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Solid State Arrays and Gartners Magic Quadrant

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The progress to Solid State Array Storage in Data Centres

Solid state arrays provide performance levels not experienced for many years with faster performance than disk-based storage arrays at competitive prices per Gigabyte, enabled by in-line data reduction and lower-cost NAND SSD.

Solid-state storage, which today mostly means flash memory, has made a totally dynamic game changer in certain applications. It will dramatically accelerate specific applications, particularly relevant in financial services, accelerating processes enabling the making of vast fortunes.

 

Jay Prassl, of Solidfire  said “Even in large companies, flash is mainly used for accelerating specific applications and point solutions, rather than a grand end-to-end data center adoption,” Jay works at SolidFire, a developer of solid-state arrays (SSAs). He says that the real change will come when solid-state storage is there for every data center application that can make use of it.

Gartner believes that by 2019, 20% of traditional high-end storage arrays will be replaced by dedicated solid-state arrays (SSAs).

By 2017, the SSA market is expected to grow approximately five times in revenue, compared with 2014.

By 2017, the total number of vendors and products will increase by 50%, but 20% of the current vendors will exit the market.

 

Solid State Drive Storage

How do SSDs wear out, and how does this make them less reliable than hard disk drives?

SSDs have no moving components, this distinguishes them from traditional electromechanical magnetic disks such as hard disk drives (HDDs) or floppy disks, which contain spinning disks and a movable read/write head. This means that compared with electromechanical disks, SSDs are more resistant to physical shock, run quicker and run quietly  or even silently. However, while the price of SSDs has continued to decrease over the years the question of the life span of Data centre arrays is still an unknown quantity.

Most SSDs use NAND-based flash memory, which retains data without power, when we talk about the life span of SSD, this refers to the NAND flash substrate which can sustain a finite number of erase cycles before it becomes unusable. The process of writing and erasing data involves hitting the flash cell with a relatively large charge of electrical energy, this causes the semiconductor layer on the chip itself to degrade a minute amount which, over time, can increase byt-error rates. Dependant on the vendor these errors are corrected by use of software, but eventually the error correction code routines in the flash controller can't keep up with these errors and the flash cell becomes unreliable.

Hybrid drives or solid-state hybrid drives (SSHDs) combine the best features of both SSDs and HDDs in the same unit, typically a large hard disk drive and an SSD cache to improve performance of frequently accessed data.

Magic Quadrant

 

 Magic Quadrant for Solid-State Arrays

Source: Gartner

 

Vendor Strengths and Cautions

Cisco

Cisco entered the SSA market through the acquisition of Whiptail in 2013. Whiptail had launched its product family in 2012. Cisco has incorporated the product family and re-engineered into the Cisco UCS Invicta Series. The portfolio consists of the UCS Invicta appliance and UCS Invicta Scaling System products. The UCS Invicta is a 2U array, while the scaling system can scale up to six nodes. Through the acquisition of Whiptail, Cisco is aiming to deliver a tightly coupled, high-performance flash-memory-based technology to complement UCS fabric-based infrastructure. Whiptail customers will continue to be supported by Cisco. However, the new product is undergoing a significant refresh that standardizes on Cisco hardware designs and administration software to better integrate with UCS compute and management tools.

As of late 2014 Cisco currently has a relatively small professional services and support team dedicated to SSAs, with a limited presence outside the U.S.

EMC

EMC has two SSD-based products in the SSA market:

The XtremIO scale-out technology, which EMC acquired in May 2012 and the VNX-F array, which is based on the traditional general-purpose VNX unified storage array and exploits the proven VNX HDD-based hardware controllers and software. Both offerings are positioned and sold as dedicated SSAs.

EMC has a large and relatively loyal installed base for the XtremIO products, with a significant and broad, but overlapping, SSD product portfolio. The portfolio will be enhanced by EMC's acquisition of DSSD and its technology, which will initially be positioned as an extreme performance networked appliance. EMC has been a vocal visionary concerning SSD for more than a decade, but its market-leading messaging has outpaced some of its product introductions. Compared with competitor SSAs, the XtremIO product was late to market and became generally available only in November 2013. With a concrete offering, XtremIO, together with VNX-F, has enabled EMC to grab the No. 4 market share position in the SSA segment for 2013. EMC has gained traction for the XtremIO product, and has continued its momentum through 1H14 via concerted sales efforts and competitive pricing.

