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Skyera's founder unstealths new company - SSD news February 2017

Skyera - circa 2014

Skyera, founded in July 2010 says it's a - "...revolutionary enterprise solid state storage systems startup."
.... Skyera logo - click for more info

SSD market history
Skyera - mentions on
under construction - 23 years of writing about the SSD market
big physical memory - user risk reward ratios and design controllernomics
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from - the Top SSD Companies in 2014 Q4 - February 27, 2015

Q4 2014 was Skyera's last hurrah in the Top SSD Companies list as Skyera was acquired by HGST in December 2014.

How much difference will this make to HGST in the future?

In my article - Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs - I mentioned that there are some markets in which a simple, low cost, efficiently designed, high capacity, white box style of rackmount SSD is now regarded as the lowest level component for integration - in a similar way to which others might view an SSD drive or a server.

I think that if HGST avoids the temptation of adding too many software frills to the Skyera boxes - which would make them less attractive for embedded integrators - then they could form the basis of an attractive 1U high capacity SSD building block which could become a multi billion dollar product line.
Who's who in SSD? - by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - August 2014

Editor:- Skyera was ranked #8 in the Q2 2014 edition of the Top SSD Companies List which is researched and published by

The company's primary products are rackmount SSDs which leverage Skyera's IP leadership in SSD design efficiency, adaptive R/W flash, big controller architecture and SSD software.

A year ago (in August 2013) a reader asked me about the significance of Skyera's high ranking in our SSD reader searches in the light of what he referred to as "Skyer having lots of ideas… but not many sales."

Generally I referred him to the proven past successes of the 7 year running Top SSD Companies Lists as a sensitive and early indicator of future business success or failure - an issue which I discussed with noteworthy historic examples in the 24th quarterly edition (published April 2013).

Specifically - re his question - as to why so many of our readers might be interested in learning more about Skyera I said -"Nearly everyone in the enterprise systems business I talk to (CEOs , CTOs etc) agrees that Skyera will be the company that sets the agenda for the price of enterprise SSD racks for the next 3-4 years. Everyone else either has to figure out a way to beat them in niche segments or avoid competing with them altogether."

see also:- new SSD thinking inside the box

Skyera / StorCloud - selected mentions in SSD market history

In August 2011 - in a white paper presented at the Flash Memory Summit - Rado Danilak, founder of StorCloud said that RAID / RAIS technology and the other clever SSD controller techniques that the industry has learned to appreciate in the past few years "...will not sufficient for advanced node MLC to be used in enterprise... But - StorCloud has identified technical solutions for next 10x improvement in endurance and enabling 1x nm MLC in enterprise storage systems..."

In April 2012 - StorCloud changed its name to Skyera.

In June 2012 - Skyera moved into its new (81,000 square feet) headquarters at 1704 Automation Parkway, San Jose, CA 95131.

In August 2012 - Skyera launched its first product - a 1U half-depth 10GbE SSD rack with 44TB usable capacity ($131,000 approx), 3.6GB/s throughput and upto 1 million IOPS using under 800W electrical power. Integrated software includes inline dedupe, compression, snapshots, clones and various management functions.

In February 2013 - Skyera announced $51 million in financing led by Dell Ventures and including an investment by WD.

In August 2013 - Skyera announced that it will introduce PCIe connectivity (to the existing FC and iSCSI) as well as replication in the next version of its rackmount SSDs - the skyEagle - which will ship in the first half of 2014 - offering 500TB uncompressed (2.5TB deduped and compressed) in a 1U form factor at a record breaking list price expected to be under $2,000 per uncompressed terabyte.

In December 2014 - Western Digital acquired Skyera (which at that time was offering the highest capacity SSD racks based on its own efficient controller architecture and software).
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my flash care scheme is 100x better than yours

SSD utilization ratios and the software event horizon

"compared to EMC" - the unreal positioning of AFA startups
Skyera launches industry changing enterprise SSD
Editor:- August 14, 2012 - Skyera today launched its first product - a 1U half-depth 10GbE SSD rack with 44TB usable capacity ($131,000 approx), 3.6GB/s throughput and upto 1 million IOPS using under 800W electrical power.

Integrated software includes inline dedupe, compression, snapshots, clones and various management functions.

Skyera will demostrated the new Skyhawk next week at the Flash Memory Summit.

