some thoughts about SSD customizationby
editor - StorageSearch.com - July 12, 2016
have to look at many different SSD company web sites before you start
asking yourself (as you see similar looking offerings:-
USB yawn etc) how do these
companies differentiate themselves and make money?
you reply with the cynical rejoinder - that's why they don't - the surprising
thing I've found from talking to people in the industry is that sometimes those
very companies with the samey looking websites can sometimes have very
substantial revenues in the SSD market. And when I talk to them about their
business development models - the aspect which explains everything is the high
proportion of business they get from custom SSDs compared to standard products.
the customer perspective - if you've never gone down the customization route
for your SSDs - the first thought which might come into your mind is this...
That means doing more. More up front engineering engagement. More up front set
up costs. More risk. Less competitive alternatives. More qualification time.
Must mean more cost right?
Instead - the counter intuitive view I'm
going to offer is - that's not the way it goes. (Otherwise no one would do it.)
simple reason is that when you ask yourself - what's an SSD? (The
age old answer
it's a virtual device with an infinite range of internal and external
parameters) And when you look at the
cost factors which go
into making an SSD - the cost isn't simply determined by what goes in - but
also what stays out.
Like good software a well designed custom SSD can
greatly benefit from the analysis of expensive functions which can be
reduced in scale or avoided.
In custom SSDs this means some circuits
or processing steps can be removed entirely from the bill of materials
due to knowing from the system environment that they aren't needed or that an
equivalent function is being done elsewhere at the system level.
is contrast to a "similar" standard SSD design - where it wouldn't
be prudent for the product manager to weaken those operating requirements -
because standard SSDs have to cater for a wide range of possible customer
deployments (set by industry expectations). If the design of a standard SSD
is weakened in one attribute it introduces the risk of alienating an
entire customer segment for whom that feature is essential. Another way to
think about it is that standard SSDs are simultaneously over engineered and
under egnineered for many application roles.
The ideal objectives
for customers of custom SSDs can be:-
- to get something which is otherwise impossible from a standard product
(such as fitting into a non standard space)
- to get a better product at a similar price to a standard SSD (by changing
the cost benefit budget assumptions of subsystems in the SSD)
- to get equivalent functionality (in the target system) at a lower price
than using a standard SSD
there are benefits for SSD vendors too.
- to reduce qualification costs over the lifetime of the system in which the
custom SSD is used by reducing risk factors associated with unknown internal
implementation changes, product line
EOL and supplier churn.
- customization creates business opportunities for well proven
technologies which otherwise in a standard market context can only be realized
by the lottery of low pricing and heavy investment in marketing.
example a low performance SATA SSD is an expensive product to promote in today's
competitive market. But if the vendor has added security features, optimized
battery life, RFID tracking, and tweaked environmental factors (conformal
coating, ambient temperature range etc) as a custom build for a medical
equipment company - then they might anticipate a long term supply relationship
for a successful partner.
- The willingness to offer customization and professional design engineering
support opens doors to valuable customers who are leaders in their own vertical
markets but whose unit volumes are too small to be of interest to high volume
standard SSD vendors.
In the right context
customization can be a win win for customers and vendors.
- customers are stickier (if they're satisfied) are also likely to talk to
their suppliers about new projects at an earlier stage than they would if they
were merely considering standard SSDs.
applications where standard products can do the job (and standard product
samples were used to prototype and market test the system concept)
customization can often deliver lower cost.
where are we heading with memory intensive systems and software?there's
more to upcoming change in SSD than DIMM wars
editor - StorageSearch.com - June 17, 2016
SSD market is moving into a new phase at the core of which is changed thinking
about the role of memory and storage and software.
In past such
transitions (for example the
RAM SSD to flash SSD
enterprise SSDs followed by
successively different types of flash) it was much easier to predict what
problems needed to be solved to enable such memory adoptions in different
markets - because they were all about how do you make reliable enough systems
out of new, higher density memories which have intrinsically poorer data
reliability than the devices which they will replace?
understood flash well
enough - the direction of successor challenges was predictable...
denser type of flash.
