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Zsolt Kerekes (linkin) -


SSD year 2015 - the 3 big ideas

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - November 24, 2015
What were the big SSD ideas of 2015? And is it possible to predict yet the SSD ideas which will dominate our strategic SSD thinking in 2016?

Having been in the professional SSD market prediction game a long time - I thought I'd give these questions my best shot.

Unlike last year my 2015/16 list is shorter.

(Big sigh of relief from those of you out there who tell me they read nearly every word...)

(Similar sigh of relief from me too - as there is less to write. But also feeling some pressure that the smaller list better be good. Anxious thought - did I forget something?)

What were the 3 big SSD ideas of 2015?

big idea #1 - No SSD company is too big to be acquired.

There were enough examples of big SSD companies being acquired in 2015 already at the time of writing this to make the above statement seem almost too obvious - so why did I add it to my big ideas list?

It's because when the implications of this idea sink in - it will change the way that vendors and users in the SSD ecosystem behave - compared to what they might have done before. I think the effect will be to favor some specific changes in technical design and architecture adoption which otherwise might not have happened at all, or would have had smaller market revenue impacts.

Here are some immediately obvious changes that I'd expect to see as a result.

In the SSD vendor ecosystem - it is no longer safe for companies to assume that their existing technology buying and selling relationships will remain stable and secure.

Although there was always an element of such risks in earlier years - for example when SSD software companies were being acquired as if they were going out of fashion - or when SSD drive or array companies which appeared in the Top SSD Companies Lists were likely to get picked up by anyone with a spare half billion dollars or so who wanted to get into the market - these transactions took place against a background assumption that there would always continue to be a flow of other similar companies in the market (if you really wanted that kind of product) whereas the framework assumptions about which companies would be the biggest suppliers at the top or bottom of the food chain (as memory makers, or drive makers or systems companies) mostly remained the same as these companies were comfortable in their dominant marketdefined identities .

Vendor strategies which once appeared safe - such as
  • this is where my company fits into the market ecosystem, and
  • that's where my raw suppliers fit in the market (compared to my place) and
  • that's where my customers fit in the market, and
  • this is a company I would choose to partner with
are no longer safe assumptions when your biggest supplier can become your biggest competitor. Or when your biggest customer can become your competitor.

And all these changes can happen in the space of time it takes to read the latest acquisition press release.

This will lead to more SSD companies choosing defensive design strategies to decouple their exposure to sudden changes with the kinds of companies which traditionally they would have considered as natural partners.

A defensive technology strategy in this context means acquiring or developing deeper technology IP while at the same time leaning more on de-facto market standards.

A defensive business strategy could be to deepen end-user oriented focus and specialization. In this line of thinking small to medium size SSD companies may decide it's less risky to be a leader in a small niche than to be a generic supplier in a big market where the traditional customers have become vertical integrators and don't need you to exist at all.

The implications for users of the "No SSD company is too big to be acquired" idea come from the alternative translation that "none of my big suppliers is safe any more - just because it's big."

Your favorite products and product features may disappear forever in any quarter. Your old big supplier wouldn't have made the old product obsolete - because they relied on customers like you to keep them fed. But their new owners will have to be ruthless in their support of the technolgy they've acquired. For their own plans to succeed they will have to prioritize the one or two things they liked in your old supplier's goody bag. Sorry your platform isn't in the list.

I explored in more detail the defensive changes which enterprise users can make in their buying and technology adoption behavior in my article about enterprise consolidation. In other markets like the embedded industrial and military - the assumption that your favorite big supplier may exit your market at any moment - is simply business as usual. (And it has been that way ever since digital chips replaced the analog, pnuematic and clickety clackety stuff which came before.)

big idea #2 - there's no single best place to locate all the IO and management intelligence of a big SSD.

Another way to say this is that the optimum design solution is to place a little piece of intelligence everywhere it can make enough of a measurable difference (to the total application context in which it operates).

When I listed "adaptive intelligence flow symmetry" as one of the 11 key design symmetries in my 2012 classic article - how fast can your SSD run backwards? - it was located pretty close to the end of the article.

That didn't signify its relative importance in SSD architecture. But it was a topic whose significance at that time was relatively little appreciated outside a small group of designers of enterprise PCIe SSDs and related software. And there were very few publicly known examples of product implementations of this technique which I could point to in my narrative.