Editor's comments:- last week I spoke to Skyera's founder and CEO Rado Danilak and some key people in his team - which in addition to core members of the team who designed some of the early SandForce controllers - also includes talented and experienced people from other well known chip and enterprise storage companies.

Skyera make a big thing about their cost value proposition.

They deliver fast SSD storage at a system list price under $3 / GB (uncompressed) and about $1 / GB (with compression and dedupe). That not only beats best of breed SSD systems but seriously challenges HDD based storage too.

Designed from the ground up the Skyhawk can be summarized as using adaptive DSP, with big controller architecture (proprietary rather than an array of COTS open SSDs) and with an integrated software stack which screws the efficiency of reliability and data integrity as tight as can be - by intervening at multiple levels (high adaptive intelligence flow symmetry.)

In any given year in the SSD market there are maybe 2 or 3 industry changing announcements - which illustrate what the shape of the future could be.

Skyera's Skyhawk is one of those in the year we're already in. And would be just as significant if the launch had been delayed into next year too.

Here's some more stuff I learned from talking to Skyera.


Rado said Skyera has one strategic investor - which he didn't want to name right now. The company is mostly owned by its management. That gives them an incentive to design a product which can make money as soon as possible.

FPGA rather than ASIC - for Skyera's hardware controller

The FPGA versus ASIC tradeoff debate in electronic design goes back to the mid 1980s. With FPGA you buy a chip that's got arrays of logic and common functions already in it. You define what your FPGA does by programming the interconnections in a way that's similar to writing to flash. With ASIC you have almost total freedom to decide what functions your chip does - but the chips are made in a factory that's making a lot of other chips - not just yours. You're buying time in someone else's multi-billion dollar factory. There are set up fees, learning curves and queues involved.

Skyera implements its controller using FPGAs.

That gives flexbility (also explained to me as a factor by Holly Frost at competitor Texas Memory Systems - which uses both ASICs and FPGAs in different places - while Nimbus prefers to use exclusively its own ASICs and Fusion-io is still staying mostly with FPGA.

In a rack system - the recurring unit cost is not a big deal - whereas it is a cost disadvantage in a single small drive - which is why STEC made much of switching to ASICs in its enterprise SSDs last year. Where the VC factor comes back into the equation is that each design costs hundreds of thousands of dollars - and months of delay. So if you have the realistic choice of either FPGA or ASIC in the form factor and power budget - which is not an option if you're designing a 1 inch embedded SSD for example - then the FPGA route means you can ship products sooner with less initial outlay and your revenue stream can contribute to earning profits faster.

Having said that - my guess is that after their launch - if Skyera said they needed another $500 million or so to do something - like remodel the executive car park - VCs would rush in to supply the cars too. But Skyera probably doesn't need that much money.

Core SSD technologies

On the SSD architecture side I've already written about the strategic importance of large architecture, adaptive DSP, SSD software, tradeoffs between flash capacity and reliability and performance and the benefits of integrating them at a high level. So I won't repeat those points here.

Rado said he wanted to get the best performance and reliability possible out of "cheap crappy flash". He said if you use a traditional RAID 6 array - then the latencies start to mount up - and you end up doing 3 writes cycles to get the parity protection. That's bad for endurance and bad for latency too. He said that Skyera's way of doing RAID-like protection means that the write amplification for a 4kB write is an average of only a factor of x1.04. That's a 3x reduction on write amplification compared to arrays of 2.5" SSDs for example. There are many different levels in the hardware and software - where the self knowledge about the system is used to good advantage.

Their controller technology can be adapted to work with any flash. In theory they could populate production systems with the cheapest flash they can get and even mix up the sources in the same SSD and still get a working system. Nevertheless the company's deep knowledge of flash - means that (in my words) there's little risk of cooking the memory cells to get the performance. And they know which suppliers are better.

Earlier this year DensBits explained to me how using adaptive DSP meant that you could get 60% faster write performance out of MLC flash because the DSP gave you the data integrity when using shorter write pulses and lower energy - which also leads to better endurance. (See endurance multiplication wars.)

Anyway Rado explained - that once they decided that they had to design a proprietary memory array - they knew they also had to invest in the software layers to make it work within the enterprise infrastructure.

Internally their box is like an array of memory connected to a switch. In that respect - it's similar to the RamSan systems from TMS.

High availability

Skyera's initial system isn't a true high availability SSD - and although it has many essential enterprise features - this will limit the appeal of the product in some applications. Nevertheless, I know that many super users of SSDs would prefer to use their own cloud like wraparound software - and all they need is a low cost scalable rack which they can use as a component to build multi-petabyte SSDs.