HP

HP is one of the late entrants into the SSA market, with availability of its HP 3PAR StoreServ 7450 model in June 2013. While HP is relatively new to the SSA market with its own product, it had an OEM partnership with Violin Memory, which ended in late 2011, in favor of HP's organic approach. The 3PAR storage architecture is sufficiently flexible to exploit SSD media, complete with purpose-built SSA features. Compared with EMC and IBM, HP has not aggressively marketed, sold and generally mined its installed base. HP has almost entirely leveraged its 3PAR hardware architecture and management platform, but has made some important enhancements centered on efficiently maximizing the resident SSD technology. This affords HP a cost-effective approach, as well as robust reliability that can be supported with solid warranty terms, including a five-year SSD warranty and six 9s (99.9999%) of availability guarantees for four-node deployments.

Huawei

Huawei was an early entrant in the SSA market, with the launch of OceanStor Dorado in mid-2011, when it was a joint venture with Symantec. Since then, Huawei has acquired Symantec's stake, announced successive generations, maintained the investment and expanded the product line. Huawei has an aggressive sales approach, offering steep discounts off the list price for qualified enterprise customers. Its maintenance and support pricing (as a percentage of capital expenditure [capex]) tends to be lower than many competitors' pricing and is backed by a large postsales support team concentrated in Asia/Pacific. To further improve the transparency and competitiveness of its SSA products, Huawei has been aggressive in submitting performance details to public performance benchmarks (such as the Storage Performance Council SPC-1).

Huawei has committed significant R&D dedicated to SSAs, which has resulted in the design and development of its application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC)-based SSD controllers, SSDs and software capabilities.

IBM

IBM acquired Texas Memory Systems (TMS) in September 2012, and subsequently announced in April 2013 that it would invest $1 billion into all aspects of flash (SSD) storage technology. IBM has leveraged its storage technology, specifically Storwize compression software and the IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC) layer, which has been placed on top of the FlashSystem array to provide high-level data services. TMS had a successful track record of producing low-latency storage using DRAM for over 30 years, and using flash-based storage for nearly 10 years. The IBM-engineered FlashSystem products are available as a stand-alone storage enclosure — the FlashSystem 840 — which has limited software features. IBM will be updating its storage line-up with two new all-flash arrays - FlashSystem 900 and FlashSystem V9000. The first is a simple, affordable infrastructure building block, while the second ships with additional storage virtualization features that make it perfect for scale-out deployments.

FlashSystem V9000 is the new IBM flagship that offers real-time compression, dynamic tiering and disaster-recovery tools including snapshots, clones and replication, all straight out of the box. With FlashSystem 900, any additional storage virtualization features will have to be provided by third-party software.

Instead of traditional SSDs, the new arrays sport purpose-engineered ‘MicroLatency modules’ in capacities ranging from 1.2TB to 5.7TB. The FlashSystem 900 can fit up to 12 of these – that’s almost 58TB of flash in a 2U enclosure – while the FlashSystem V9000 manages to squeeze up to 456TB into a 6U box.

IBM has said it has earmarked another billion dollars for research into software-defined storage over the next five years. The speed at which IBM has been tweaking its flash offering suggests that while the Big Blue might be late to the party but will put their money were their mouths are.

Kaminario

Kaminario was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts, but product development is concentrated in Israel. Kaminario is one of the more resilient SSA vendors, and has been in the market with a shipping product for more than three years. It is on its fifth-generation product. The Kaminario K2 product has undergone several reincarnations of its system features in hardware and, most recently, data management software, as it has migrated from its initial DRAM appliance approach in 2011. Kaminario performs well across many public benchmarks, which is appealing given its ability to scale out and scale up. With only recent successful marketing efforts, many companies are unaware of Kaminario, because it lacks market awareness and mind share compared with the established storage vendors and some of the new startups.

