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Marvell: Ignore the $1BN PATENT JUDGMENT... Check out this new cache kit

Firm soldiers on, launches Dragonfly NVDRIVE product

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Disk and flash controller maker Marvell, which also manufactures various other semi-conductor chippery wares, is not having a great start to 2013. The firm, which has just launched a flash-caching product and invested in an SSD maker, was hit with a crushing $1.17bn damages award 10 days ago for infringing Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) patents.

Marvell has just announced its Dragonfly NVDRIVE product - a PCIe solid state drive (SSD) cache. Alan Armstrong, Marvell's Semiconductor’s Storage Business Group marketing VP, said: "It delivers the same … application acceleration as the existing NVCACHE [product], but now seamlessly integrates with onboard SSD modules for plug-and-play ease of use."

The product builds on the existing Dragonfly NVCACHE and NVRAM write-back caching products announced in August 2012, by adding in SSD (solid-state drive) capacity. The product components include SoC (System on Chip) technology, non-volatile DDR memory, optimised caching algorithms, and on-board entry-level enterprise SSD modules. Marvell claims it has consistent write latency capabilities, making it a good fit, it says, to applications needing predictable write performance.

Marvell says: "DragonFly write-back caching is fully-powered by ARM-based storage processors and enables storage administrators to configure granular cache policies at either a file or block level." That's neat.

The drive has up to 1.5 TB of useable SSD capacity with what SanDisk says is the industry’s largest integrated non-volatile DRAM cache. It doesn't tell us how big it is though. Cache mode sustained performance is said to exceed 200,000 4K random IOPS, 3GB/sec throughput and sub-10us average latency.

RAID software and high-availability peer-to-peer synchronous mirroring are present to prevent data loss against failure at server, adapter, SSD module or NAND component levels. An ultra-thin filter driver, residing in Linux or Xen, supports caching across all storage protocols, including SCSI (local DAS), NFS, iSCSI, FCoE and FCP. Marvell says it is transparent to applications.

Marvell is targeting its NVDRIVE at large-scale internet and cloud computing data centres, where it can accelerate both bare metal and virtualised server applications, including web servers, OLTP and analytic databases, NoSQL and Big Data distributed applications. Hypervisor integration enables virtual machine migration, high-availability, snapshots, and clones according to Marvell. There is an integrated DragonFly Manager for GUI-based administration and performance monitoring.

OEM partners like SanDisk are keen on it, and Kevin Conley, SVP and general manager for Client Storage Solutions at SanDisk, provided a canned quote: "The SanDisk X100 mSATA SSDs provide small form factor, low-latency, high-performance and cost-effective non-volatile storage for the Marvell DragonFly NVDRIVE. Optimised for entry-level enterprise workloads, the Marvell NVDRIVE based on the X100 SSDs provides an ideal solution for customers seeking performance demanding business-critical data centre applications.”

Marvell and Memoright

According to a widely reported Digitimes story Marvell has made an investment in Memoright, a Taiwanese maker of SSDs, to arrange a combination of its SSD controllers and Memoright firmware. The Digitimes report is posted on Memoright's website. We don't know the size of the investment.

Apparently Marvell and LSI are the two main SSD controller suppliers and have around 70 per cent of the market. LSI SSD controllers come with installed firmware while Marvell controllers do not, and OEM customers have to add their own. This Memoright deal should fix that problem. Marvell is also expected to use Memoright firmware in its tablet and smartphone eMMC controller integrated circuits (ICs) as well.

We have two pieces of good news about Marvell here. Unfortunately it has been hit with a massive IP damages award.

IP damages award

We've learned more about the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) damages award against Marvell since the judgment 10 days ago. As our story said, a jury in Pittsburgh, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, "found that the [CMU] patents were literally and wilfully infringed and valid, and awarded damages in the amount of $1.17 billion."

This is a massive amount of shekels. Marvell's fiscal 2012 revenue was $3.39bn with profits of $15m. This was down from the previous year when revenues were $3.61bn and net income $904m. A $1.17bn fine would quite spoil the company's finances. In fact it could be worse as the jury said Marvell "wilfully" infringed the patents and a judge could therefore treble the award, making Marvell liable to hand over $3.51bn - a year's revenue in effect, and potentially one of the largest ever, if not the largest ever IP infringement award in history.

There could even be an immediate impact, as Marvell has said it "has not yet determined the financial impact, if any, to the results of operation for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013, ending February 2, 2013."

Marvell's current market worth is $4.41bn. We'd guess that if investors thought Marvell was actually going to be likely to have to pay a $3bn plus award they'd desert the company in droves and it might implode. This is potentially catastrophic. Management is going to have to work strenuously and continuously to stop this affair blighting shareholder value for as long as the dispute goes on, meaning years potentially.

Will it have to pay?

Marvell is going to appeal all the way up the hierarchy of courts to try and get the judgment overturned or the amount of damages reduced. Well, this should take years, and Marvell's lawyers must be licking their fee-earning lips. The likelihood is that, if CMU's case is upheld, the damages amount will be reduced. Even so, El Reg's storage desk thinks Marvell will now start talking to CMU seriously about a licensing agreement for the IP in question in an attempt to cap the damage.

The DragonFly NVDRIVE will be sampling later this quarter with potential OEM and cloud computing customers. It's offered at 750GB and 1.5TB capacity points and pricing starts at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $2,995. ®

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