Tag Archives: Intel

50: Greybeards wrap up Flash Memory Summit with Jim Handy, Director at Objective Analysis

In this episode we talk with Jim Handy (@thessdguy), Director at Objective Analysis,  a semiconductor market research organization. Jim is an old friend and was on last year to discuss Flash Memory Summit (FMS) 2016. Jim, Howard and I all attended FMS 2017 last week  in Santa Clara and Jim and Howard were presenters at the show.

NVMe & NVMeF to the front

Although, unfortunately the show floor was closed due to fire, there were plenty of sessions and talks about NVMe and NVMeF (NVMe over fabric). Howard believes NVMe & NVMeF seems to be being adopted much quicker than anyone had expected. It’s already evident inside storage systems like Pure’s new FlashArray//X, Kamanario and E8 storage, which is already shipping block storage with NVMe and NVMeF.

Last year PCIe expanders and switches seemed like the wave of the future but ever since then, NVMe and NVMeF has taken off. Historically, there’s been a reluctance to add capacity shelves to storage systems because of the complexity of (FC and SAS) cable connections. But with NVMeF, RoCE and RDMA, it’s now just an (40GbE or 100GbE) Ethernet connection away, considerably easier and less error prone.

3D NAND take off

Both Samsung and Micron are talking up their 64 layer 3D NAND and the rest of the industry following. The NAND shortage has led to fewer price reductions, but eventually when process yields turn up, the shortage will collapse and pricing reductions should return en masse.

The reason that vertical, 3D is taking over from planar (2D) NAND is that planar NAND can’t’ be sharing much more and 15nm is going to be the place it stays at for a long time to come. So the only way to increase capacity/chip and reduce $/Gb, is up.

But as with any new process technology, 3D NAND is having yield problems. But whenever the last yield issue is solved, which seems close,  we should see pricing drop precipitously and much more plentiful (3D) NAND storage.

One thing that has made increasing 3D NAND capacity that much easier is string stacking. Jim describes string stacking as creating a unit, of say 32 layers, which you can fabricate as one piece  and then layer ontop of this an insulating layer. Now you can start again, stacking another 32 layer block ontop and just add another insulating layer.

The problem with more than 32-48 layers is that you have to (dig) create  holes (connecting) between all the layers which have to be (atomically) very straight and coated with special materials. Anyone who has dug a hole knows that the deeper you go, the harder it is to make the hole walls straight. With current technology, 32 layers seem just about as far as they can go.

3DX and similar technologies

There’s been quite a lot of talk the last couple of years about 3D XPoint (3DX) and what it  means for the storage and server industry. Intel has released Octane client SSDs but there’s no enterprise class 3DX SSDs as of yet.

The problem is similar to 3D NAND above, current yields suck.  There’s a chicken and egg problem with any new chip technologies. You need volumes to get the yield up and you need yields up to generate the volumes you need. And volumes with good yields generate profits to re-invest in the cycle for next technology.

Intel can afford to subsidize (lose money) 3DX technology until they get the yields up, knowing full well that when they do, it will become highly profitable.

The key is to price the new technology somewhere between levels in the storage hierarchy, for 3DX that means between NAND and DRAM. This does mean that 3DX will be more of between memory and SSD tier than a replacement for for either DRAM or SSDs.

The recent emergence of NVDIMMs have provided the industry a platform (based on NAND and DRAM) where they can create the software and other OS changes needed to support this mid tier as a memory level. So that when 3DX comes along as a new memory tier they will be ready

NAND shortages, industry globalization & game theory

Jim has an interesting take on how and when the NAND shortage will collapse.

It’s a cyclical problem seen before in DRAM and it’s a question of investment. When there’s an oversupply of a chip technology (like NAND), suppliers cut investments or rather don’t grow investments as fast as they were. Ultimately this leads to a shortage and which then leads to  over investment to catch up with demand.  When this starts to produce chips the capacity bottleneck will collapse and prices will come down hard.

Jim believes that as 3D NAND suppliers start driving yields up and $/Gb down, 2D NAND fabs will turn to DRAM or other electronic circuitry whichwill lead to a price drop there as well.

Jim mentioned game theory is the way the Fab industry has globalized over time. As emerging countries build fabs, they must seek partners to provide the technology to produce product. They offer these companies guaranteed supplies of low priced product for years to help get the fabs online. Once, this period is over the fabs never return to home base.

This approach has led to Japan taking over DRAM & other chip production, then Korea, then Taiwan and now China. It will move again. I suppose this is one reason IBM got out of the chip fab business.

