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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.

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NV + 0.4 DWPD @ 85C = V
Editor:- October 24, 2014 - Even a modest amount of drive writes per day can render modern day MLC flash incapable of retaining data for long in the unpowered state - depending on the temperature in the rack where those writes took place. This effectively means that the flash inside the SSD is no longer "non volatile".

The physics behind this are revealed in a blog by Virtium - a company which operates in the industrial market - and which does a lot of work characterizing memories for use in SSDs and other memory systems. They can leverage that knowledge for customers by adjusting controller and firmware characteristics to optimize the memory's life and data integrity - particularly if it is known in advance what proportion of time the embedded SSD is likely to be operating at particular temperatures.

Virtium's paper - temperature considerations in SSDs (pdf) includes some stark graphs and observations about data retention - which you should be aware of - even if you're not in the industrial market.

Virtium's paper says - "This shows the dramatic effects that temperature has on data retention for given workloads.

"For the same 750 full drive writes (0.4 DWPD drive writes per day for 5 years), SSDs operated and stored at 85C will only have 2 days of data retention, whereas those drives at 40C will have 1 year and those at room temperature 25C will exhibit characteristics of nearly 8 years of data retention." the article (pdf)

This - incidentally - also demonstrates the wise precaution - which takes place in some enterprise SSDs (but by no means all arrays and certainly not all enterprise SSD drives) of checking the status and data integrity of "so called" seldomly accessed data - or data at rest.

I use the designation "so called" deliberately to emphasize that while your apps stats may be telling you that you haven't done much with some of this (seldom accessed) data - the reality is that the wear leveling schemes in the array may have been moving it around - to change places with more heavily trafficked cells.

Some drive designers don't like doing this inside their controllers - because the care taking process - as well as prolonging SSD data life -also adds to the wear on the flash array. So it's a delicate balancing act.

It's one of those many design decisions in SSD designs where there isn't a single correct answer which can be applied in all cases. The optimum decision depends on the application environment.

Sometimes different enterprise drives from the same company - take a completely different approach to data at rest - for the above reasons.
re - HA enterprise SSDs
Editor:- October 13, 2014 - I've long had an abiding interest in the architecture of fault tolerant / high availability electronic systems - ever since learning that such concepts existed - when (in about 1976) our digital systems design lecturer Dr R G 'Ben' Bennetts at Southampton University suggested we should read a paper about how NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs used triple modular redundancy.

(I can't remember the details of that paper - but the JPL people and their collaborators and descendants have never stopped inspiring and writing a rich literature about the design aspects of computer systems which operate a long way from a service engineer.)

In the early part of my career - such ideas were good to know about - but far too exotic and expensive to incorporate into most products. But I was reminded about them in the 1990s - when in the publication which preceded - some of my customers were advertising their FT/ HA SPARC servers for the telco market.

The more you investigate the architecture of FT/ HA computer systems the more you realize it's a philosophy rather than a technology which you can implement as a plug and play inconsequentially within the cost goals of mere mortals.

The results are always compromises - which balance reliability (aka functionable survivability) against other tradeoffs - such as performance. (And performance itself has many internal dimensions of fault tolerance too.)

Violin's 6000 SSD and HA

3 years ago (in September 2011) when I was talking to Violin's CEO (at that time) Don Basile about the launch of Violin's first 6000 series (the first no single point of failure, competitively priced, fast flash rackmount SSD) he expressed some concern about how I would tell you (my readers) what was unique about this product and signal whether it was relevant to you or not - as it was competing for attention with thousands of other SSD stories for applications ranging from phones to drones.

I didn't see that as a problem - because my readers are smart - and I had been publishing a directory page dedicated to SSD Reliability since 2008.

But just to make sure that the systems embodiments of FT/HA/SSD architecture from a growing base of competitors didn't get washed away by other stories - I launched a dedicated ft/HA enterprise SSD directory in January 2012 - to serve an emerging base of reliability focused readers - which in those days measured around 10,000 readers / year in that niche topic. (Until recently HA SSDs have rarely entered the top 30 SSD articles viewed by my readers.)