These presented detailed problems
for controller designers and memory makers - but didn't change the inevitable
laws of memory succession.
principles for adopting such products were also clear and had remained the
same for 10 years.
what's different now?
got in the market now is a new melting pot - which I alluded to in last year's
Bookmarks - why we need to begin thinking again.
At its simplest -
the factors now at play are these:-
- When all storage is made from memories the dividing line between storage
and memory is much more fluid than it has been before.
If you have
enough flash memory chips you can build an SSD.
And if you start with
that very same flash SSD - you can make it behave like core memory -
DRAM - which is an entirely
different type of memory than that used inside the SSD.
questions are:- How much memory can we replace with such an SSD? Where does it
work best? What are the limits?
You could say - using an analogy from
thermodynamics - that storage has lower data entropy than memory - because you
can do more with raw memory than with raw storage. The heat pumps which change
the roles of one memory package to another are coming from the
just as flash SSDs needed characteristics like
and DWPD to help us
understand their limitations perhaps virtual RAM needs entirely new latency
spectrum based specifications too...
- There are more type of memory entering the storage / memory mix than ever
It's not just flash (which itself has got more dimensions of
choice than before) but alternative nvms too.
are the companies leading these changes?
- What do want our memory systems to do for us? And how do we want them to
In the past all such efforts focused on making memory systems
more reliable and compatible with past software.
emerging trend has been to demand much more from memory systems, and to offload
data compute and other functions where ever it makes more sense from an energy
and performance point of view to perform such functions inside the memory array.
Which are the products and
technologies which can be regarded as iconic in their classes?
the marketing point of view one of the loudest technology categories which
falls within the above market changes has been the
SSD SCM DIMM
wars market. If you click on that link you'll see a long list of companies
which have made promises in that direction (Micron,
Diablo and many more).
that's only part of the story of the rewriting of the memory plot.
the past 3 years there have also been growing developments in the area of making
memory systems more capable, more manageable by software and more flexible.
are some of the companies and strands of thinking involved.
- in-situ processing in flash SSDs.
Altera - DRAM coresident
FPGA architecture to enable CPU offload of IO and compute.
Radian Memory - providing
offload functions in flash SSDs
software managed memory
Plexistor - manages the
convergence of memory and storage in big systems from a software approach it
calls Software Defined Memory.
Marvell - has a firmware
and controller associated architecture called Final-Level Cache - which
provides flash as DRAM functionality - which can deliver higher performance
and lower electrical power.
new things in DRAM
Symbolic IO - has used data coding
techniques embedded at CPU level to dynamically extract more usable capacity
and performance from in all the memory types within its enterprise systems from
Encrip - has
demonstrated a chip level IP which can be retrofitted to most conventional DRAM
chip designs - to provide 3 levels of internal coding instead of 2 (binary). The
IP can deliver more usable capacity and higher performance - or it can be used
to save power by reducing the amount of raw DRAM needed in systems.
No matter how much memory (of whatever type) you can place
in a rack it's never enough for everyone.
A3CUBE has been at the
forefront of companies pioneering low latency DRAM fabrics based on PCIe
what's RAM really? - RAM in an SSD
DIMM wars in SSD
servers - the Memory1 salvo
are you ready to
rethink enterprise DRAM architecture?
guide to semiconductor memory boom bust cycles
which changed in 2014 - first appearance of in-situ SSD processing
SSD ideas which
changed in 2015 - retiring and retiering enterprise DRAM
- One of the things which makes me laugh when I see big systems companies
pouring money into born again "flash" marketing messages is that the
enterprise SSD centric market existed before most of them had any SSD product
lines. And solid state storage and big memory thinking - "SSD" for
short - isn't tied to any specific type of memory.
interaction of memory,
architecture, processing and
software and their
changing economic costs and application opportunities which are at the heart
of the market.
has played a big part in making SSD architectures
affordable to be
sure. But there's more to SSD thinking than flash.
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