Skyera said they see traditional enterprise SSD apps like analytics being a good fit for the launch system.

HA is in the product roadmap and has hooks in the system architecture. It will come later.

Business development

I suggested to Skyera - that given how popular their company had been with SSD readers while they were still in stealth mode - the problem they might have after this product launch would be too many inquiries. That would place a burden on marketing to filter out the type of SSD leads which were a good fit and those which were just curiosity.

Maybe we can recycle the leads we don't want and sell them to other SSD companies - said Skyera.

The SSD market will be watching Skyera with interest to see if stacking all these new technologies together for the first time in a system really works.
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.'s original profile of Skyera

the emerging from stealth edition
- August 14, 2012
Skyera (which was initially called StorCloud) today emerged from stealth mode.

The company's founder - Rado Danilak was previously the founder and CTO of SandForce.

Skyera's product is a rackmount SSD. It doesn't yet have true high availability - but its internal data integrity and chip optimized RAID - are good enough for a wide class of enterprise uses today.

Like Violin and Texas Memory Systems - Skyera has a big SSD controller architecture.

But unlike those 2 companies - Skyera is using (in Rado's words) "cheap crappy flash" - which it brings into line with many integrated design techniques - including adpative DSP write management (similar to SMART, STEC and DensBits.

Like Nimbus Skyera has its own software stack.

And like Pure Storage - Skyera integrates inline compression and dedupe as features which can push the cost per SSD terabyte even lower (below $1/GB at time of product launch.)

Skyera's solution will be attractive to users looking for scalable and cost effective multi-petabyte SSD systems.

But its proprietary - rather than open (array oif COTS SSDs) approach will limit the company's initial uptake with more conservatively minded users - who would prefer to see an array of SAS or PCIe SSD modules inside a rack.

However, the low latency which is achieved by using a proprietary array design and the efficiencies (in cost and reliability) which accrue from integrating many leading edge SSD design techniques concurrently in a reinforcing manner within a single rack system - are just not possible using so called "open" designs.

As with any new generation of SSD controller - which pushes the boundaries of what you can do with cheap memory - there are risks - because the product reliability and life cycle and endurance model is based on extrapolated predictions and models - and isn't yet market proven.

That should bring some comfort to Skyera's competitors in the rackmount SSD market in the next few quarters.
flash SSD capacity - the iceberg syndrome
Have you ever wondered how the amount of flash inside a flash SSD compares to the capacity shown on the invoice?

What you see isn't always what you get.
nothing surprised the penguins - click to read  the article There can be huge variations in different designs as vendors leverage invisible internal capacity to tweak key performance and reliability parameters. the article
What's the best way to design a flash SSD?
and other questions which divide SSD opinion

More than 10 key areas of fundamental disagreement within the SSD industry are discussed in an article here on called the the SSD Heresies.
click to read the article - the SSD Heresies ... Why can't SSD's true believers agree upon a single coherent vision for the future of solid state storage? the article
other SSD articles worth seeing
The top SSD articles and blogs (updated quarterly) is based on reader popularity.

The beginnning of the SSD search is a different place for everyone. Just as every day someone is hearing the music of the Beatles for the very first time - so too do some old classic SSD articles and themes seem to endure.

But if I had to suggest just 3 SSD articles - depending on who you are - it would be these.

for experienced enterprise SSD readers
  • where are we now with SSD software? - and how did we ever get into this mess? In the next few years the software for SSDs will have as much impact as hardware architecture did earlier. Don't expect this to be an orderly top-down process.
if you're new to the SSD market
  • the SSD Buyers Guide - will take you to groups of articles and directories which are organized by technology and market theme.
  • the Top 20 SSD Companies - whatever your interest in SSDs - these are the companies which are attracting the most interest amongst your peers.
storage search banner
Micron dares skin in the SSD box game
Raw chip memory... how much as SSD? how much as memory?
after AFAs? - what's the next box
90% of the enterprise SSD companies which you know have no good reasons to survive.
market consolidation - why? how? when?
Now we're seeing new trends in pricing flash arrays which don't even pretend that you can analyze and predict the benefits using technical models.
Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing
Western Digital acquires Skyera
Editor:- December 15, 2014 - Western Digital and HGST today announced the acquisition of Skyera.