But something in the market has changed.

I noticed this week that the topic of HA/FT SSDs has risen to be 1 of the top 10 topics that you've been looking at this month. Which means it's mainstream.

Looking back at other past niche topics...

10 years ago I didn't think that more than a few hundred people would be interested in the intricacies of flash endurance. And to begin with - SSD vendors were nervous about even acknowledging that there was such a thing as SSD wear out. Now you can't shut them up. They all want to show you how clever they are at handling it

The different types of flash memory and different generations of arcane flash care schemes spawned a huge industry literature of understanding and misunderstanding - so I wouldn't be surprised if the enterprise FT/HA flash array market now started to do something similar.

PS - After a communications gap of 37 years - I exchanged some emails with my old university lecturer - Ben Bennetts while writing this - to see if I had remembered things correctly.

He said - "Yes, that was me. I lectured on fault-tolerant systems and JPLs Self-Test And Repair, STAR, computer, based on triple modular redundancy, used to feature in my presentations."

So that enables me to pin point the original source of that inspirational IEEE Transactions paper about fault tolerant computing - which I remember having read in 1976 (although I haven't read it since) to Prof. Algirdas Antanas Avižienis - whose visionary work on - what is today called - "Dependable Computing and Fault-Tolerant Systems" - continues today.
updating 10 key SSD ideas in 2014

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - September 2, 2014
It's September already, and 8 months of another new year in SSD history already behind us!

As we approach what is traditionally another busy quarter of search and business activity in the SSD market I realized - that simply too much has changed already since I wrote my previous annual SSD market roundup article - what changed in SSD year 2013?.

So here's my new list of 10 key SSD ideas - each of which there has been associated with significant progress in 2014.

key SSD idea #1

in-situ SSD processing

This is about closing important gaps in the intelligence of message passing and the speed of data access between application processors and SSD controllers.

(SSD controllers which - in the vast majority of SSDs - come attached with their own offload processors or associated data movement engines.)

Traditionally SSDs have been designed to reduce the access times to data - but within the framework of commands, APIs and data structures which have been designed for applications agnostic data storage drives.

And in order to make SSDs easier to use - classic SSD controllers also perform a lot of house-keeping and data integrity related functions - in a way which is the apps processor doesn't need to know about (although it can collect stats related to endurance etc).

There is much evidence to support the idea that both applications performance and data storage efficiency can be greatly improved if the flash management and apps management processor are either the same CPU - or if they can talk to each other in a more effective way.

These improvements (which enable data handling responsibilities to be partitioned downwards to the flash or upwards to the apps host - depending on which has the best view of what is needed) have already been implemented by various SSD vendors in experimental or custom APIs.

These concepts - which first took root in large web scale server farms - have also delivered useful results in some industrial SSDs when scaled down to a single SSD.

A handful of SSD vendors have already done work in this area - notably Fusion-io (in whose non offloaded SSD controller architecture - the flash management and apps processors were the same processor).

But in 2015 and 2016 these concepts will become much more explicitly talked about.

Related SSD drive companies:- NxGn Data, LSI, Memblaze, InnoDisk

Related SSD array companies (who probably already do some degree of in-situ SSD processing) include:- Skyera, Violin

key SSD idea #2

re PCIe SSDs

This year - as part of a continuing trend - we've seen an upswing in the number of companies who offer PCIe compatible SSDs in form factors like M.2 and 2.5".

The barriers to market have been reduced by standards such as NVMe and SATA express - which by creating frameworks of software and hardware interchangeability - have minimized the risks for oems who incoprorate such SSDs into their storage and computing systems.

An important new factor for the PCIe SSD market this year was the materialization of product announcements centered around the core concept of using PCIe as an interconnection fabric between racks.

