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Flash storage market 2015: Expanded all-flash options, TLC NAND

Visions of an all-flash data center remain elusive, but enterprises in the flash storage market this year took advantage of choice, diversity in solid state storage.

The all-flash data center remains far from reality, but enterprises in 2015 took advantage of solid-state storage for a growing number of use cases. Among the findings in our year-end review of the flash storage market: all-flash arrays continue to proliferate and 3D NAND solid-state drives (SSDs) are showing up in arrays, yet server-side flash continues as a valuable tool to support large database files and virtual desktop infrastructure.

Hard disk drives (HDDs) remain a data center staple, although the emergence of cheaper and denser media is prompting more enterprises to deploy flash for competitive advantage. Here’s a summary of our most newsworthy flash storage market news coverage during the past year.

New all-flash choices, retooled existing systems

The list of companies selling all-flash arrays expanded significantly in 2015, stretching far beyond all-flash specialists and mainstream array vendors. Those who introduced new all-flash systems to the 2015 flash storage market included:

  • Hybrid array vendor Tintri diversified its virtual machine-aware storage with the 2U all-flash Tintri VMstore T5000 Series arrays, which joins the vendor's flagship 2U Tintri VMstore T800 hybrid systems.
  • High-performance computing specialist Data Direct Networks added the IME14K all-flash array powered by its Infinite Memory Engine I/O flash accelerator software.
  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) introduced a new Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) F Series, its first model equipped with only the company's flash module drives (FMDs) without the option for hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid-state drives (SSDs). HDS previously sold flash-only versions of VSP or Hitachi Unified Storage (HUS), but HDS did not offer a specific all-flash SKU. The new F Series also uses denser second-generation, custom-built flash modules with inline data compression.
  • Hardware maker SanDisk launched its InfiniFlash all-flash platform with proprietary NAND cards for big data workloads that rely on management software from partners. Nexenta Systems and Tegile Systems have signed on as early SanDisk partners.
  • NexGen Storage produced an all-flash version of its N5 hybrid arrays, combining PCIe flash and SSDs with its dynamic quality of service software capabilities.  
  • X-IO Technologies launched ISE 800 all-flash series aimed at online transaction processing. The arrays use SanDisk enterprise-class multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs.

Pure Storage enters the public arena

All-flash vendor Pure Storage was among the few technology companies to go public in 2015. Pure, which had $530 million in venture funding, became a public company after establishing a track record of steady growth but suffering from large losses each quarter.

That trend continued in its first quarter as a public company as Pure reported its earnings increased 167% year-over-year to $131.4 million yet lost $28.1 million.

How well Pure Storage performs as a public company can serve as a bellwether for competitors in the all-flash storage market, such as SolidFire and Kaminario, to pursue a public stock offering.

3D flash makes production debut

Triple-level cell flash emerged as a realistic option in enterprise storage in July when Dell added Samsung 3D Vertical NAND-based SSDs to its redesigned SC Series hybrid arrays. All-flash specialists Kaminario, SolidFire and Pure Storage also now have arrays that include TLC NAND options to lower the per gigabyte cost of SSDs.

Server-side flash meets memory channel storage

Despite hullaballoo around all-flash arrays, some enterprises find advantages to installing PCIe-attached flash in storage servers. The advent of software-defined storage is expanding the uses cases for server-side flash to include aggregating a shared pool of flash across multiple servers.

Although it won't happen in 2016, experts predict newly developed flash memory technology (similar to Violins VIMMs) eventually could push NAND to the background. One development to keep an eye on in 2016 is the final standards for the nonvolatile memory express protocol, currently under development by an industry consortium including more than 90 member companies.

Next Steps

Kaminario brings array with 3D TLC NAND into the market

Data reduction a necessity in the all-flash data center

Form factors for deploying server-side flash

Dig Deeper on SSD array implementations

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