The LSI SandForce Acquisition: Anand's Thoughtsby Anand Lal Shimpi on November 2, 2011 12:11 PM EST
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.