I'd almost given up hope that someone would acquire SandForce. After taking so long to fix the infamous BSOD issue and our own interests beginning to shift away to other vendors, the future of SandForce seemed somehow less important. Just last week however LSI announced its intention to acquire SandForce, a deal that should close in early 2012.

At first glance, the LSI acquisition didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. The one thing SandForce needed was a partner that understood validation and could elevate SandForce's standards in that department. I wasn't thinking broad enough.

Insufficient validation may be what has troubled SandForce's designs in the consumer space for so long, but there was a much bigger problem. SandForce's current customers are companies like Corsair, Kingston, OCZ and OWC. The client list doesn't include traditional hard drive manufacturers, companies like Seagate or Western Digital.

When asked about why they are timid about entering the SSD market, every hard drive manufacturer I've spoken to has pointed at the more conservative nature of their businesses. The hard drive guys apparently like certainty and predictability in their products. The current state of SSD controllers, firmware and designs is anything but that. To date, there is no turnkey solution that a company like Seagate or Western Digital could implement that would give them hard drive-like compatibility and dependability, with all of the benefits of an SSD.

LSI has the ability to fix this.

A quick look at Seagate's Barracuda XT or even the recently announced 1TB-platter Barracuda and you'll find a controller from a single company: LSI. In fact, LSI's semiconductor business is responsible for over 70% of its revenues. LSI wants to be a semiconductor company that plays in the storage space, and when viewed through those glasses - the SandForce acquisition makes a lot of sense.

There are a lot of companies that will work with LSI thanks to its reputation, but not SandForce. That's what LSI is banking on to help grow SandForce's business.

Obviously to do so, LSI needs to address some of SandForce's shortcomings - particularly in the validation department. While LSI wouldn't commit to a timeframe to do so, having been a customer of SandForce itself I do believe that LSI knows what needs to be done moving forward.

LSI's interests in SandForce aren't purely altruistic of course. If the world does shift away from hard drives and towards SSDs, LSI's semiconductor business would suffer. By acquiring one of the highest performing SSD controller manufacturers in the business, LSI has a good chance of being able to compete in the SSD space should it see considerable growth at the expense of hard drives.

What's going to happen to SandForce's existing customers? As a silicon company, LSI is completely fine with being a controller and firmware supplier to SSD manufacturers. LSI reaffirmed it has no desire to enter the standalone consumer or enterprise SSD business.

In fact, the only area where LSI plans to deliver a branded solution driven by SandForce hardware is in the enterprise PCIe space - although once again, LSI says it has no issues supplying SF controllers for competing PCIe SSDs such as the OCZ Z-Drive.

I see the acquisition as a positive for SandForce. I believe that SandForce has the best technology in the industry but suffers from inferior validation. With existing design wins in the consumer hard drive and enterprise markets, LSI clearly understands the customer requirements for delivering a robust storage controller solution. If LSI can extend those learnings to SandForce, this acquisition will have a significant impact on the SSD industry going forward.

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  • Filiprino - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    This will make for good SSD controllers. LSI RAID cards look great, the manufacturer has great experience on high performance storage validation and endurance, this will benefit greatly Sandforce based products. Reply
  • Beenthere - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    There is much work that needs to be done to make consumer grade SSDs reliable and compatible. Until that happens many of us will not touch them as we simply don't need the headaches. Reply
  • TGressus - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    Intel and Marvell (Crucial, Corsair branded) based SSDs have run in the homes of our family with 100% uptime over the past few years.

    I understand your perspective firsthand, from retail sales experience. At this point, I think it's like the fear of Vista so many people had, and I can sympathize. You need good consulting to guide you toward market ready products.
    Reply
  • Uritziel - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    It IS a lot like Vista. Still today, I here people talk as if Vista were a broken OS that should be avoided like the plague, simply because of it's rough start. SSDs are just like that: their rough start has led people to avoid them well past the point where they should. Reply
  • Beenthere - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    Please don't be condescending. I've been building PCs long before Windows existed. Intel, Crucial, OCZ, Corsair, Samsung and other SSD suppliers have ALL had issues with their SSDs and no one can honestly say the multitude of SSD issues have been resolved. Anyone willing to put it in writing with a guarantee to reimburse me my $300/hour consulting rate for beta testing, feel free to post up... Reply
  • krazyderek - Saturday, November 05, 2011 - link

    wow $300/hr ? so who paid for that comment?? Seagate, or WD?

    Here's my measly $80/hr advise as someone who's been using SSD's in production systems for almost two years.

    Intel and Samsung have the best track records, Toshiba a close third, none of them are perfect, but neither are hard drives. I just sent in a Seagate 1TB for RMA that had 800+ reallocated sectors... it was working fine for a year then kappoof it just dropped out of the raid array.

    Similar but different problems with sandforce SSD's, they'll work fine for months, then just brick and need to be RMA'd. Besides reliability, Sanforce also heavily relies on TRIM to hit their performance numbers, look at systems without trim (XP, Mac, raid) or even avg speed after months of regular usage, not so great, or consistent.

    Intel and samsung offer a more predictable, and drop in SSD solution then sandforce, hopefully that's something LSI can improve.
    Reply
  • Powerlurker - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    There's a reason that the big hard drive manufacturers haven't made much of a splash in the SSD market. Their core competancy is in fabricating spinning platters, assembling hard drives using same, and programming the firmware. Those facilities take lots of capital and proprietary knowledge. In the SSD market they're competing against any idiot with a pick-and-place line. They don't manufacture their own flash, they don't design their own controllers, and even if they could, they're competing against companies that have already spent years making their bones in the world of solid-state memory products and know how to do it better than them. Reply
  • Qapa - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    That's great for market penetration of SSDs, altough some laptop brands already include SSDs...

    Nevertheless, I still prefer to trust non-Sandforce... for a while longer.

    And in that note, Anand, when will we have a review of the OCZ Octane? And wasn't it supposed to be on the market already?
    Reply
  • semo - Friday, November 04, 2011 - link

    LSI will do absolutely nothing for the consumer SSD market. The way patent wars are waged nowadays, I doubt that the technology LSI creates will filter down any time soon.

    Regarding OCZ Octane, rest assured that it will get glowing reviews while consumers are left to deal with all the problems. I don't know how OCZ gets away with it every time.
    Reply
  • MrMilli - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    I've now setup five machines with SSD's running in Intel Smart Responce Technology mode. Two running a Corsair Force 3 and three with an OCZ Agility 3.
    The Force 3's use firmware 1.3 and are stable on a SATA 6G port.
    Two of the Agility 3's use firmware 2.15 and are only stable on a SATA 3G port.
    One of the Agility 3's uses firmware .13 and is stable on a SATA 6G port.

    What a mess if you ask me. Goes to show that the firmware still isn't good.
    Reply

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