Samsung, Seagate SSD pact: It’s all about timing

August 17, 2010 –  Samsung Electronics and Seagate Technology say they will jointly develop controller technologies for Seagate’s enterprise-class solid-state drive (SSD) devices, utilizing Samsung’s multilevel-cell (MLC) NAND flash memory on 3Xnm process technologies. Seagate chairman/president/CEO Steve Luczo pointed to a number of benefits including "enhanced performance, endurance, and reliability to cost and capacity improvements." For Samsung, more energy-efficient server applications increasing use of NAND-based SSD storage in enterprise applications, noted Changhyun Kim, SVP and Fellow of memory product planning & application engineering.

Listen to the new podcast (September 2010) with Albert Kim, director of sales for storage products at Samsung Electronics, from DISKCON 2010, discussing how the consumers’ drive to store/save content, i.e., videos, photos, music, etc., is driving mass storage devices: Download or Play Now

Analyst’s Take

Adoption of MLC memory in SSDs in the enterprise "is an unequivocal must," assert Gartner analysts Joseph Unsworth and John Monroe in a research note, "and Samsung’s joint development of controller technology with Seagate presents a real opportunity to deliver truly compelling, cost-effective enterprise SSD controller solutions." This combination is potent: Samsung’s NAND expertise and Seagate’s technical know-how of the interface and storage architectures — as well as Seagate’s support and services capabilities, "a must to court the largest OEM storage customers," they add.

Solid-state storage has been the next big thing for a long time, and Seagate’s been at the edge of the trend. Costs vs. performance, placed alongside existing hard-disk drive technology, has somewhat slowed mainstream adoption — but enterprise SSDs should still top 1M units and >$1B in sales in 2010, the analysts point out. Which means Samsung and Seagate are about two years late to the party, and are "playing only a minor role thus far," they note. The combination somewhat challenges current enterprise SSD leader STEC; and it also hurts SandForce, a VC-backed firm which has also been working with Seagate on controller technology.

But the real importance to the Samsung-Seagate partnership for SSD is the timing of its introduction. They state it will be based on Samsung’s "30nm-class" MLC NAND flash memory; Gartner projects sampling will probably be in mid-2011, followed by "lengthy qualification timelines" and mass production probably in mid-2012. That timeframe basically overlaps with next-generation memory (2Xnm-node), but the companies didn’t specify work to that process technology — and that’s important, the analysts note, since 2Xnm-class enterprise SSDs could also start shipping in 2012. (And this pact is not an exclusive relationship, they add.)

"Samsung and Seagate have much work to do, but have a lucrative opportunity if they can successfully combine their efforts and continue their work beyond 3Xnm," they write.


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