Many, including Gartner, expect that by the end of 2012 SSDs will account for about 14,000 petabytes (PB) or a shade less than 20% of the total expected industry-wide flash demand of 75,000± PB.
For perspective, the total NAND market today is estimated to be less than 11,000 PB.
So put another way, the SSD market in less than three years is expected to exceed today’s total NAND industry capacity by several thousand PB.
And mobile is expected to be an even larger market, in the same timeframe- but that’s another story- as is where all this NAND will come from.
In any case, SanDisk’s SSD scorecard to date is decidedly mixed. For the notebook market SanDisk is late. The silver lining is that this market hasn’t taken off- yet.
The good news is the modular SSD market, where SanDisk seems to be racking up the design wins.
The enterprise SSD market is a nonevent for SanDisk- so far at least.
Before delving into the details, another look at fab 5 is in order.
In some respects this post is a follow-on to my last post on Fab 5. BTW in case anyone missed it, fab 5 was announced by Toshiba in late March.
Without fab 5, SanDisk’s SSD dreams would be just that- dreams.
SSDs are going to soak up a lot of chips. Without Fab 5, SanDisk wouldn’t have the volumes required to leverage its captive NAND production into SSD market share.
With Fab 5, SanDisk looks positioned as well as any of the top NAND players, chip-wise. Whether SanDisk will have competitive products or suitable partners is another matter.
Fab 5 is scheduled to be coming on line just as SSDs are taking off. Fab 5 should start churning out chips late 2011 with the ramp running through 2014.
While Toshiba has not announced the technology node Fab 5 will initially ramp, the timing is such that the likely candidate is 24 nm with 1x nm gearing up in the second half of 2012. See slide below from this year’s SanDisk investor day.
43nm, or 32nm NAND for that matter, is still too expensive to compete with hard disk drives (HDDs) simply on a per gigabyte basis.
SanDisk’s 24nm NAND will be arriving in the second half of 2010 and is expected to be far more competitive, accelerating SSD adoption.
The big deal for SSDs promises to be 1x nm NAND due in the second half of 2012. This could be the tipping point where the notebook market swings from HDDs.
Many, including Gartner, expect that by the end of 2012 SSDs will account for about 14,000 petabytes (PB) or a shade less than 20% of the total expected flash demand of 75,000± PB.
The slide below from this year’s SanDisk Investor Day shows how this growth is expected to break down.
SSDs can be divided into three segments: performance, or notebook SSDs, modular SSDs and enterprise SSDs. Eyeballing the graph above, by the end of 2012 performance SSDs will be by far the largest segment @ 10,000± PB. Modular SSDs will be second @ 2200± PB. The smallest segment is expected to be enterprise SSDs @ 1800± PB.
While SanDisk’s modular SSD, pSSD, targeting netbooks seems to be doing just fine, SanDisk’s G3 MLC SSD product targeting notebooks has had its problems. Announced with much fanfare at CES in January 2009, the G3 only began shipping in February 2010.
Time will tell whether the G3 has what it takes. Initial OEM interest in the G3 has been very encouraging, or so SanDisk says:
“ Eli: I can speak just for SanDisk. We are now, last week, we announced that we had started shipping our SSD, what we call G3, third generation controllers, to retail. Still at relatively low volumes and we will be sampling OEMs as well.
We are late to market with SSD, not our modular SSD where we are doing very well, but the mainstream SSD- 2 1/2 inch compatible. Not enterprise, just notebook SSD.
We have been late to market and about 18 months ago we went back to the drawing board and said that we need to develop a completely new controller from the ground up – new algorithms that are really optimized to balance the performance of SSDs.
Balance means good endurance- not three years, but ten years. Good performance- you can really notice a big big difference between any kind of hard disk drive. All around performance improvements. Working with Windows 7- the trim command and so on. And this is the G3- our first generation of the new controller with new algorithms.
And the first interest from both OEMs and -it is a little early to talk about retail- is very encouraging.”
