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Seagate's SSD may be a bit late

SoC problem makes for schedule jam

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An investment bank briefing note says that Seagate has suffered a setback in its solid state drive (SSD) development project and may not ship product for testing until 2010, having previously said it will announce its enterprise SSD this year.

The note is by Kevin D Vassily, an analyst at investment bank Pacific Crest Securities, and concerns the prospects for STEC. In a section focussing on competition he writes:

Notably in the last two weeks, we heard that Seagate (the company we think is closest in terms of market penetration) had another setback in its efforts to design an enterprise storage drive to compete with ZeusIOPS.

This effort centered on work the company was doing with LSI, (which) has experience in controller design in HDD. We believe that Seagate now will be forced to turn to a start-up company to find a potential solution, a setback that likely means there will no product available for testing until the middle of next year.

Given that qualification of a product (based on STEC's experience) can take up to a year, it would seem that mid-2011 is the earliest that any competing product will likely be able to ship in any volume.

STEC ships enterprise flash drives to EMC, HP, IBM and other storage array manufacturers where the SSD's low latency and high IOPS numbers make it an effective replacement for short-stroked Fibre Channel drives.

Seagate, which supplies Fibre Channel drives, has its own SSD effort, focussed on enterprise flash drives, and has consistently said it will announce its product this year. It awarded LSI a design project for a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) for this coming enterprise flash drive in October 2008.

Seagate rival Western Digital has its own SSD product, acquired with SilicomSystems in March, which it is selling into the niche military and government markets with a high-reliability focus. By pitching its coming SSD as an enterprise flash drive Seagate is posed to compete directly with market leader STEC and also with Intel which is supplying Dell/EqualLogic, InforTrend, Panasas and Pillar Data.

It would appear from the briefing note that there has been a problem in the SoC area and that a replacement supplier may be needed for LSI. Any delay to the Seagate SSD will provide more opportunity for STEC and Intel to strengthen their presence in the storage array market.

Candidates for a replacement controller supplier could include SandForce and also Pliant Technology.

A financial analyst, familiar with the Seagate situation, said: "I have heard that they are talking 2010 now rather than 2009. The private company... is SandForce, which came out of stealth mode in April."

According to his contacts at EMC and other storage array suppliers, "there is no viable alternative to STEC until mid-2010 (meaning) Seagate, Hitachi/Intel, Pliant, etc".

Neither LSI nor Seagate was immediately able to comment. ®

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