- August 2010|
how did the market go
from - Who cares?
to - You care!
about the identity of
|Imprinting the brain of the
controllers define the personality of an
Before 2007 - it was rare for SSD makers to say much about what
their internal controllers did - or how they did it.
- which I called "the Year of SSD
Revolutions" - the critical role of the once shadowy SSD controller
became clearer to a wider market in these important respects:-
- some flash SSDs were an order of magnitude faster and more reliable than
- customers cared about the differences and were prepared to pay to get them
functions performed by a flash SSD controller are the most complex operations
performed by any hardware in the computer market.
- the center of gravity in
SSD market pricing
had moved away from the memory components and towards the controller
what do I
think about SandForce's SSD controller branding program?
the editor of the leading publication in the SSD market - during this period
- and from that perspective SandForce's achievement of getting their company
so well known, and so quickly in competition with nearly 200 other SSD
technology companies - looked very impressive!
I had seen transient
spikes in popularity before and I didn't think it would last for more than a
few quarters - but I was wrong.
October 2009 edition
of the Top 10 SSD
companies list - I offered an interpretation of SandForce's continuing
ability to capture the interest of so many people in the SSD market with this
"SandForce's dual frenemmy nature may be a factor
in the high interest levels in this company. Even if you're not planning to use
their products - you can't afford to ignore them - because their technology may
pop up in another place close to your own interests."
this PR based visibility with a branding program was an obvious and long
anticipated next step. Before discussing that in more detail let's look at
earlier chip branding models from history.
comparisons with other
models of microprocessor branding
are much fewer examples of chip co-branding programs in computer history than
you might expect - if your background is from other markets. That's because the
nature of this market is B2B rather than B2C - and there are many complicated
technical ecosystem considerations as well as strategic ones which are
associated with this kind of chip selection decision - which are outside the
comprehension of FMCG marketers.
Exceptionally - one of the world's
best known brands did come from a chip company and the Intel
Inside program. A key features of this advertising driven program was
that computer makers were offered incentives in the form of discounts on the
products they bought if they promoted the fact they were using Intel's x86
processors inside their computers (as opposed to x86 chips from other companies
which either had licensed the architecture - or had reverse engineered it - or
in some cases simply copied it).
example (which is less well known outside enterprise computing circles) was
set up by Sun Microsystems in 1989 (which
- after which its use declined as
To manage the SPARC branding program Sun set
up a hands-off (but strongly dependent) branding ORG - called
- which certified products for technical compatibility and policed the naming
and licensing of sub-brands. A handful of chipmakers did in fact develop
competing SPARC chips - and about 200 member manufacturers helped to create a
SPARC systems market with an annual revenue peaking over $20 billion in 2000.
The business side of that worked in the following way. Members paid annual fees
- to display the SPARC compatible logo (the amount was related to the voting
strength of the company). In addition companies paid one-off fees to create and
license their own sub brands - such as
how is SandForce Driven SSDs different to earlier business
models for microprocessor ?
In preparing this article - I
contacted Kent Smith Senior Director, Product Marketing at SandForce to
ask if companies who use their logo are offered any monetary incentives to
participate in the program.
He said "At this time there is no
financial connection with participation in the program."
that's one important difference to the Intel Inside scheme. Other important
- You don't have to buy a controller from SandForce to make an SSD. But you
did have to use an x86 architecture processor to make an IBM / Microsoft
compatible PC - when Intel started their program.
Over 50 companies
currently design flash SSD controllers - of which about half offer their
controllers to 3rd parties. Although the number of SSD oems is currently under
200 - the big
picture is that this will grow to over 1,000 companies in a few years -
creating a huge market for successful controller IP suppliers. It's reasonable
to anticipate that the proportion of SSD oems who buy in their SSD controller IP
will transition to be the majority - instead of the minority (as it was in
- SandForce's early market recognition occurred despite zero
advertising spend - whereas Intel's branding program became a double digit
percentage of the company's overall business costs.
SSD market analyst
- I don't think that zero ad spend is sustainably viable for any SSD company in
such a competitive market.
publisher I naturally
hope - that if there is any advertising money behind this - I'd like to get
some. It's interesting to note that some actual advertisers of mine who I know
used SandForce chips - didn't mention that connection in the original versions
of their ads.