The podcast runs ~49 minutes but Jim is a very knowledgeable, chip industry expert and a great friend from multiple  events. Howard and I had fun talking with him again. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Jim Handy, Director at Objective Analysis

Jim Handy of Objective Analysis has over 35 years in the electronics industry including 20 years as a leading semiconductor and SSD industry analyst. Early in his career he held marketing and design positions at leading semiconductor suppliers including Intel, National Semiconductor, and Infineon.

A frequent presenter at trade shows, Mr. Handy is known for his technical depth, accurate forecasts, widespread industry presence and volume of publication. He has written hundreds of market reports, articles for trade journals, and white papers, and is frequently interviewed and quoted in the electronics trade press and other media.  He posts blogs at www.TheMemoryGuy.com, and www.TheSSDguy.com

GreyBeards on Storage year end 2015 podcast

In our annual yearend podcast and it’s the Ray and Howard show, talking about storage futures, industry trends and some storage world excitement of- the past year.

We start the discussion deconstructing recent reductions in year over year revenues at major storage vendors. It seems with the advent of all flash arrays (AFA), and all major vendors and most startups now have AFAs, customers no longer feel the need to refresh old storage hardware with similarly (over-)configured new systems. Instead, most can get by with AFA storage, at smaller capacities that provides the same, if not better, performance. Further9, the fact that AFAs are available from so many vendors and startups, customers no longer have to buy performance storage exclusively from major vendors anymore. This is leading to a decline in major vendor storage revenues, which should play itself out over the next 1-2 years as most enterprise storage systems are refreshed.

Recent and future acquisitions also came up for discussion. NetApp’s purchase of SolidFire was a surprise, but SolidFire had carved out a good business with service providers and web-scale customers which should broaden NetApp’s portfolio. In the mean time, the Dell-EMC acquisition takes them out of the competition for new technology acquisitions, at least until it closes. NetApp’s new CEO, George Kurian, appears more willing than his predecessor to go after good storage technology, wherever it comes from.

Software delivered (defined) storage came up as well. With the compute available in todays micro-processors, there’s very little a software delivered storage system can’t do. And with scale-out storage, there’s even more cores to work with. Software delivered storage and scale-out will continue to play a spoiler role, at least in the low to mid-range, in the storage market throughout the next year.

Nonetheless, hardware still has some excitement left. Intel’s recent acquisition of Altera, now makes Xeon/x86 processing available for embedded applications that previously had to rely on ARM and MIPS processing. Now, there’s nothing an FPGA hardware based system can’t do. Look for lot’s more activity here over the long term.

We talked about recent SMR disks coming out and how they could be used in storage systems today.  There was some adjacent discussion on the flash-disk crossover, and conclude it’s unlikely over the next 3-5 years, at least for capacity drives. Although there’s plenty of analyst that say it’s already happened, on a pure $/GB there’s still no comparison.

We then turned to  3D TLC NAND and the  reliability capabilities available from current controlller technologies. Raw planar NAND available today is much less reliable than what we had 1-2 generations back, but the drives, if anything, have gotten more reliable. This is due to the reliability technology inherent in todays SSD controllers.

We had an aside, on SSD overprovisioning and how this should become a customer level option.  Reducing overprovisioning would decrease drive endurance but it’s a tradeoff that the vendors/distributors make for customers today. We feel that at least for some customers, they could make this decision just as well. Especially if drive replacements were a customer maintenance activity with replacement SSDs shipped in a just-in-time manner.

We conclude on 3D XPoint (3DX) non-volatile memory. We both agreed 3DX adoption depends on pricing which will change over time. In the long term, we see the potential for a new storage system with 3DX or other new non-volatile memory as a top performing storage/caching/non-volatile memory tier, 3D TLC NAND as a middle tier and SMR disk as the bottom tier. When is another question.

Our year end discussion always wanders a bit, from high end business trends to in the weeds technologies and everything in-between. This one is no exception and runs over 49 minutes. We tried to do another Year End video this time but neither of our video recording systems worked out, but we had a good audio recording, so we went with the podcast this year. Next year should be back to video.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Howard Marks

Howard Marks is the Founder and Chief Scientist of howardmarksDeepStorage, a prominent blogger at Deep Storage Blog and can be found on twitter @DeepStorageNet.


Ray Lucchesi

Ray Lucchesi is the President and Founder of Silverton Consulting, a prominent blogger at RayOnStorage.com, and can be found on twitter @RayLucchesi.