The key pioneers driving these efforts have been PLX and A3CUBE.

key SSD idea #3

random access memory doesn't have to be RAM

The idea of using flash as a new memory tier isn't new. And neither is the idea of using flash in DRAM memory slots. But in 2014 there were several developments which added weight to the usefulness of these ideas.
  • Applicable to any kind of standard flash SSD - SanDisk's ZetaScale software (described by as "one of the most significant SSD software products launched in 2014") is an API toolset which gives software designers the freedom to treat flash in a similar way to DRAM - thereby being able to rely on much higher capacities within any given monetary budget ceiling.

    Although the performance characteristics of such memory won't suit all applications - the ability to experiment and invest in a technology platform which promises to avoid lock-in to any particular SSD form factor - will encourage the development of new types of data repurposing platforms.
  • Those who may have been disappointed by the low aspirations of Diablo's 1st generation memory channel SSDs - were given a glimpse of something more akin to what they might have been wishing for - in the unveiling of an ambitious 2nd generation architecture which promised to go much further in 2015.

    The key ingredient here is a new software framework (Carbon2) with features like NanoCommit technology.

    The new software is being offered as part of developer packages which anticipate 2nd generation MCS hardware which will be fast flash DIMMs compatible with DDR4.
See also:- are you ready to rethink enterprise DRAM architecture?

key SSD idea #4

re micro tiering and micro clouds

One of the trends in computer architecture in recent years is that new software architectural concepts which deliver sustainable efficiency or management efficiencies have found it easier to get their benefits established and recognized at a large scale - as part of big web entities or cloud infrastructure.

But the lessons learned have been duly noted and reapplied to other use cases and are now finding their way into individual rack scale products too.

3 companies which stand out for their different approaches in this respect are:-

key SSD idea #5

adaptive R/W (including DSP) data integrity management in flash

2 years ago - there were only 10 companies with adaptive R/W technologies in their SSD product lines.

It was important to know who they were at the time.

Because looking ahead from the perspective of 2012 they and their licensees or acquirers were going to be among the first vendors who could leverage the economics of next generation flash.

They did this by moving away from classical flash controller technologies - which relied on anonymous industry wide characterization statistics for key flash parameters - and moving towards an adaptive model - which was able to recognize and grade different qualities of individual flash blocks (even within the same SSD).

The new adaptive DSP technology was able to choose from a wide bandolero of timing and ECC techniques instead of being dependent on a single caliber flash manage bullet.

By the middle of 2014 - adaptive R/W had become a mainstream technology - deployed by most leading enterprise SSD systems (in applicable products) - so its strategic advantage as a competitive differentiator has diminished.

Instead it has become the new "standard technology" for handling all sub 20nm planar MLC flash devices.

But it would be wrong to think of it as a uniform technology. There are significant differences in the scope, granularity and associated controller and power footprints of the many different adaptive DSP flash IP sets used in the SSD market.

key SSD idea #6

3D nand flash

Although 3D nand flash SSDs have been shipping in the market - the current technology doesn't deliver enough efficiency and cost advantages to replace 2D in the short term. Many manufacturability and design problems remain to be solved before that is likely to happen in mainstream SSD markets.

On the other hand the raw endurance of 1st generation 3D flash seems to be 3x to 4x better than 2D at the same line geometries - according to early work done by an industrial SSD company FMJ Storage.

If these early impressions are confirmed in later volume production - this could open up the possibility of alternative markets for this type of flash.

See also:- flash memory news and articles, DWPD - endurance in industry leading enterprise SSDs

key SSD idea #7

valuing SSD companies

Acquisitions reported in 2014 seemed to indicate that SSD companies aren't worth as much as they before.

Although there are special factors which complicate any particular analysis - as I discussed in the cases of Seagate acquiring LSI's SSD business, and SanDisk acquiring Fusion-io - it's clear that from the viewpoint of the people who matter (those with the money) an SSD company with a rich set of IP and strong market recognition in 2014 isn't generally worth as much as you might have thought if you had extrapolated from SSD company values in 2013.

Why is that?

In one way it seems perverse - given that the overall market opportunity for SSDs is now generally assumed to be much larger than it was before.

