25 April 2013


It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
-- REM

Well, may be not quite the end. I was musing on the state of solid state disks for the past few months, and the world looked a little bleak. OCZ is spinning toward the drain, STEC is barely holding its own, and Fusion-io continued to fall in Mr. Market's eyes. All three, in fact. These are the remaining publicly held (nearly) pure-play SSD companies.

At the same time, Apple is pooping the bed, due (according to some in the pundit class) to the ineffectual nature of Tim Cook. And IBM just pooped its bed. A few days before IBM's quarterly, Arne Alsin, a small time Seeking Alpha blogger announced its demise. IBM, and all the traditional (whatever that means) IT companies will disappear into The Cloud.

Woe is Me!!!

Well, may be. And may be not. Fusion-io got a nice bump with its quarterly last night, but STEC and OCZ remain on thin ice. IBM/Texas Memory recently announced a new flash appliance, which may, or may not, be repackaged TMS SSDs. Hard to tell from the announcements whether it's a "true" flash array a la the Sun/Oracle F5100.

The Cloud argument is that a Cloud client needn't worry his pretty little head about capacity needs; just call up Amazon and get more. As if Amazon doesn't price in the cost of over-provisioning. To the extent, minimal I expect, that demand spikes in one segment of Amazon's Cloud clients are offset by troughs in other segment(s), then it's barely possible for Amazon to make a few bucks and for a given client to save a few bucks on the infrastructure. But I doubt it. Growth of the kind typically described is global (in all senses of the word), and thus not really elastic from the point of view of the provider(s). The rubber band keeps stretching, never relaxing.

If it should appear that Clouds consume a significant fraction of HDD/cpu production, then those manufacturers will seek to eliminate the last middleman. Why give away the gear at onerous bulk pricing? One can easily see a contentious duopoly/duopsony war breaking out. As we used to say, a widespread race to the bottom.

Apple fits in, for the following reason. Many, even in the pundit class, view Apple as the premier computer company, which has fallen on hard times with the demise of Steve. Some, humble self included, have viewed Apple as a toy company (that is, a maker of toys) since the iPod. That was 2001, for those who forget, or have never owned one (hand raised). As a toy company, it has to come up with new toys with some regularity. I'm among the (growing?) crowd who believe that Apple has, in fact, invented very little, while they may have patents on rectangles with rounded corners. They assemble their toys with, mostly, Other Peoples' Parts. Their toys are variations on existing versions, from other vendors. Unlike Mattel, for instance, Apple hasn't been effective at designing new toys, only copying somebody else's. OS X is a closed version of open source *nix. How'd they manage that? They took BSD licensed *nix parts. BSD permits that sort of ripoff, where GPL doesn't. Steve always said: "steal".

iTV or iWatch or iFoo may finally break the mold, by, well, breaking out a new device. Then again, may be not. In any case, how Apple goes says just about nothing of the computer business. Apple does consume a lot of NAND, certainly. Unlike the old GM, what's good for Apple isn't necessarily good for the USofA, and bad things happening to Apple don't necessarily affect the rest of IT.

So, the journey down the Yellow Brick Road has hit a roundabout. Consumer SSD is rapidly falling into the race to the bottom, controlled by the NAND vendors; Intel and Samsung particularly. Enterprise SSD is likely a short-lived flash in the pan (so to speak), to be replaced by directly connected NAND appliances. The interesting question: how soon will Linus' prediction become fact? How soon will hierarchical filesystems, engineered to spinning rust be replaced? linux has to be the leader here, although IBM could easily (relatively) build whatever it wants for the z machines.

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