design symmetries - specifically - "adaptive intelligence flow symmetry".

Or you can say it's a variation of the data industry's creative use of controllernomics - whereby any data whose latency is beyond the here and now in this chip - whether due to media speeds or distance and the speed of light - requires a local intelligent agent which can do useful things at our remote bidding.

But the concept still lacks a universally agreed name.

And by "universal" I mean a term which is usable whether the memory is an SSD or RAM array - and whether the local intelligence is an SSD controller, FPGA, ASIC or other acceleration engine.

In my headline above - I used the words "memory defined processing". I wasn't being provocative in offering that. I don't think it will stick. But real concepts need acceptible words. And just as memory defined software was a temporary placeholder in a blog for a real market concept - even if the words seem as if they are in the wrong places. I think that 2018 is the year that the concept of memory defined processing was crying out for a better name than it had received so far.

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some earlier home page blogs

40 years of thinking about non volatile memory endurance

are we ready for infinitely faster RAM? (and what would it be worth)

introducing Memory Defined Software - yes seriously - these words are in the right order

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2018 milestones from SSD market history
January 2018 Foremay announced the availability its "Immortal" brand of radiation hardened SSDs for the military and aerospace markets.

February 2018 The Gen-Z Consortium announced that the Gen-Z Core Specification 1.0 was publicly available.

March 2018 Nimbus announced it was sampling 3.5" 100TB SAS SSDs with unlimited DWPD.

April 2018 STT announced a breakthrough design improvement to MRAM. STT's Precessional Spin Current (PSC) structure lengthened retention time by a factor of over 10,000 while also reducing write current.

May 2018 Micron began sampling the industry's first SSD built on quad-level cell (QLC) NAND technology.

June 2018 In - GridGain began beta sampling its in-memory cache as a cloud service.

July 2018 Intel and Micron agreed to a parting of the ways on future 3DXPoint development.

August 2018 Marvell began sampling the first NVMe-oF SSD Converter Controller. aimed at a EBOF (Ethernet Bunch of Flash) applications.

September 2018 SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) entered the computational storage market.

October 2018 DRAMeXchange (a market research company which tracked memory and SSD price trends) said the supercycle of DRAM price growth - which had lasted for 9 consecutive quarters - was over.

November 2018 SMART Modular demonstrated a 96GB Gen-Z Memory Module which was implemented in a PCIe form factor and used bridging technology based on IntelliProp's Mamba fabric memory controller.

December 2018 December 2018 was still in the future tense when this article was first published.

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