NetApp

NetApp announced the first EF array model in February 2013, and updated it with the EF550 in November 2013, helping continue its product momentum. Compared with smaller SSA startups, NetApp was a late entrant to the SSA market. However, NetApp was able to reuse existing products and technology, as the EF Series is based on the mature E Series hardware and the SANtricity platform acquired from the acquisition of LSI's Engenio business. This has led to an intricately managed positioning and sales challenge between the EF and FAS products. The EF Series is targeted at workloads that need high performance. Unlike the FAS Series, the EF Series is primarily sold through a direct sales force. NetApp's customers and prospects can elect to deploy the EF Series, choose the recently productized All-Flash FAS offerings, or wait for the launch of FlashRay in late 2014. Although FlashRay has been delayed thus far, NetApp claims it will be a dedicated SSA product built from the ground up and optimized for SSD technology.

With the scheduled launch of FlashRay, which has been in development for more than two years, the EF Series needs to compete for product development, marketing and sales dollars within NetApp, which raises questions about the long-term viability of the EF Series product line. The EF Series uses more reliable, but more expensive, enterprise-grade SSD (single-level cell and enterprise multilevel cell ) and, given the lack of any data reduction capabilities, it may not be cost-competitive.

Nimbus Data

Nimbus Data was founded in 2006, and is headquartered in San Francisco, California. The vendor has taken a vertically integrated approach in terms of hardware and software to deliver dense, cost-effective arrays that appeal to a variety of customers and application workloads. Many of the vendor's initial deployments came from a concentrated customer base that included several hyperscale customers. Nimbus Data doubled its revenue in 2013 year over year, but has suffered from high employee churn and skepticism among some companies in the market. It continues to deliver public case studies and references to improve customer perception. Ultimately, it will need to be more transparent about its business operations, and to scale its business to capably meet future customer needs for sales and support across key geographies.

Nimbus Data has an aggressive pricing strategy predicated on advanced SSD memory and density enabled by a vertically integrated hardware approach.

Its offering has broad workload applicability, with multiprotocol support, all-inclusive software pricing and a comprehensive data service feature set appealing to a diverse customer set, ranging from Web scale to conventional data center environments.

Nimbus Data claims to have a profitable business since 2013, and, with no external funding, has been able to navigate its direction without influence from investors.

Pure Storage

Pure Storage was founded in 2009 with a business plan to create a new, dedicated SSA and to grow organically, rather than to achieve quick wins or the largest market share. Pure Storage signed a cross-licensing deal with IBM to protect itself with key storage system intellectual property (IP), and has a go-to-market strategy stimulated by an aggressive channel partner program. Pure Storage has a relatively mature platform — the FA-400 Series — and a proven data reduction implementation. A transparent attitude toward pricing and guaranteed efficiency has achieved significant mind share and attention in the SSA market, promoted via creative, but poignant, marketing campaigns. Similarly, innovative and competitive inclusive software licensing and inclusive controller upgrade programs (offered when customers pay full support and maintenance costs) have proven to be a fresh and welcome approach that challenges and disrupts the established incumbent SSA and general-purpose disk array vendors' license schemes and forklift product replacement cycles.

 

Skyera

The single-controller Skyera skyHawk platform became available in April 2014. Because Skyera is not using existing enterprise SSDs or components and has had challenges delivering products to market on time, it still does not have a standard high-availability dual-controller array. However, the vendor has been a thought leader, challenging the established incumbent disk array hegemony, and is an innovative visionary in the industry, creating a purpose-built system designed from the SSD chip level upward by exploiting the most cost-effective, advanced SSD memory technology. This unique hardware approach enables Skyera to drive down SSA costs to levels that compete with general-purpose disk arrays. Data reduction is in the form of compression, which further improves storage utilization and the usable cost per GB. The next-generation skyEagle system will have more high-availability data center hardware architecture, such as dual-power supplies and controllers. Skyera is a probable acquisition target, even though it has considerable strategic investment, including public investors Dell and Western Digital (WD), among others.