Editor's comments:- This is a momentous acquisition for the enterprise SSD market.

I think the context in which to view this is as the embodiment of a new wisdom in the industry - that to succeed in the enterprise SSD market today - and to achieve the ultimate efficiencies at the manufacturing level - vendors have to think like systems companies.

And some of the biggest systems opportunities for efficient vendors nowadays - in which efficiencies translate into business opportunities are in hyperscale systems and internet infrastructure.

I've been discussing these trends in the past 18 months or so in these articles - which I think are relevant to today's acquisition announcement.
  • new directions in rackmount SSDs (May 24, 2013) - "One of the most potentially rewarding market challenges which SSD companies are grappling with right now is - how to make enterprise solid state storage attractive to users who aren't worried about their hard drive performance and don't even think they need SSDs... New SSD thinking inside the box will lead to better enterprise flash arrays."
  • meet Ken - and the enterprise SSD software event horizon (October 8, 2013) - "Why it's so easy to fall into a trap when answering these questions... How big will the SSD market will be when SSDs replace hard drives? When will it happen? and What will be the revenue of the SSD market at that time?"
  • Scary Skyera? (October 22, 2013) - "You may decide that my ratios (of enterprise SSD capacity needed to replace hard drives) are too timid - I said to Skyera's founder - if so - scare us!"
  • Seagate to acquire LSI's flash business (May 29, 2014 ) - "...even if Seagate focused only on the high volume potential of existing cloud infrastructure customers and big web entities (like Google and Baidu) - who need value based enterprise SSDs - but who are perfectly capable of designing their own software and APIs and firmware tweaks - then Seagate could... establish it as one of (several) leaders in the utility SSD segment of the cloud."
  • Skyera's new skyHawk FS (October 29, 2014) - "Re the mobile data center, new meanings to unified storage and joining storage gentlemen's clubs..."

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You can feel the Post Modernist Era of SSD in the air everywhere. Momentum has been building with signals coming from the appearance of memory channel SSDs, talk of in-situ SSD processing, and much practical rethinking about RAM architecture.
optimizing CPUs with SSDs in the Post Modernist Era

Unified Storage in the SSD Age
Editor:- October 31, 2014 - Unified Storage...

What does that really mean?

And is SAN + NAS really enough to qualify a rackmount flash system as being Unified Storage in the age of the SSD?

I don't think so.

And I got an interesting response when I discussed this recently with Skyera's CEO.

If you're still struggling with imagining how MLC differs from SLC and eMLC, and how endurance, adaptive writes and all those electrons (locked in leaky cells) relate to each other - listen to this talking heads SSD video - history of flash memory and storage

Skyera talks about histroy of flash memoryMain speaker is Frankie Roohparvar, COO - Skyera - who's been in the non volatile memory business for 30 years and has over 480 patents.

Frankie's verbal explanations (no pictures - just waving fingers) helps you understand the raw thinking needed to design the lowest cost petabyte SSDs.
"Even if you had all your perfectly baked enterprise SSD cake - with all the software trimmings - which are still a year or so in the future - available right now in your restaurant and offered it to these people at that futuristically low price today - they wouldn't want to taste it" - I said to Skyera's CEO Rado Danilak.

"They prefer other people to experiment with the new enterprise SSD chef in town. You just have to live with that.

"But in another few years these same cautious types may be saying to everyone they know - don't you just love dining at Skyera?"
scary Skyera - one of those SSD interviews
Skyera says 1 petabyte SSD will go into 2U
Editor:- August 13, 2013 - Skyera today announced that. among other things, it will introduce PCIe connectivity (to the existing FC and iSCSI) as well as replication in the next version of its rackmount SSDs - the skyEagle - which will ship in the first half of 2014 - offering 500TB uncompressed (2.5TB deduped and compressed) in a 1U form factor at a record breaking list price expected to be under $2,000 per uncompressed terabyte.

Editor's comments:- not a lot of people remember this - but 6 years ago- in August 2007 - when Violin emerged from stealth mode with one of the fastest rackmount SSDs of that era - Violin's 1010 was also the first well known enterprise SSD which offered PCIe as the primary connection option. (This was the month before Fusion-io launched its first ioDrive and began its multi-year mission to re-educate and change the way that the enterprise market viewed SSDs BTW.)

