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The Week In Storage: Micron To The Rescue, Samsung Unimpressed, Apple Announces New APFS Filesystem

This week in storage found us covering our conversation with Adata's Kevin Chen for his take on a number of trends in the storage industry, including the current proliferation of 2D TLC SSDs and the coming move to 3D NAND.

Chris Ramseyer took a close look at the first IMFT 3D NAND SSD in the Crucial MX300 750 GB SSD Review and came away a bit underwhelmed with the special edition version.

Adata made it into the news again as it announced the military-grade ruggedized HD700 external HDDs and a slimmer, more stylish HV602S drive.

But wait, there's more.

Micron To The NAND Rescue? Perhaps.

Myriad analyst firms have affirmed that a NAND shortage in the second half of the year is a near certainty. We have covered the story closely, and many analysts attribute the shortage to the delayed transition from 2D to 3D NAND. Many of the NAND fabs are behind schedule with the planned 3D NAND rollouts and did not increase 2D NAND production in the interim, thus leaving unsatisfied market demand.

Micron might have the answer. Eddie Maddock, CFO of Micron Technology, took to the stage yesterday at the NASDAQ 34th Investor Program in London to outline the company's progress on several fronts. Micron also announced that it isn't finishing its Inotera acquisition on schedule, which skeptic industry watchers attribute to a possible China investment (I suspect it is due to furtive activity with Seagate).

Maddock indicated that Micron's 3D NAND production is ahead of schedule and that it will achieve bit crossover with its 2D 16nm NAND in "the fall of this year." Crossover indicates the point when Micron is shipping more 3D NAND than 2D NAND. Micron previously planned for crossover to occur at the end of the year. The accelerated Micron timeline may help alleviate some of the NAND tightness in the second half of the year due to the higher 3D NAND density.

Micron also has an aggressive plan for its next generation of 3D NAND. Maddock noted that IMFT Gen2 3D NAND would provide double the density of the first generation production, thus providing a thirty percent cost reduction. Surprisingly, Micron said its next-gen NAND will start flowing in Q1 2017.

Micron is already shipping its client-focused MX300 SSD, and its 3D NAND production schedule also bodes well for Intel, which participates in the joint NAND production IMFT venture with Micron. We can expect Intel to roll out its new 3D NAND-powered SSDs soon, and it may need them to stave off the skyrocketing Samsung.

Samsung Unimpressed As Its Enterprise SSDs Surge

Speaking of fast movers in the SSD arena, Samsung is already shipping its third-generation 3D NAND. Samsung went from 29.6 percent of the overall SSD market in 2014 to 40 percent in 2015 (according to IHS Research), and has double the market share of its nearest rival.

A casual conversation with an internal source at Samsung indicated that the company experienced a few fundamental shifts recently. Samsung generated more revenue from NAND than DRAM for the first time in its history. The company also sold more enterprise SSDs than client SSDs, which is another first.

The advantages of a 3D NAND leadership position reaped immediate rewards for Samsung in the client market as it took the leadership position, but enterprise customers are more cautious. Samsung expanded its 3D NAND enterprise offerings and began to take over the all-flash array (AFA) segment last year as it scored 3D NAND-powered design wins with Dell, Kaminario, SolidFire and HPE. Samsung cemented its leadership position in the AFA segment with the addition of EMC Isilon and Unity appliances early this year.

Intel has traditionally taken the lead in the enterprise segment, but Samsung is surging. Intel held 23 percent of the enterprise SSD market last year while Samsung had 18 percent, but we might observe a role reversal this year. The yearly Samsung Global SSD Summit is fast approaching, so we expect even more product announcements from the company soon.

Apple File System (APFS) OR... (OS X - HDS+) + APFS = Can't Boot

Apple introduced its fledgling new APFS (Apple File System) with much aplomb during its WWDC event. Apple touts the new filesystem as its first major upgrade since the HFS+ launch in 1998, which upgraded the original HFS filesystem that debuted in 1985. The slow pace of file system development is hardly new; Microsoft introduced NTFS, the primary Windows file system, back in 1993.