I think the key factor at work here is evidence (as reported in financial reports of some leading SSD companies) that competition is much tougher than before (due to the growing number of competitors and also the rise in the quality of such competitors).

But another key risk factor (for any encumbent SSD vendor) is vulnerability to future technology shocks - which can disrupt their business prospects.

These technology shocks don't just stem from new startup SSD companies - but can also occur as a result of macro changes in the market as users change the way they use and deploy the same type of SSDs when using different software.

key SSD idea #8

SSD pricing and business models

How much should you pay for an enterprise SSD array?

And what exactly is it that you're getting?

Although SSD vendors had always been enthusiastic about what their products and technologies could do in the first decade of enterprise flash - the language with which they bundled their pricing offers did not show the same leaps of creative imagination which they were expecting their customers to make.

But in 2014 - a small number of SSD pricing pioneers designed new enticing pricing models for their flagship flash arrays which broke away from the formulas of the past.

Behind these new pricing models was the explicit recognition that there is always a high degree of uncertainty involved in such purchases for various technical and business reasons.

This was the subject of my previous home page blog - Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing - which describes why the change is happening now and names the companies who are leading this charge.

key SSD idea #9

re rackmount SSDs

Surprisingly - given its already substantial size and gravitational business pull for SSD drive makers - there are still significant parts of the enterprise SSD market which remain uncharted and unsatisfied.

For investors and SSD startups the opportunities to grow business in under exploited high value user territories may be a source of comfort - given the potential upside.

However, for users who are still waiting for vendors to offer them the kind of products and services they really need - it's a source of frustration.

I described the reasons for these market voids in a recent article - Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise.

key SSD idea #10

the importance of SSD software

One of the key ideas which permeates everything now in the SSD market is the importance of software to the SSD market.

In an article in January this year I said

"the SSD software market is getting ready for a world in which all enterprise data touches SSDs"

And elsewhere in the same article I also asserted

"the winners in SSD software could be as important for data infrastructure as Microsoft was for PCs, or Oracle was for databases, or Google was for search."

Apart from any confirmatory events in 2014 - when I think about to what might happen in the next few years - the overwhelming importance of SSD-centric software seems like a no brainer.

I think we will see not only new predictable generations of SSD software coming to market (which will be designed to work with currently known computer architecture models) but also entirely new data architectures and ecosystems whose very existence has been predicated on the assumption of a widely deployed SSD enhanced base infrastucture.

other key SSD ideas in 2014?

top SSD companies...

In the notes above I've focused on significant market wide SSD trends rather than significant SSD companies.

There are many significant SSD companies who have done noteworthy things in 2014 or who have had noteworthy things done to them.

For a summary of 2014 (so far) as seen from an SSD company list perspective - then as usual - the best place to look is the Top SSD Companies Series. In particular:-

In October 2011 - Viking shipped the industry's 1st flash backed hybrid DRAM DIMMs. The DDR3 ArxCis-NV plugged into standard RAM sockets and provided from 2GB to 8GB RAM which was backed up to SLC flash in the event of a power failure - while the memory power was held up by an external 25F supercap pack. Viking said these new memory modules eliminated the need for battery backup units in servers and the maintenance logistics associated with maintaining them.
SSD market history
SSD dolphins, tigers and wolverines etc
animal brands in the SSD market
Hmm... it looks like you're seriously interested in SSDs. So please bookmark this page and come back again soon.
About the publisher - 22 years guiding the enterprise market
It may seem like a huge leap from a 4U $290K rackmount SSD to hybrid DIMMs - but good ideas in SSD architecture have often made that kind of transition and shrink from rack system to component.
flash backed DIMMs
new article October 21, 2014
"No matter how you mix the DNA from 2 dinosaurs - the result is unlikely to be a mammal."
SSD news - October 20, 2014
SSD ad - click for more info
It's easy to see where you've gone wrong in estimating the amount of flash required to replace enterprise HDDs. The same mistake Seagate and others have made when they analyzed the enterprise SSD market from a hard drive perspective.
meet Ken - and the enterprise SSD software event horizon
SSD ad - click for more info
"The winners in SSD software could be as important for data infrastructure as Microsoft was for PCs, or Oracle was for databases, or Google was for search."
all enterprise data will touch an SSD
Many factors at play in enterprise SSD market behavior still don't appear as explicit assumptions in SSD product marketing plans.

