Last week saw the annual Flash Memory Summit taking place in Santa Clara. As one glanced out from the convention center it was possible to hear the screams of delight from the Great America theme park next door and the hush of anticipation from the new Levi's Stadium - also a new neighbor - where the 49ers NFL team will now play. "Delight" and "anticipation" have long also been the watchwords around flash in the commercial storage world....what is clear this year is that the general market balance is definitely shifting to delight rather than anticipation.
This year I was joined at the Summit by my colleague, Scott Sinclair, and he and I tried to boil down a handful of key takeaways from the event in the following succinct (3 minutes) video.
The mantra for the market (vendors and users alike) is now all about extending adoption and refining the optimum uses and workloads. We certainly seem to have crossed the chasm inasmuch as flash is increasingly deployed (whether as all-flash, or as a tiering and caching device), and indeed often is now included as a default in myriad hybrid offerings.....but this Summit - and similar focused environments - are also something of a fishbowl where everyone "gets it." And thus we have (to mix my metaphors) the fully-sighted preaching to an enthusiastic choir! This is great...but it isn't the full story. Product ability is still way ahead of user education and understanding. There is still a big section of the market where the values and uses of flash (of any and all sorts) are misunderstood, or simply not well known. As the products mature - and as those products are increasingly general storage devices rather than point-problem-fixes - so the user community awareness and in-depth appreciation has to catch up. And with the capabilities and financial attractiveness of today's flash products (whether including flash or being exclusively flash) so much further on from a few years ago, the time is nigh for this to happen.
So I'm here at the Santa Clara Convention Center for another edition of the Flash Memory Summit. I've been coming to these for many years, and frankly when it started it was a few open tables and a few techy guys in Birkenstocks with their latest semiconductor idea. Nothing wrong with that. It's obviously vital to the industry, but we've seen this conference reflect the industry and grow into something vibrant, sizable, and very relevant.
To that extent, as it has grown and it mirrors the industry on what's happening in that with flash, one of the first things I did and this time I was accompanied by a colleague, Scott Sinclair, who recently joined ESG. I asked him for a couple of his major thoughts, what he noticed in terms of key trends at this year's event.
Scott: I was very impressed with the level of technical depth and content that was available at all the sessions as well as the level of collaboration between multiple competitors, partners, and folks in the industry. Essentially, it was a number of folks getting together, trying to figure out how to use flash to better the market and the industry and growing. But in addition to that, I saw a couple kind of unique things stood out in addition to the whole making flash more affordable, higher performance, and making them bigger.
A lot of the interest and the topic centered on essentially kind of two main things. Number one was around the evolution of getting us to 3D NAND technology and the potential that that has to drive flash capacities upward but also the investment that that's going to take on the manufacturers and what that means for the end user. The second thing that really stood out was companies looking at how to use flash in unique ways and getting storage closer to the processor with NVDIM technology and that emerging.
So over the next couple of years, I think the industry is really going to see some new revolutionary technologies come out of the flash space, and it will be very interesting for us and everyone else to see how this impacts the industry as a whole.
Mark: So excellent thoughts there from Scott, and I think he's right on the button in terms of what's happening from the industry perspective. The one thing I want to add from, if you like, the systems industry perspective is the other side of what I see going on. We need to remember all the time that flash ultimately is a technology and not a market in and of itself.
What that means is that the other aspect is the way that flash is wrapped in with systems. It's integrated. It's converged. It is, to coin a very common standard phrase, becoming software defined. So it becomes an integral part of the way that we manage both storage infrastructure and IT going forward. That's the key takeaway from this conference.