Global shipments of enterprise-grade SSDs for the first quarter of 2017 grew against seasonal headwinds by 3-4% compared with the prior quarter to reach around 6 million units, says DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce. For the same quarter, enterprise-grade SSDs also represented more than 10% of the total SSD product shipments worldwide.
Currently, U.S.-based Google, Facebook and Microsoft and China’s Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent all have voracious appetite for server systems as they are providing their services via their growing network of data centers. These companies therefore are contributing substantially to the global demand for enterprise-grade SSDs.
“Compared with other end applications for NAND Flash, enterprise-grade SSDs have exhibited strong and dramatic demand growth and will continue to do so this second quarter,” said Alan Chen, senior research manager of DRAMeXchange.
Samsung with its 3D-NAND SSDs is quickly catching up to Intel in shipment market share
Looking at the competition among first-tier SSD makers, Samsung has quickly captured a significant chunk of the enterprise-grade market with its competitively priced and high performing 3D-NAND SSDs. Samsung’s global market share for enterprise-grade SSDs came to 25% in this first quarter, making the company the second largest supplier worldwide and a major rival to the leader Intel.
Intel, while being the leader enterprise storage solutions, has been feeling the pressure from Samsung. Before the first quarter of 2017, Intel had fallen behind in its development of 3D-NAND SSDs. The company had to offer products that were not as cost competitive as Samsung’s because they were based on older memory manufacturing technologies.
To attract customers, Intel not only lowered prices but also emphasized that its SSDs complement its server processors.
After persevering into the first quarter of this year, Intel was able to ship its 3D-NAND products in greater volumes.
The company’s global market share in enterprise-grade SSD segment therefore returned to above 40% for the first quarter.
Third-place Western Digital controls over 20% of the enterprise-grade SSD market owing to its acquisition of SanDisk
Western Digital’s shipments of enterprise-grade SSDs has been on the rise since the SanDisk acquisition, and the company became the third-largest supplier worldwide in the first quarter of 2017 with a market share of more than 20%.
SanDisk’s product lines have benefited considerably from its parent company’s expertise in enterprise storage as well as the larger client base. At the same time, Western Digital also integrated into its portfolio some specialty products that SanDisk has worked on in the past several years.
Following Intel, Samsung and Western Digital are smaller SSD suppliers with respective shipment market shares of less than 5%. Factors that put these smaller competitors behind include the quality of their NAND Flash chips, lack of know-how in developing SSD controller chips and inexperience with the client sampling process.
However, Chen pointed out that the competition in the enterprise SSD market is just heating up, and the top three suppliers will face significant challenge in maintaining their dominance. The fast maturation of 3D-NAND manufacturing goes together with SSD suppliers’ consensus that they need to tap into the demand in the enterprise market.
Therefore, smaller brands and later market entrants are highly motivated to catch up and put pressure on the leaders.
From the aspect of memory architectures and product offerings, Intel during this year’s first half will be shipping mostly enterprise-grade SSDs using 3D-NAND MLC chips. As for the more cost-competitive enterprise products using 3D-NAND TLC chips, Intel will formally release them at the beginning of this third quarter.
Samsung, which has been edging close to Intel in the market share ranking, already has more than 80% of its enterprise-grade SSD shipments comprised of products using 3D-NAND TLC chips. With regard to other SSD suppliers, only Micron has started to ship enterprise-grade 3D-NAND SSDs.
The rest of the competitors are expected to still mainly offer 2D-NAND products for this year. In terms of the overall market share, DRAMeXchange projects that 3D-NAND products will account for over 50% of the enterprise-grade SSDs shipped worldwide this year.