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Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com
some random SSD thoughts about EMC

re all those frequent flash systems "startups" who regularly and proudly (still) compare the superiority of their products to EMC

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - January 28, 2015

Unlike some others I have written - this SSD blog does have some simple conclusions. So if you just want to skip ahead - don't mind me.

why an SSD blog about EMC?

What got me thinking about the need to write this blog was thinking back to a bunch of conversations I had with readers in December - on the subject of those many small flash array vendors whose marketing communications energies seem to be inappropriately overinvested in theme songs and musicals which compare their star products with those of EMC.

When I say "small flash array vendor" you say "flash startup."

(OK maybe we'll dispense with tomatoes and potatoes.)

But I think it would be inaccurate for me to call these companies which I'm talking about "startups" - because some of them have been selling flash for 3 to 7 years - while others - though new to flash - have been around a while - but are still small - and would have faded away entirely by now if they hadn't caught hold of the flash market lifeline.

So I started trawling through my old emails to remind myself about how some of these "EMC comparison" themed conversations had got started.

But then I realized the distractional risk of overshooting.

Scrolling down too far through tens of thousands of saved interesting conversations - I'd wind up back into the days when it was EMC which was the new small storage company - which was trying to expand its business in the server market in the early 1990s. Is it a good thing I can still read these Netscape era emails? In some ways it's a curse from a distraction point of view - because my pre-email electronic conversations about storage scroll right back to the Flintstones era of small RAID companies - whose products were shipping before anyone had even heard of DG's Clariion. (Whatever happened to them - I wonder?).

When I retire (more likely get retired) I might go back down that trail and do some doodling around in among the old electronic dialogs. (Note - doodling - not Googling - because I might not want to share these reminiscences) - but from a columnistic urgency point of view mañana is definitely better for this kind of activity.

Let's start here.

It was May 2008

(I didn't have to worry about blizzards.)

It seems like a long time ago - but in those days StorageSearch.com had already been covering the enterprise SSD market for nearly a decade.

And I was heartily weary of SSD companies sending me news stories which began with comparing the IOPS of their newest products with ancient hard drive arrays.

So I wrote a warning article in which I complained about the unreality behind these claims. In effect I said...
  • I'm not going to inflict these stupid SSD vs HDD IOPS stories on my readers.
  • And... If you must compare your new SSD to something - compare it to another SSD. (Preferably a new one).

    Or better still... Just tell us what it does (and the price) and we'll figure out what's good about it.
As you may have observed - not many SSD vendors did what I suggested.

So I was left in the situation where - for the sake of your sanity and mine - I had to sift very carefully to find anything of any real significance in much of the nonsensical outpourings emanating from enterprise flash systems marketers - who still believed that you would be amazed to learn that a new SSD system can be faster than a 1990s vintage architecture hard drive array.

Look Mom - it's Superman flying there in the sky!

Yes Dear. Don't stare. Do you think he should be driving or walking? At his age!

the EMC comparisons

First let me say - I'm not an apologist for EMC or their flash systems.

When EMC launched its first flash SSD system - in January 2008 - I was frankly unimpressed by its poverty of ambition.

Most of you were too - which is why EMC never made it into the Top SSD Companies List in those days.

Nevertheless - despite that initial false start and despite having also rehjected - at about the same time - the invitation to be an early participant in the PCIe SSD market by the (then) start up Fusion-io - it became clear in the years which followed that there were many good strategic reasons why EMC (and everyone else) had to keep trying to get better in flash as this market became more pervasive.

And EMC has done a lot...

Slowly and steadily picking up steam - at what I have often characterized as a reactive pace - for the ensuing 6 years or so after that launch.

Although to be fair - EMC wasn't alone in that respect. As they and their traditional (real) competitors were also racing (it must have seemed to them - although it seemed like a snail's pace to those of us watching ) to assemble a new 1,000 piece unified flash server storage jigsaw from several different assorted sets which had got somehow scrambled together - and all done in the public gaze without the benefit of a universally reference diagram to give a hint as to what the end picture should look like.

But the point about this blog is not EMC - but in the small SSD vendors who still misdirect most of their marketing communciations energies into making false and misleading comparisons between themselves and EMC.

I could name names for each of these examples - but I'm not going to - because there are so many - and to simply pick on any single vendor would be invidious. No doubt you can attach a name of your own choosing to each one.

the anti-EMC powerpoints

We've all seen them. Powerpoints, videos and pdfs in which small rackmount SSD and hybrid appliance companies proudly compare their systems with the size, price and power consumption of some old relic from the EMC back catalog.

The clear message is:- ours is better than EMC's when you look at the bullet points.

The implied message is:- our product compares better than EMC so we have what it takes to be a big company too.

There are so many flaws in this kind of argument it's difficult to know where to begin.

The most frequent flaw being this.

EMC isn't the real competitor - because the EMC customer will generally find it easier to incrementally buy more EMC - or (if they are thinking about swtitching suppliers) from someone else who can migrate all their data and apps from the current environment over to the new one.

The product is not the same as the customer experience.

And offering a single new box in a powerpoint which purports to better than a collection of some other boxes - is not the same as a "solution" - unless the customer only needs one box.

Small flash systems vendor - might counter this by saying - but what if it's a new application?

My new box still looks better in the price comparison to the old EMC box(es) - so the argument is still valid.

To which I say - let's go back to the rebuttal I wrote about in 2008.