In 2014 there were more examples which flashed across the SSD news screens of those with the alertness to notice such things. And to make sure that my readers got the alerts they needed I noted this technique as key idea #1 in my 12 key SSD ideas which changed in 2014 article. Although in that case - it was a much narrower interpretation of the benefits of this technique - which was speed. Whereas - like all powerful SSD design techniques - the general concept can impact a wider range of SSD attributes such as power consumption, reliability and cost too.

In case you're still unsure what I'm talking about and how this relates to what we saw happening in 2015 - some of the reasons for this unclarity are:-
  • the technique started in PCIe SSDs, then was next adopted in arrays of SATA SSDs but these implementations were mostly hidden as "improvers" in proprietary products.
  • the technique was called different things by its various different creators. These different implementations also differed in the set of parameters they were intended to optimize. (But actually they were all variations of the same basic architecture idea. The big idea #2 above.)
Still no wiser?

In 2015 there were enough new COTS implementations of big idea #2 to swing it for me as a done deal

See what you think with these company and word associations... Fusion-io, Memblaze (3rd generation), NxGn (in-situ SSD processing), Seagate (SandForce), InnoDisk (FlexiRemap), Skyera, Baidu, Radian Memory (cooperative flash management ), OCZ (host managed SSD technology)...

Now you've got it.

Without it - all SSD application architectures look like they're missing part of their oxygen feed to the brain.

You're going to see a lot more in the next 2 years - for the obvious competitive reasons.

big idea #3 - retiring and retiering enterprise DRAM

which includes a new value proposition for enterprise flash SSDs (flash as RAM) and presages a rebalancing of server memories - DRAM will shrink as a percentage of the physical RAM - which will also make it easier for emerging alternative memory types to be adopted by hardware architects and by systems software too

In 2015 there were significant and tangible product announcements around the ideas of rethinking enterprise RAM architecture (2014) - which have the impact to change the balance of memory types used in enterprise systems in as fundamental a way as SSDs themselves were predicted to change the server, storage and software markets in my 2005 article - 5 User Value Propositions for buying SSDs.

You could say that not the least impact of big idea #3 will be to add a 6th value proposition to the orginal 5 which I had in my list. And the economic impact of this - could be as great as any of those earlier 5 ideas.

The size of the business opportunities represented by retiring and retiering DRAM (aka storage class memories) have become apparent by analyzing the gains made possible by earlier generations of enterprise SSDs - in particular PCIe SSDs with their related support software. If you want to see more detail about this take a look at what's RAM really? and DIMM wars - the Memory1 episode.

Sorry.. that's where my deadline hit.

But there's still more to come in this article.

Come back tomorrow to see:- the 2 biggest SSD predictions for 2016 - which will dominate all our strategic SSD thinking.


the processors used in SSD controllers

new series preview
The SSD market has become an attractive market for processor suppliers.

In my 2010 article - Imprinting the brain of the SSD I noted that 2007 was a pivotal year for SSD controller makers. (Before then almost no one knew or cared who they were.)

As we look ahead to 2016 it's now clear that a similar kind of trend may take place in the identification of the processors used in SSD controllers and SSD systems.

Behind this are competitive pressures:-
  • customization is becoming a necessity to achieve optimum system efficiency and product differentiation
  • as the SSD market gets bigger - and acquisitions take unusual directions - we're seeing semiconductor companies competing with the systems companies they once supplied. The spectre of frenemy is driving many systems companies to decouple their dependence on COTS controllers.
  • with thousands of projects designing new SSDs - and so many untapped application roles - there just aren't enough standard SSD controller types around to do what needs to be done.
The new series - aspects of SSD design processors used in SSD controllers and systems real examples from the market - will help you understand the next wave of architectural change in SSDs - by using case studies from past successful SSDs - and becoming the most complete guide to processors used in SSDs.

Hmm... it looks like you're seriously interested in SSDs. So please bookmark this page and come back again soon.

I've written thousands of stories and guides related to the SSD market. Some of the most popular can be seen here.
. is published by ACSL. © 1992 to 2015 all rights reserved.

Editor's note:- I currently talk to more than 600 makers of SSDs and another 100 or so companies which are closely enmeshed around the SSD ecosphere.

Most of these SSD companies (but by no means all) are profiled here on the mouse site.

I learn about new SSD companies every day, including many in stealth mode. If you're interested in the growing big picture of the SSD market canvass - StorageSearch will help you along the way.

Many SSD company CEOs read our site too - and say they value our thought leading SSD content - even when we say something that's not always comfortable to hear. I hope you'll find it it useful too.

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