SSD market dynamics

Toshiba's 2.5" SSD (from
Toshiba's 2.5" SSD (from

Had a talk the other week with an storage executive about SSD and NAND cost trends.  It seemed that everyone thought that $/GB for SSD was going to overtake (be less costly) than enterprise class disk sometime in 2013.  But it appeared that NAND costs weren’t coming down as fast as anticipated and now this was going to take longer than expected.

A couple of other things are going on in the enterprise disk market that are also having an effect on the relative advantage of SSDs over disks.  Probably, most concerning to SSD market is enterprise storage’s new penchant for sub-LUN tiering.

Automated sub-LUN storage tiering

The major storage vendors all currently support some form of automated storage tiering for SSD storage (NetApp’s Flash Cache does this differently but the impact on NAND storage requirements is arguably similar).  Presumably, such tiering should take better advantage of any amount of SSD/NAND storage available to a storage system.

Prior to automated sub-LUN storage tiering, one had to move a whole LUN to SSDs to take advantage of its speed. However, I/O requests or access are not necessarily at the same intensity for all blocks of a LUN.  So one would typically end up with an SSD LUN with a relatively few blocks being heavily accessed while the vast majority of its blocks would not be being hit that much.  We paid the high price of SSD LUNs gladly to get the high performance for those few blocks that really needed it.

However, with sub-LUN tiering or NAND caching, one no longer has to move all the blocks of a LUN into NAND storage to gain its benefits.  One can now just have the system identify those select blocks which need high performance and move those blocks and those blocks only to NAND storage.  The net impact of sub-LUN tiering or NAND caching is that one should require less overall NAND storage to obtain the same performance as one had previously with SSDs alone.

On the other hand, some would say that making the performance advantages of NAND be available at a lower overall cost might actually increase the overall amount of NAND shipments. Also with automated sub-LUN tiering in place, this removes all the complexity needed previously to identify which LUNs needed higher performance.  Reducing such complexity should increase SSD or NAND market penetration.

Nonetheless, I feel that given todays price differential of SSDs over enterprise disk, the people buying SSDs today have a very defined need for speed and would have paid the price anyways for SSD storage.  Anything we do to make satisfying that need with less SSD or NAND storage should reduce the amount of SSDs shipped today.

But getting back to that price crossover point, as the relative price of NAND on $/GB comes down, having an easy way to take advantage of  its better performance should increase its market adoption, even faster than price would do alone.


4 thoughts on “SSD market dynamics

  1. RayOnStorage 3/18/11 Blog

    Ray, I really enjoy reading you Blog and I support your view “having an easy way to take advantage of its (SSDs) better performance should increase its market adoption, even faster than price would alone.” I am the VP of Operations at Virident, a high-performance PCIe SSD provider, and I would like to remind your readers that there are very different kinds of SSDs with widely varying performance and costs characteristics.

    I agree that having price parity to enterprise class disks at the low end of the SSD performance market, MLC NAND based SATA plug compatible drives, is unlikely in 2013. Certainly, HDD price parity for high-performance, SLC NAND based, PCIe direct attached drives are not on anybody’s radar. Yet the benefit of caching to a PCIe SSD that is 10-30 times faster than its SATA counterpart is obvious. Unfortunately, the costs of these drives are even higher.

    Consequently, I am a big fan of your sub-LUN tiering assertion and see its value over a long period of time as the prices of high-performance PCIe drives will always be at a significant premium over enterprise disks no matter the volume.

    1. Jan,Thanks for your comment. SSD market's are in a constant state of change. Keeping track of all the players has become almost a full time activity. Sub-LUN tiering is today's solution to the price difference between NAND flash and disk storage. How long it will last is anyone's guess but for now it makes a lot of sense.Ray

  2. Ray,

    I like sub-LUN tiering for environments where a lot of applications share a single storage environment. As you mention, dynamic tiering will move frequently accessed data to SSD, but as importantly, can move less frequently accessed data to SATA.

    If I was accelerating a single mission critical application, I would still use some fairly basic analysis to identify the hot files and move those hot files to a purpose-built SSD solution. People get caught up in the complexity of this, but the reality is that identifying hot files is simple. In most database environments, while the records in the tables and files change constantly, the access patterns to the tables/files don't change. The benefit of this approach is that we can use a purpose built SSD solution that has lower latencies and lower costs to solve the customer's performance problem.

    Woody Hutsell

    1. Woody,Thanks for your comments.It's hard for me to see the continuing value in file movement once one has Sub-LUN migration. But I suspect there is a price to pay to monitoring data access and migrating data in realtime up and down storage tiers. Given that, if it's relatively straightforward to Id hot-files then I can see your point.Ray

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