Reading between the lines, SanDisk seems intent on delivering a notebook (performance) SSD at the right price, with adequate- or balanced- SSD performance with strong reliability/ endurance.
Whether this is the right strategy and whether SanDisk can deliver, has yet to be determined.
Today modular SSDs are the poor cousins of performance SSDs. They target the smaller and lower cost segment of the market- netbooks and likely soon- high performance tablets.
Whereas notebook SSDs are drop-in replacements for HDDs with the same form factor as HDDs, modular SSDs know no such limitations.
Lots of room for innovation.
SanDisk’s modular SSD, the pSSD, is far smaller than HDDs, measuring only 30mm x 50.95mm x 3.6mm- slightly smaller than a book of matches.
While today’s modular SSDs don’t have the performance of the full sized notebook SSD, the writing is on the wall. Modular SSDs will catch up and likely quickly, enabling smaller, lighter, thinner, high performance products.
In 2009, SanDisk expected to ship roughly a million units of pSSD. 2010 should be far better.
When I started this post, I thought I would have time to delve into SanDisk’s pSSD innovations. This discussion is going to have to wait for another day.
Suffice it to say that SanDisk apparently has a workaround to the random write problem called nCache which seems to work just fine at the level of pSSDs.
Interestingly, the cache is not DRAM or SLC, but is a software-only solution which uses small sections of the NAND itself as a cache to cope with random writes and is able to do it in such a way as to avoid performance degradation and limit the scope of fragmentation.
Here is a link to a very good arstechnica article on SanDisk nCache pSSDs.
Also SanDisk has a new file management system dubbed “ExtremeFFS”.
nCache and ExtremeFFS appear to be two key components of SanDisk’s recently announced Adaptive Flash Management (AFM) NAND technology. AFM is an advanced system level solution designed to tailor MLC (including X3) functionality and performance to specific market segments and device profiles.
The third market SSD market segment is enterprise. Today SanDisk is not a player in enterprise SSDs targeting applications such as video on demand, streaming media content delivery, internet data centers, virtualization and on-line transaction processing.
Here are some interesting enterprise SSD comments from Morgan Stanley and SNDK investor day:
“Q: Historically you guys had some program at least on the industrial side for SSDs in the enterprise market. Is that market – do you consider that market more of a niche market right now or do you have plans to enter that market more meaningfully?
Eli: The enterprise SSD?
Q: The enterprise SSD market.
Eli: The enterprise SSD market is already here. Its not price sensitive. It is very much I-O performance-driven. We have stayed away from that market. Not because its not a good market. It doesn’t move a lot of MBs or PBs, but it is a profitable and good market.
We have said- we will play in that market in the future if the opportunity arises preferably through working with partners that understand the requirements of the enterprise. We don’t want to make a big effort in terms of sales, application support and so on.
So that’s where a partner [could come in] that values our captive supply and our system expertise, but brings to the table also the participation in the enterprise space. So that could be a good partnership.” MS
“Eli: I think that your question is are we planning to be in the enterprise for example? I think that is really the question. I think that today of course we are not addressing the enterprise. We are addressing more the biggest part of the market opportunity, which is the notebook and netbook PCs.
There is nothing to stop us from in the future, either being directly in the enterprise through a partnership or supplying components to the enterprise space.” 2010 Investor Day
Reading between the lines, SanDisk has plans for profiting from enterprise SSDs. Not as a direct player, but through partnerships.
To wrap this post up, there are a whole lot of angles to SanDisk’s SSD opportunities.
Not the least of which is X3.
To date no one has been able to deliver an X3 SSD. SanDisk is working on it.
Success would be a big deal- bringing costs closer to the tipping point for mass adoption.
Personally I think SanDisk is on schedule to deliver in 2011. Definitely a story to watch.
And then there is 3D R/W, another potential Fab 5 story. If 3D R/W lives up to its promise, it could be a game changer for SSDs, and SanDisk.