Your genuine competition for this new application (if indeed it is a genuine new application in which the customer is open to considering competitive options ) is the best of the other new "start up" systems - and not the old EMC product. Because the market is much bigger than EMC - and the probability is that the customer wouldn't even have EMC on their list for this application anyway.

In one notorious case of video and powerpoint fluffery I saw last year - the small vendor littered every slide of their presentation with different examples of "big name" storage competitors they thought they could beat in different markets and applications.

So I said this to one of the big investors...

"For every competitor named in their competitive comparisons... Do they have a customer success story and a set of customer win strategies (for that competitor brand) which they can give to sales people and to potential customers who have those systems? If not then they dont know the elementary aspects of business development and sales planning and they might as well put random data in their presentations for all the good it will do."

the scale of EMC type comparisons

In December 2014 - I was having a conversation with a marketer at a semiconductor company - which (like all the others) sells a lot of flash into the enterprise market.

The topic of EMC came up when I said I wasn't greatly impressed by another one of these "new SSD is better than old style rotating storage" case study stories which appeared as a presentation in the context of a soothsayer (market research) conference - in which the chip maker's technology had been featured.

He was really asking me - did I really understand the economics of the improvements shown in the paper? - and he also asked me (perhaps wondering why I said I wouldn't write about it)

He asked me - Is EMC that all-powerful?

Here's what I said to that... (Cut and paste from my email.)

The economics and transaction improvements are nothing new for me. Ive been hearing similar stories since before EMC acquired the clariion product line.

The reasons that EMC grew in the 1990s had more to do with competitors in the past having worse products or not caring about the storage they sold with their servers.

Since the late 1990s the only SSD company which consistently competed in the enterprise space was a single company which had a very limited product which is now part of IBM.

Most of the flash array vendors in the market today who should be taking more business from traditional storage vendors are failing to do better because their marketing and channel strategies are naiive and disjointed.

I was talking to an end user this week whose organization has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on EMC storage.

Theyd love to decouple themselves and benefit from modern lower cost flash. But the flash marketers arent doing those kinds of conversations.

For many of them a single customer like that is bigger than their whole business plan.

conclusions?

Once upon a time it was useful for so called "startup" enterprise SSD companies to make detailed product feature comparisons with pre-existing EMC systems which those who mattered knew.

What do we learn when such comparisons are made today?

Good technology can suffer from bad marketing.

To my mind it's insulting to many enterprise users - who can recognize a bad justification when they see it - even if they may not be able to pinpoint why such sloppily constructed pseudo comparisons don't feel genuine.

For investors in such startups - consider this.

When your flash enterprise vendor spends so much energy talking about competitive comparisons in a market segment - which is so restricted (EMC base) and about theoretical opportunities which aren't real and which can never scale upwards (because the big customers have spent more on EMC than your pet AFA company received in its last funding round) - then they're wasting their share of voice in the market. And that means they're talking less to the people who matter.

There's plenty of future business out there for enterprise flash companies and users whose needs aren't being met by anyone.


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SDS (software defined storage) is a good example of an illusory market idea for comfortably bringing technologies together which due to its many incompatible incarnations which will probably rip many business plans apart.
what kind of SSD world can we expect in 2015?
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Hmm... it looks like you're seriously interested in SSDs. So please bookmark this page and come back again soon.
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Western Digital invests in Skyera's MRAM supplier
SSD news - January 26, 2015
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The simple idea - that one new SSD thing can replace one old SSD thing - is rarely as simple as the advocates of the new thing say.
PCIe versus memory channel in SSDs

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SSD ad - click for more info

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"95% of the data corruption found in SSDs seen by this data recovery company were found to be due to the endurance mechanism."
statistical indicators re SSD data recovery market in 2014

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how fast can your SSD run backwards?
11 Key Symmetries in SSD design


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SSD ad - click for more info


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what's the state of DWPD?
endurance in industry leading enterprise SSDs


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I don't see how SSDs can replace enterprise HDDs in the timescale you've talked about in some of your articles. Where's all the flash going to come from?
meet Ken - and the enterprise SSD software event horizon


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"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


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It may seem like a huge leap from a 4U rackmount RAM SSD (with internal flash backup and load) to hybrid DIMM (modules) but good ideas in SSD architecture have often made that kind of transition.
flash backed DIMMs / NVDIMMs


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$1 billion may not be enough
but $5 billion may be too much.
VCs & SSDs


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Lowering the risk of getting the enterprise flash use case analysis wrong. Innovation comes to selling SSDs.
Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing


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"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?


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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


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"...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, Carnegie Mellon University.
Are you ready to rethink RAM?


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

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Typically enterprise data is "trapped" in silos - which relate to the applications or the brands of storage system the data was born in.

Although it's theoretically possible to extricate this data for other purposes or to migrate it to storage which has different characteristics - the processes for doing this are risky and time consuming - due to interpendencies between applications and the metadata.

As a result - data is less flexible and business opportunities for data reuse are restricted by the migration costs.
conversations with Primary Data


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


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"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



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"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



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usable versus raw flash capacity
what you see isn't what you get.
the iceberg syndrome



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



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


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"responding too slowly
is equivalent to transaction failure."
will SSDs end my bottlenecks?


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


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


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Why are so many enterprise users orphaned in vendors' enterprise flash array business plans?
Decloaking hidden segments in enterprise SSD


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"Don't place too much faith in what SSD companies tell you about the present or the future of the SSD market."
Survivor's Guide to Enterprise SSDs

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