Friday, November 17, 2017

Optane DIMMS: What will we learn in next 6 months?

This past week Intel announced more Optane SSDs for Client and Enterprise. These are nice products, faster than NAND based products in most metrics, and available at 2-3x the prices of NAND based products. But these products are not the highest and best use of 3D Xoint. And Samsung has announced competing products.

In a separate announcement, Navin Shenoy stated that Optane DIMMs will be available in servers in 2H 2018 and that the market could be $8B for Optane DIMMS in 2021. This is far higher than all other Optane or 3D Xpoint applications combined. Optane is meant for DIMMS.

Over the next few months, we will investigate and learn a few things that will confirm or reject that $8B opportunity that Intel announced.

  • What is in a Optane DIMM? How much DRAM is onboard? That will determine the cost.
  • How fast will an Optane DIMM be? People say it works at DDR4 speed. Is the speed really the same speed as DDR4 Server DIMMs?
  • What will the price be? Some companies will want to max out server memory and Optane DIMMs will have high capacity. But most companies will make trade off decisions on price vs performance. Initial comment from Intel was "half the price". As long as its the same speed as server DRAM DIMMs that will be game changing. If its slower .... hmmm.
  • What is the optimal DRAM DIMM to Optane DIMM ratio in a server configuration? 1:1? 2:1? 1:2? 1:12?
  • How many applications will have been optimized for persistent memory by end of 2018? All of the above comments basically ignore the "persistence" aspect. NVDIMMs have been around for a while and only 1-2% of servers are using them. Will Optane change this? 

Fortunately, we will have answers to all these questions before modules are available in 2H 2018. I am sure Intel will share all the details and specifics! Wait .... what??? OK... you will have to get the details from us instead.

Mark Webb

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Where Do Optane DIMMS Fit In?

An over-simplified look at Storage/Memory options for Servers. 

When you need more memory, NVM, and are willing to sacrifice some speed, Optane DIMMS make sense. They should be available early in 2018?

  • DRAM DIMM alone is fastest and has lots of suppliers
  • NVDIMM-N is available at high cost if NVM is needed
  • Optane DIMMS allow more Random access memory at lower cost. its NVM. It is slower than DRAM.
  • SSDs are improvement on HDD. Optane SSDS are fastest (latency) SSDs available
  • Optane DIMMS take off in volume if the cost is significantly lower than DRAM DIMMS.

Fast enough for most
Optane SSD
Fastest SSD Around
Optane DIMM                 
Assume minimal DRAM
DRAM only
Fastest, but not  NVM

HDDs are dead? On life support? Or enjoying mature lifestyle?

I saw more articles this week on death of HDD. Or that they will be dead in a couple years. If we want to use aging analysis, they are mid 50s, past midlife, not getting any younger but still active, healthy, and planning on watching their grandchildren grow for a couple decades.

Recent data:
  • HDD units outship SSDs more than 2:1
  • HDD Bits outship SSDs 10:1
  • HDD increase in bits shipped was larger than SSD increase in bits.
  • HDD units are dropping and EBs shipped are increasing at modest rates.

What is happening:
  • SSDs are increasing penetration in PCs at a modest rate. Hovering around 50% by end of year
  • Performance enterprise HDDs are being replaced by SSDs. But 10K and 15K HDDs still are close in sales to Enterprise SSDs. Even though there is no technical reason for this.
  • Nearline HDDs are growing in capacity shipped. SSDs are a small cache (<2% of capacity)
  • Slow capacity storage is 99% HDD or Optical or Tape

  • SSDs still cost 7-10X more than HDDs per Bit. It turns out we are storing bits? Who knew?
  • HDD ASP decreased in last year, SSD ASP increased. That was not supposed to happen.
  • Nearline and enterprise capacity needs are driving large increase in HDD capacities.

  • SSD ASP per bit being lower than HDD is almost a fantasy now. 2025 for being “close/ 2x”
  • SSD penetration into PCs will grow from ~50% to ~70% over the next 6 years
  • SSD will continue to grow at steady, no tipping point, rate. SSDs will account for 25% of bits shipped by 2022… or 2024 …. Or 2026 … let’s just say a long time
Mark Webb

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

3D Xpoint Optane for Enterprise and Consumer

Optane 3D Xpoint for Enterprise and Consumer

Intel announced more updates on status of their Optane products. I wanted to say launched but then I realized that actually no product is yet available to the public... soon it will be I hope.

