86: Greybeards talk FMS19 wrap up and flash trends with Jim Handy, General Director, Objective Analysis

This is our annual Flash Memory Summit podcast with Jim Handy, General Director, Objective Analysis. It’s the 5th time we have had Jim on our show. Jim is also an avid blogger writing about memory and SSD at TheMemoryGuy and TheSSDGuy, respectively.

NAND market trends

Jim started off our discussion on the significant price drop in the NAND market over the last two years. He said that prices ($/GB) have dropped 60% last year and are projected to drop about 30% this year.

The problem is over production and as vendors are prohibited from dropping prices below cost, they tend to flatten out at production cost. NAND pricing will remain there until supplies start tightening again. Jim doesn’t see that happening until 2021.

He says although this NAND price drops don’t end up reducing SSD prices, it does allow us to buy more SSD storage for the same price. So maybe back earlier this century NAND cost $10K/GB, now it’s around $0.05/GB.

Jim also mentioned that Chinese NAND fabs should start coming online in 2021 too. They have been spending lots of money trying to get their own NAND manufacturing running. Jim said the reason they want to do this is because the Chinese are spending more $s on chips , than they do for oil.

Computational storage, a bright spot

At the show, computational storage (for more hear our GBoS podcast with Scott Shadley, NGD Systems) was hot again this year. Jim took a shot at defining computational storage and talked about the proliferation of ARM cores in SSDs. Keith mentioned that Moore’s law is making the incremental cost of adding more cores close to zero.

Jim said SAMSUNG already have 6 ARM cores in their SSDs, but most other vendors use 3 cores. I met with NetInt at the show who are focused on computational storage for video transcoding. Keith doesn’t think this would be a good fit, because it takes a lot of computation. But maybe as it’s easily distributable (out to a gaggle of SSDs) and it’s data intensive it might work ok. Jim also mentioned while adding cores may be cheap, increasing memory (DRAM) is not.

According to Jim, hyper-scalars are starting to buy computational storage technology. He’s not sure if they are just trying it out or have some real work running on the technology.

SCM news

We talked about Toshiba’s new XC flash and SSDs. Jim said this is just SLC NAND (expensive $/GB and high endurance) with increased parallelism and reduced latency data paths. Samsung’s Z-NAND is similar. Toshiba claims XL Flash SSDs are another storage class memory (SCM, see our 3DX blog post). Toshiba are pricing XL Flash SSDs at about 10X the $/GB price of 3D TLC NAND, or roughly the same as Optane SSDs.

We next turned to Optane DC PM, which Intel is selling at a loss but as it works only with Cascade Lake CPUs, can help increase CPU adoption. So Intel can absorb Optane DC PM losses by selling more (highly profitable) Cascade Lake systems.

Keith mentioned that SAP HANA now works with Cascade Lake-Optane DC PM. This is driving up demand for the new DC PM and new CPUs. Keith said with the new larger size in memory databases from DC PM, HANA able to do more work, increasing Cascade Lake-Optane DC PM-SAP HANA adoption.

Micron also manufacturers 3DX. Jim said they are in an enviable position as they can . supply the chips (at costs) to Intel, so they know chip volumes and can see what Intel is charging for the technology. So, if at some point, it has runway to become profitable, they can easily enter as a sole secondary source for the technology.

Other NAND news

How high can 3D TLC NAND go? Jim said most 3D NAND sold on the market is 64 layers high but suppliers are already shipping more layers than that. All NAND suppliers, bar one, have said their next generation 3D TLC NAND will be over 100 layers. Some years back one vendor said the technology could go up to 500 layers. This year Samsung, said they see the technology going to 800 layers.

We’ve heard of SLC, MLC, TLC and QLC but at the show there was talk of PLC or five level cell NAND technology. If they can make the technology successful, PLC should reduce manufacturing costs, another 10% ($/GB).

We discussed a lot more that was highlighted at the show, including PCIe fabric/composable infrastructure, zoned (NVMe) name spaces (redux SMR disks) and the ongoing success of the show. We had a brief discussion on when if ever NAND costs will be less than disk ($/GB).