One of the problems hampering new filesystem development is the burden of backwards compatibility. Current filesystems include an incredible amount of legacy baggage because they harken back to the days of floppy disks, whereas new computing platforms are increasingly moving to SSDs due to their increased performance.

Apple designed APFS from the ground up to be a flash-friendly file system for all of its platforms, including OS X, iOS, tvOS and watchOS. Apple indicated that the filesystem offers more granular and robust encryption control, copy-on-write metadata, space sharing between volumes, cloning for files and directories, snapshots (faster and less capacity-intensive than backups), write atomicity (ensures data safety) and improved overall fundamentals. 

Apple has always been bullish on flash. Flash powers the majority of the company's devices, so it is not surprising to see the company leading with flash-based optimizations. Apple is offering APFS in beta form as a Developer Preview in OS x 10.12 and hopes to ship it as standard for all devices beginning in 2017, but it has not indicated if the shipping version will be subject to the same restrictions that are present in the Developer Preview.

Users cannot use the current version of AFPS as a startup (boot) disk, which removes much of the incentive of using it in the first place, and all AFPS-formatted volumes are not recognized on OS X 10.11 Yosemite and earlier platforms. Third-party utilities will also not work and will require updates, which might create problems with older EOL programs (which might not get updates). AFPS does not support Time Machine backups, and it cannot be encrypted with File Vault. Curiously enough for a flash-centric filesystem, it also is not working with Fusion Drives (an SSD caching technique).

This Week's Storage Tidbit

The road to developing a new filesystem is long and winding, as evidenced by Microsoft's sluggish ReFS (Resilient File System) development. Microsoft originally billed ReFS as the NTFS replacement during its 2012 introduction, but fast forward to 2016, and ReFS is still an unfinished project.

ReFS further does not support booting and has yet to make an appearance as a standard filesystem outside of Windows Server operating systems. Microsoft's latest filesystem is progressing to a second revision in Windows Server 2016, but it appears Microsoft geared it primarily for use in storage servers. It took eight years of development for NTFS to replace its FAT predecessor as the default Microsoft file system with Windows XP, and ReFS seems to be on a similar trajectory.

One can only hope that Apple can move on a faster timeline. When Apple launches AFPS in 2017, it may not be the default filesystem as many assume; it will more likely come as an option for secondary storage as Apple continues development.

Paul Alcorn is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

  • tsnor
    Excellent, interesting article choices. +1
    Reply
  • mitch074
    one precision: while the first version of NTFS did come out in 1993, it actually was a homebrew version of IBM's HPFS. The current version of NTFS is 3.1, and debuted with Windows XP. It's an incremental upgrade on v3.0 which came with Windows 2000 and simply duplicates some data (so Windows 2000 can still read Windows XP formatted partitions - it simply ignores the duplicate data).

    If you used the first version of a file system to rate it, then Linux's ext file system would really seem dated; however, ext4 (which became "stable" around 2009) is faster, safer and more capable than all previous versions of ext; it is also somewhat flash-friendly provided it is mounted with the proper options.

    It is relevant to mention ext4 here, as it is the default file system for Android. So you probably have one in your hand or your pocket now.
    Reply
  • PaulAlcorn
    18147149 said:
    one precision: while the first version of NTFS did come out in 1993, it actually was a homebrew version of IBM's HPFS. The current version of NTFS is 3.1, and debuted with Windows XP. It's an incremental upgrade on v3.0 which came with Windows 2000 and simply duplicates some data (so Windows 2000 can still read Windows XP formatted partitions - it simply ignores the duplicate data).

    If you used the first version of a file system to rate it, then Linux's ext file system would really seem dated; however, ext4 (which became "stable" around 2009) is faster, safer and more capable than all previous versions of ext; it is also somewhat flash-friendly provided it is mounted with the proper options.

    It is relevant to mention ext4 here, as it is the default file system for Android. So you probably have one in your hand or your pocket now.

    In fact, I read your post on an Android. Great info, thanks for bringing this up. I am a lover of all things Linux (though no expert by any measure), and was remiss for leaving out ext.
    Reply