There hasn't been a stable market template for vendors to follow from one seemingly chaotic year to the next as they encroach on new markets.
Decloaking hidden segments in the enterprise

"The user mood is changing from - can I afford to use SSDs? to a realization that - I can't afford not to."
where does all the money go?

2014 has been the start of a new phase of creativity in the enterprise SSD market on the subject of pricing and affordability
Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing

How adaptive is the SSD behavior to changes within itself?

All SSDs rely on processing data about the quality of the memory as part of their normal data integrity operations.

They wouldn't work without it.

But some companies have SSD IP sets in which knowledge about different parts of the SSD can be optimized and fed back to control and enhance SSD functionality over and beyond the standard accepted SSD function block boundaries.

The degree to which this passing of the intelligence - (regarding the state of past and future anticipated data flows, priorities of the application and the flash array's own readiness and health condition) - can impact behavior in other parts of the SSD - is what I call adaptive intelligence flow symmetry.
11 Key Symmetries in SSD design

the difference between "good enough" and the "best" endurance architecture schemes can still be 2x, 3x or 100x - even when using the same memory.
SSD endurance - the forever war - now in 3D
"...Application-unaware design of memory controllers, and in particular memory scheduling algorithms, leads to uncontrolled interference of applications in the memory system" - said Onur Mutlu, Assistant Professor Electrical and Computer Engineering - Carnegie Mellon University.
Are you ready to rethink RAM?

The new economics of SSD storage took the CPU designers and OS software developers by surprise.

Instead of weaving in SSD support into computer architecture over a 10 year period - based on an incremental technology roadmap - the SSD market has gate-crashed the server party - and the SSD roadmaps are changing too fast for the old style computer vendors to keep up.
the New Business Case for SSD ASAPs

How do I explain the significance of the SSD market to someone with no technical background?
historic perspectives - on the SSD market

"Bottlenecks in the pure SSD datacenter will be much more serious than in the HDD world - because responding slowly will be equivalent to transaction failure."
will SSDs end my bottlenecks?

Adaptive flash care management & DSP IP in flash SSD controllers and firmware.
What is it? Who does it? and why?

Today - if you're in a big company in a traditional market - and hoping to do something equally big in the SSD market - then $1 billion may not be enough - but $5 billion may be too much.
VCs & SSDs

Why can't SSD's true believers agree on a single shared vision?
the SSD Heresies

"A critical test of whether you really understand the dynamics of a complex market like enterprise SSDs - is whether you can predict what rational buyers might do when offered new product options at the extreme limits of - for example - price."
Boundaries Analysis in SSD Market Forecasting

"A new generation of enterprise SSD rackmounts is breaking all the rules which previously constrained price, performance and reliability."
exciting new directions in rackmount SSDs

Usable versus Raw flash capacity - what you see isn't what you get.
SSD capacity - the iceberg syndrome

SSD ad - click for more info

"...the SSD market will be bigger in revenue than the hard drive market ever was."
How will hard drives fare in an SSD world?

"You'd think... someone should know all the answers by now. "
what do enterprise SSD users want?

DWPD (Diskful Writes Per Day) for 5 years - has become an established part of SSD jargon in the writings of enterprise SSD makers in recent years.
DWPD numbers for industry leading enterprise SSDs

One thing which hasn't changed since the early days of enterprise flash - is the concept of "naughty flash".

This is a new type of brash flash memory which sensible, cautious types point at while waving their fingers sternly and declaiming dire warning - that's never going to be reliable enough for the enterprise!

This has happened many times.
enterprise flash - a 10 year history

Sorry - this isn't a magic formula which resolves neatly into 5 easy bullet points
SSD education

These intriguing questions will be answered much later when the patents are applied for.
my flash controller scheme is 100x better than yours