LSI: SandForce buyout won't affect other system makers' SSDs

Company has no plans to produce its own SSD

LSI will not limit the distribution of SandForce's flash chip controller technology, even to competitors, after its buyout of the company is completed.

LSI announced last week that it plans to purchase SandForce for $370 million. The acquisition will catapult LSI into the leadership position in SATA SSD controllers.

SandForce's chip technology is used by leading SSD vendors such as Intel and OCZ Technology Group, which announced earlier this year that it woud acquire privately-held Indilinx, another maker of popular NAND flash controllers, for $32 million.

Gary Smerdon, general manager of LSI's Accelerated Solutions Division, told Computerworld that the buyout should not affect any other manufacturers using SandForce's chips.

"The intent is to continue to support the current customer base and the current product direction. So we don't see any impact to the customer base they have in place," Smerdon said.

SandForce was LSI's top choice among chip controller makers, Smerdon said. "We were their top choice as well," he said, indicating LSI may not have been the only vendor interested in them.

"This is a very natural place for them to come to," he said. "I believe that most other potential acquirers would have had some baggage they brought to the table, or there would have been customers impacted.

"Let's be clear. They were a start-up and there were definitely deals, particularly large ones, they were disadvantaged because of that," he continued. "So we think there will be a benefit for current customers, future customers and also a big win for LSI in the Warpdrive and PCIe flash adapters."

SandForce's processors are used to control NAND flash-based storage devices . The company sells controllers for both consumer-type SSDs and flash devices for storage arrays and servers in corporate data centers.

LSI already uses SandForce flash chip controllers in its PCIe-based server accelerator cards.

LSI's WarpDrive card is one of a growing number of such products to come to market recently. Others include Texas Memory Systems' RamSan products, OCZ's RevoDrive, Marvell's DragonFly and Fusion-io's IODrive. EMC also announced earlier this year that it plans to sell its own brand of PCIe-based flash cards for the application server market.

Besides its PCIe-based flash cards, LSI has traditionally sold RAID cards and host bus adapters for the storage market. It also sells into the networking and wireless communications markets.

Smerdon said LSI will bring SandForce into its fold as an intact company, including all 185 employees. LSI's current technologists and product engineers are excited about having SandForce in-house because until now their technology was a "black box."

LSI is interested in three of the markets SandForce is currently addressing: ultrabooks/notebooks, enterprise SSDs and PCIe flash adapters. But Smerdon said LSI has no intention of producing solid-state drives (SSDs), which are NAND flash cards in a 2.5-in or 3.5-in hard disk drive form factor.

"We see those three markets being over a $2 billion market opportunity for LSI by 2015," Smerdon said. "We want to keep our eye on these three balls ... we don't have any intent to produce LSI-branded solid state drives."

By focusing on flash cards and embedded flash boards, LSI will be able to avoid conflict with other vendors currently producing SSDs, while at the same time exploring "new channels," Smerdon said.

"There are definitely additional customers that SandForce brings to us," he said. "We also believe that there are additional customers of LSI that we'll be able to directly take SandForce's processor to directly."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

Read more about storage in Computerworld's Storage Topic Center.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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