The podcast is a little under ~40 minutes. Jim is an old friend, who is extremely knowledgeable about NAND & DRAM technology as well as semiconductor markets in general. Jim’s always been a kick to talk with. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Jim Handy, General Director, 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

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 talk car videos, storage and IT trends with Marc Farley

In our 30th episode, we talk with 3rd time guest star,  Marc Farley (@GoFarley), Formerly with Datera and Tegile. Marc has recently gone on sabbatical and we wanted to talk to him about what was keeping him busy and what was going on in storage/IT industry these days.

Marc is currently curating a car comedy vlog called theridecast.com. Apparently people, at least in California, are making comedy videos in their cars. They can be quite hilarious, checkout this episode of comedian in cars getting coffee.

While in the storage biz, the industry is getting battered by a number of trends: IT shrinking budgets, vendor proliferation, migration to cloud, and flash becoming old hat. Marc makes multiple points as to why the storage market is undergoing such a major transition these days:

  • Death to tech refresh, long live the cloud –  yes the cloud does upgrade hardware but  planned storage system obsolesce doesn’t happen in the cloud anymore. Cloud providers are  buying new SSDs, disks, white box servers, memory etc,  but not enterprise class storage, server or networking hardware.
  • AFA is boring, but selling – every vendor’s got one , two or sometimes three and they all know how to provide flash storage services. Customers pay extra for AFA, whether they need to or not, because they are swapping out old expensive, enterprise class storage for AFAs that often cost less but still provide better performance..
  • Tail IO latency becoming more important but it’s not understood – when IO response times go from 100µsec to 10msec, it hurts. It doesn’t matter if it’s every 1000 or 10,000 IOs, customers want less performance variability, which is a main reason they move to AFA in the first place. But not all AFA’s perform the same in tail latency and SSD controller/system architecture make a big difference.
  • Hybrid storage survives but only if you go big – hybrid storage economics makes sense only for large, diverse data repositories, that mix user directories, non-performance sensitive apps, and other structured and unstructured data in one data store.
  • Greenfield apps & secondary storage are moving to the cloud but migrating current apps to the cloud is difficult –  for new app development and archive storage, moving to or starting in the cloud is a no-brainer. Transitioning running enterprise class apps to the cloud is tough to do, that requires multiple skill sets and may never be successful. Hybrid  (cloud-on premises) enterprise class apps are too arduous to even contemplate.
  • Realtime analytics is emerging but data needs to be on flash – yes MapReduce is a batch activity which can uses lots of slow disk but there’s more to analytics than MR, and doing log analysis, in anything approaching realtime, one needs flash performance.
  • Optical’s persistence is great but who leaves data on the same technology for  20 years –  with magnetic and electronic storage densities going up every couple of years, who could afford keep data on the same optical technology that was 20 years old. Imagine using microfiche to keep PB of data today, inconceivable.

As for IT in general, one limiter of IT activity will become the lack of skilled engineers, specifically full-stack engineers and data scientists.

We ended our discussions on the economics of Samsung 3D NAND and Intel-Micron (IM) 3D Xpoint non-volatile memories. Both new semiconductor technologies are always long term investments. Today, Samsung is probably losing money on each 3D TLC NAND SSD it sells, but over time, as  fab yields improve, it should become cheap enough to make a profit. Similarly, 3D Xpoint may be costly to produce early on, but as IM perfect  their fab processes, the technology should become inexpensive enough to make oodles of $s for them. And there’s more technology changes to come.

The podcast runs just over 40 minutes and covers a lot of ground. Marc’s been in the IT almost as long as the GreyBeards and has a unique perspective on what’s happening today, having been with so many diverse, major and (minor) startup vendors throughout his tenure in the industry.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Marc Farley


Marc is a storage greybeard who has worked for many storage companies and is currently on sabbatical. He has written three books on storage including his most recent, Rethinking Enterprise Storage: A Hybrid Cloud Model and his previous books Building Storage Networks and Storage Networking Fundamentals.

In addition to his writing books he has been a blogger and podcaster about storage topics while working for EqualLogic, Dell, 3PAR, HP, StorSimple,  Microsoft, and others.

When he is not working, Marc likes to ride bicycles, listen to music, spend time with his family and dote on his cats. Of course there’s that car video curation…