1) Enterprise P4800x SSD: Its arguably the fastest SSD in the world depending on which metric you choose. Intel's focus is on low latency... which is important since transactions involving a queue depth of  32 are quite rare. Its also expensive and only shipping in one density and limited quantities to limited customers. It also supports a virtual memory activity where it looks like memory to the server. Still waiting on third party benchmarks but at this point it is fast and shipping somewhere for revenue.

On the downside, the internet is exploding with "it was supposed to be 1000x faster with 1000x endurance!!!!" and "I waiting 18 month for this?!!!!" .

OK its 8-10x faster and the cells last 2-3x as long as NAND. Its still a great drive for certain Enterprise Applications.

2) Intel Optane memory: This was announced to press at same time... but embargoed for a few more days. 16/32GB cache device announced also at CES.

As I mentioned when this came out earlier at CES... caching is a great idea. 95% of the performance at much lower cost... when it works. Intel showed data that when combined with a HDD is improved boot and program loading performance. There is some concern that these metrics were cherry picked but we will see when third party benchmarks comes out (THG???? Anandtech???)

The price was good $44-$77, it makes a difference in performance, and Intel is hyping the heck out of it. If PC OEMS push it... it could be a big deal. I am not sure what percentage of chipsets accept it today, but I will try it out ASAP when it comes out (See... Intel even tricked me into buying a Kaby Lake PC with 200 Chipset!).

It it better than more DRAM? or a 256GB SSD? who knows for now.

This just in... Optane, as a NVMe SSD/Cache is not 1000x faster and is not going to change the world like the steam engine, the internet, or the cell phone (SORRY) ... but it appears to be a option for fast performance in some applications ... if you can buy it somewhere.

More to come when it actually appears!

Mark Webb

Monday, March 13, 2017

Top 5 Things to Know About SSD Manufacturing

Top 5 Things to Know About SSD Manufacturing

SSDs are among the fastest growing technology areas in electronics. Growth of 40-80% per year in units has been typical since 2006. Questions about "when will they completely replace HDDs" are common for technical and business people alike.

As with most technology areas, Manufacturing is a huge factor in business success. Some topics in SSD Manufacturing:

1) Most SSD OEMS outsource some or all of their SSD manufacturing. Outsourcing to contract manufacturers is prevalent in the electronics industry. SSDs are no different. Flexible capacity, ability to achieve low costs through volume, minimal capital spending, time to market are all great reasons to outsource SSD manufacturing. EMS/ODM providers include top systems and memory module companies.

2) Many SSD OEMs utilize 3rd part controllers and designs. Controller companies like Silicon Motion, Phison, Marvell, Maxiotek and the former Sandforce can provide controllers and reference designs. While most companies strive to develop internal controllers, 3rd party controllers and designs are widespread in consumer and client SSDs. These controller companies work with NAND vendors to develop advanced error correction and features and may outperform internal controllers made by NAND manufacturers. They definitely have the development and time to market expertise.

3) Consumer and Client SSDs are under tremendous price pressure. A simple look at NAND ASPs compared to Client SSD ASPs will show that SSDs are under margin pressure. There is not much, if any, margin added by the non-NAND portion. How do we deal with this reality? Outsource to minimize engineering and manufacturing cost. It is difficult to spend millions on engineering in a segment with minimal margin uplift.

4) Form factors are changing and difficult to predict. All form factors generally move to smaller solutions ... but predicting exactly when is difficult. Most companies balance the future form factor (M.2/BGA) volumes with the conservative old form factor (2.5"). Outsource companies can provide all form factors and even design custom ones with minimal engineering cost.

5)  The above comments apply well to Intel, Sandisk, WD, Micron, Toshiba, Lite-on, Kingston, etc. Two companies are obviously different. Samsung has large enough scale and engineering resource to support controllers, internal manufacturing on a wide variety of designs. As long as they can execute and not run out of resources as form factors and interfaces change, that is great. Second, Apple is famous for custom interfaces and form factors and these pop in Macbook teardowns. They always look for internal processor support to meet needs. The strategy for custom engineering and the high margins on their products allow this.

For more specifics and numbers on SSD manufacturing and what strategy is best, contact us today

Mark Webb
MKW Ventures Consulting LLC.
SSD Manufacturing