- Some SSD oems think they will lose credibility with their customers if they
admit they use IP from elsewhere. That includes
Seagate whose 1st SSD
product did include a SandForce controller - which they didn't want to talk
about - presumably because it was a tactical step to get into the SSD market -
whereas the strategic aspiration is to design its own in collaboration with
contrast - I cannot imagine that any computer manufacturer would ever have
thought they would lose credibility by admitting that their x86 compatible
computers used Intel chips.
...Later:- October 2010 - as Seagate has
done many times before on the subject of SSDs - the company changed its mind and
allowed itself to be listed in SandForce's list of oems who use its technology
- but without being part of the marketing program.
of SandForce's branding program?
- Some SSD oems think that their SSDs will be devalued and appear "me-too"
if they talk too much about the SSD controller inside. That's because although
many complicated factors go into the
SSD price mix
it's fair to assume that the general level of
SSD education in
the market is too low to recognize the important specification subtleties
signaled by SSD jargon.
In technical markets like SSDs -
branding cannot be treated in isolation to technology.
But if you
already have great technology - then great marketing can get your product into
more customer short lists - and it can increase the profitability of your
SandForce's standing in the
SSD Top 10 lists in
the past 5 quarters shows that the market is very receptive to new ideas and
products emerging from this company.
SSD market bubbles
on - more SSD companies will have to turn to marketing. But SandForce will
always be remembered as the 1st SSD controller company that most users could
- editor mentions on
For real-time SSD market
developments - see SSD news.
SandForce didn't sponsor or
suggest I write this article. And at the time of publishing it SandForce was
not an advertiser on . (Although later that changed.)
2012 a new
market factor emerged in the SSD market- as investors and would-be
acquirers of SSD
companies - realized that a convenient way to value SSD companies was on
the uniqueness and strength of their SSD controller IP.
Since then -
I've had countless conversations about this subject with significant market
stakeholders and my valuation of SandForce (published on this site several
quarters before they were acquired by
LSI) proved to be very
From whichever angle you look at SSDs in
today's market - user,
designer, oem, distributor, investor or software developer - the importance of
the SSD controller - its strengths, weaknesses and general credibility are now
firmly established as one of the best places to start the shortlisting process.
(The other - still being the company's ranking in the
Top SSD Companies List.)
related articles see:-
VCs in SSDs
the Top 20 SSD companies
enterprise SSD market
symmetries in SSD design
Branding Strategies in
the SSD Market
Bottlenecks in the
pure SSD datacenter will be much more serious
from stealth mode to "SandForce Driven SSDs"
In the 1st quarter of
as the number of merchant SSD controller companies reached double digits and
prepared to publish a directory of SSD controllers and IP -
a new company still in stealth mode - called
was about to launch a new controller design that would shift the performance
boundaries for a 2.5"
flash SSD into the territory previously occupied by entry level
SandForce - it was rare for SSD controller companies to be known or recognized
outside a very small technical community. But within a few months - the new
company became one of the best known SSD brands in the SSD industry.
2009 - SandForce - in stealth mode - supplied embargoed content to editors
and set up briefings.
April 2009 -
SandForce unveiled its SF-1000 family of SSD Processors - aimed at oems building
SATA flash SSDs.
July 2009 - SandForce made its 1st
appearance in the quarterly
Top 10 SSD companies
list - going straight in at #2. This was the 1st time that the list
included a company whose primary business was designing SSD controllers.
2009 - commented on the growing number of SSD oems
who were known to be using SandForce controllers - and started using the term
"SandForce inside" SSDs.
|August 2010 - at the time of publishing
this article - 15 companies were listed on SandForce's co-branding web page.
But I doubt whether all companies who use these controllers will want to be
part of this program - for reasons discussed later in this article.|
|sugaring nand flash
for the enterprise|
|When flash SSDs started to be used as
enterprise server accelerators in 2004 - competing
RAM SSD makers said
flash wasn't reliable
Since then flash has dominated the installed base of
enterprise SSD starting with SLC, followed by MLC, then a correction to eMLC
and now some SSD makers are saying TLC (x3) may be good enough.
it's not just the raw memory
type which determines the suitability of which flash can work reliably in
what type of enterprise SSD. The
controller IP and
can make a difference to the
of x5, x10, x20 - and I've even heard claims of x100...
That means TLC
(aka x3) - with the right SSD IP - may be as good as SLC in some types of
applications. And it costs a lot less and has higher capacity.
you need to know?
Who are you going to believe?