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Samsung and Seagate snuggle on solid state drives

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Samsung and Seagate will jointly develop and cross-license controller technologies for solid state drives (SSDs) used in enterprise applications.

The release singles out Seagate's enterprise storage technology, meaning its hard disk drive experience (HDD), and Samsung's 30nm multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash expertise. Samsung is the leader in the world-wide flash market and Seagate is the leader in enterprise hard drive shipments, although number two overall and behind Western Digital by a slim margin.

Steve Luczo, Seagate's all-powerful chairman, president and CEO, said: “Today’s agreement with Samsung will help us bring a compelling set of SSD innovations to the enterprise storage market, with benefits that range from enhanced performance, endurance and reliability to cost and capacity improvements."

Having an enterprise-class MLC SSD will certainly help Seagate and Samsung compete against STEC, the current enterprise SSD leader, and HitachiGST/Intel. STEC is bringing out its own MLC product.

Enterprise SSDs are typically sold through OEMs such as EMC and IBM. Qualification can take six to nine months. Any product released by Seagate and/or Samsung would take up to nine months before being shipped by OEMs. This indicates that first customer ship of any SSD with a Samsung/Seagate controller could be delayed until 2012.

With Samsung having a stake in Fusion-io and Toshiba one in Violin Memory as well as a fabrication partnership with SanDisk, it looks as if big-player partnerships between flash fabs and HDD manufacturers are the order of the day. This may mean Western Digital with its in-house SSD capability is out in the cold, not having a flash fab partnership.

Where does this leave LSI, which has an existing relationship with Seagate for Pulsar SSD controller technology? It may mean that, effectively, LSI is out and Samsung in for Seagate. On the other hand LSI may be involved in the deal, at arm's length, with its controller technology forming part of what Seagate is offering Samsung. That might be a bit of a stretch, as LSI would surely want to be a visible part of the deal.

SandForce also has a role in the Pulsar controller, and its future options with Seagate may now be limited. ®

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