But in 2007 the enterprise market was still grappling with the idea of rackmount SSDs - and for those buying - their connection of choice was FC SAN. That meant Violin's initial product made a market impression - but the company had to wait for its later systems - redesigned with FC and flash - to get the sales which would secure its future as the new leader in the rackmount SSD market (replacing Texas Memory Systems). Violin's early experience with PCIe being the wrong interface for its rackmount market left scars in the company's psyche. So it wasn't till nearly 6 years after that Violin entered the (now) safely conventional market for module and card based PCIe SSDs.

Today in the market of August 2013 - PCIe has evolved into a very different technology and market proposition for enterprise SSDs.
  • As a technology (it can be used as a fabric to interconnect fast racks - a bit like InfiniBand in some respects - except that the ecosystem of compatible SSDs is much richer and price competitive).
So I view the 96 lanes of PCIe connectivity - in Skyera's forthcoming skyEagle - as a way of reaching out to an entirely new market. This PCIe option provides a simple and cheap foundation for clustering boxes in high availability configurations.

And how about the idea of 1/2 petabyte SSD in a 1U rack next year?

Back in early 2010 - when I published an article designed to show what one of the missing products in the future enterprise SSD market would look like - and its consequences for hard drives - this way to the petabyte SSD - I guessed we'd see a 2U petabyte SSD in 2016.

Skyera is going to beat that timescale by 2 years. Which incidentally means that all the other predicted dates about the consequences for hard drives in an enterprise SSD world - are also 1 or 2 years earlier than anyone previously imagined too.
Skyera unifies 19nm MLC arrays with 100x life
Editor:- May 21, 2013 - Skyera today announced it has added unified storage operation (concurrent NAS and SAN) to its pre-existing SSD box (Skyhawk).

Editor's comments:- this was already anticipated and factored in by potential systems competitors that I've spoken to in the past several quarters.

More interesting for me - is the "100x MLC life amplification" figure quoted in a recent blog by Skyera's CEO.

When you're asking what's possible from combining controller technologies (like adaptive R/W) with software efficiencies (don't do things which are unnecessary to access the true app data - as opposed to emulating every just-in-case-we-need-it lookahead or spurious hard drive traffic request) the 100x figure is a useful competitive metric and shows what you can integrating array level system software with already optimized drives.

It's all about being at the leading edge of the system SSD price curve.

See also:- MLC Seniors live longer in my SSD care home

WD invests in Skyera
Editor:- March 12, 2013 - WD was one of the recent investors in Skyera - it was announced today.

We see companies like Skyera as offering a dramatic improvement over traditional approaches to emerging storage challenges said Steve Milligan, president and CEO, Western Digital.
Skyera gets $51 million funding from Dell
Editor:- February 21, 2013 - Skyera today announced it has closed $51.6 million in financing led by Dell Ventures.

Skyera will use the money to accelerate its integration of the latest-generation flash technology and also to drive broader market adoption of its adaptive R/W based, big controller architecture, efficient, Skyhawk family of rackmount SSDs.

The investment in Skyera is one example of how we are deploying our Fluid Data Storage Fund to target areas critical to the evolution of storage...said Jim Lussier, Managing Director of Dell Ventures.

See also:- VCs in SSDs
"Although few people on this planet really understand the complex mix of technologies which Skyera has mastered to architect one of the world's most efficiently engineered SSD arrays - almost anyone can easily appreciate the results when they're presented with the resulting price and performance."
Editor:- January 11, 2013 - the Top SSD Companies in Q4 2012
"...the most significant emerging technology in 2012 was adaptive R/W DSP flash management...."
Strategic Transitions in SSD - (December 20, 2012)
Skyera says a little more about its SSD software
Editor:- October 16, 2012 - Skyera today revealed a few more features of the software which supports its recently launched rackmount SSDs - along with an overview and some pretty pictures.

Among other things - which were new to me - administrators can allocate LUNs according to 3 different classes of SLA for capacity and performance.

"A true solid-stage storage solution must be more than simply sticking flash media and controllers in a box" said Skyera's founder and CEO Rado Danilak.

Editor's comments:- as I said in the enterprise SSD survivor's guide - "Software used to be SSD's enemy. Now it can be SSD's best friend."

See also:- SSD software, SSD design efficiency
Can Flash Memory Now Be Primary Storage?
Yes! - said Skyera's CEO, Rado Danilak in his (August 2012) Flash Memory Summit paper (pdf).

"nice vs naughty flash"
sugaring MLC for the enterprise