SolidFire

SolidFire is a privately held, venture-capital-funded company that makes scale-out SSAs. SolidFire is an emerging company and with a product that has been in general availability for less than two years. Its SF Series product line became available in November 2012. SolidFire's initial focus was on service providers offering high-performance infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and, while this segment still continues to be a key focus, recent product launches and go-to-market initiatives have widened the focus toward enterprise buyers. SolidFire is highly differentiated from its competitors through its scale-out capabilities, rich software features and ability to guarantee storage performance. Management of the platform is built around the Web-scale principles of automation, quality of service (QoS) and API-based access. The product has close integration with cloud management platforms, such as OpenStack, CloudStack and VMware vCloud suite. Pricing is simple, all-inclusive and appeals to traditional enterprise users.

 

Violin Memory

Violin Memory is a pioneer in the SSA industry, founded in 2005, it has earned revenue since 2010. The vendor's foundation has been through its hardware approach, predicated on SSD-chip-level system expertise founded on aggregating removable Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) dual in-line memory modules (DIMMs). This approach enables Violin Memory to offer a high-performance, resilient system featuring one of the most competitive pricing structures on the market, due to its strong relationship with SSD memory manufacturer Toshiba. However, Violin Memory had financial challenges since its initial public offering (IPO) in September 2013, when its disappointing sales and financial outlook forced the company to take drastic action. A fresh, new management team has been in place since early 2014. It has refocused on its core customers by paring back its sales force and pursuing a channel approach targeted at key geographies. Violin Memory has been trying to exploit software from its acquisition of GridIron Systems in 2013.

 

The Magic Quadrant

Vendors in the Leaders quadrant have the highest scores for their Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision. A vendor in the Leaders quadrant has the market share, credibility, and marketing and sales capabilities needed to drive the acceptance of new technologies. These vendors demonstrate a clear understanding of market needs; they are innovators and thought leaders; and they have well-articulated plans that customers and prospects can use when designing their storage infrastructures and strategies. In addition, they have a presence in the five major geographical regions, consistent financial performance and broad platform support.

Challengers

Vendors in the Challengers quadrant participates in the SSA market and executes well enough to be a serious threat to vendors in the Leaders quadrant. They have strong products, as well as sufficient credible market position and resources to sustain continued growth. Financial viability is not an issue for vendors in the Challengers quadrant, but they lack the size and influence of vendors in the Leaders quadrant.

 

Visionaries

A vendor in the Visionaries quadrant delivers innovative products that address operationally or financially important end-user problems at a broad scale, but has not demonstrated the ability to capture market share or sustainable profitability. Visionary vendors are frequently privately held companies and acquisition targets for larger, established companies. The likelihood of acquisition often reduces the risks associated with installing their systems.

Niche Players

Vendors in the Niche Players quadrant often excel by focusing on specific market or vertical segments that are generally underpenetrated by the larger SSA vendors. This quadrant may also include vendors that are ramping up their SSA efforts, or larger vendors having difficulty in developing and executing upon their vision.

 

Between 2010 and 2012, most customers were interested primarily in high-performance and low-latency SSAs. Given the lack of available data management features, customers tolerated the feature shortcomings in favour of raw performance. As initial storage performance issues were capably addressed, customers wanted to address multiple application workloads that required a rich data management software portfolio consisting not only of storage efficiency and resiliency technologies purpose-built for SSAs, but also the underlying SSD memory technology. During 2013, we witnessed the advent of comprehensive data management software features, such as de-duplication, compression, thin provisioning, snapshots and replication technologies that, when specifically tailored to SSD, can provide compelling benefits, particularly in application workloads that see favorable data reduction ratios. This trend of innovative and comprehensive data management software on the more mature SSA platforms has continued into 2014, and has started to permeate at the application level, which will drive the industry in 2015 and beyond. It is through the synergy of cost-effective hardware and purpose-built software that the industry will see further consolidation in order to reach maturation.

 

Sources Magic Quadrant for Solid-State Arrays 28 August 2014 Gartner Analysts Valdis Filks, Joseph Unsworth, Arun Chandrasekaran