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October 22, 2012updated 19 Aug 2016 9:28am

Q&A: is solid state storage ready for prime time?

According to Gartner, the enterprise server and storage solid state disk (SSD) market generated $2.6bn in revenue in 2011, and is predicted to grow to more than $14.2bn by 2016. I recently sat down with Esther Spanjer, director of technical marketing at SSD storage firm Smart Storage Systems, which has just announced it is expanding into Europe from its Californian roots.

By

Esther Spanjer

Esther Spanjer

Could you start by giving my readers a bit of background on the company?

We were a business unit of Smart Modular, which does DRAM, SRAM and Flash memory products. About a year ago we were bought by [private equity firm] Silver Lake Partners, and we were spun out with our own R&D, P&L and so on.

You’re headquartered in California I see…

Yes, Newark California. But we have three design centres in the US, and a manufacturing facility in Malaysia. We have 130 staff in the US, and our manufacturing facility is what was the Modular Storage facility – a very established manufacturing site. If you don’t produce the right quality then in the next round of systems they [OEMs] will go with someone else. The tier-1 OEMs are on the phone every day and they even have some of our engineers on-site in their labs – that’s how seriously they take quality.

So tell us about the expansion into Europe.

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We’ll do France and the UK first. In the US we have been targeting tier-1 OEMs, like IBM and EMC. Here in Europe we think we need to also be talking to VARS, integrators and storage OEMs. In the US we have already won with IBM and we are in dialogue with several others. I expect two be able to announce two or three more by the end of the year.

Is the market really ready for solid-state storage?

The need for faster storage has become clear. The storage is not keeping up with the rest of the IT infrastructure – storage performance has become an IT bottleneck. The fastest disk can handle about 400 I/O’s per second. Our solid-state Flash can do 100,000 I/O’s a second.

But the problem with SSD storage has been its price point, hasn’t it?

Yes, cost has been the big challenge, but we have been able to address that by being able to use MLC [multi level cell] Flash memory. SLC [single level cell] typically costs three times as much but offers endurance of about 100,000 cycles, compared to MLC’s 3,000 write cycle-endurance. You tell a CIO they’ll get 3,000 cycles and they’re not going to be impressed, but we have been able to take MLC and get more endurance thanks to our ‘secret sauce’. We can get the much cheaper MLC to achieve close to 100,000 cycles just like SLC. So we are able to offer a similar or better spec than SLC at one third of the cost.

Is this technology patented?

We have multiple patents pending. We have real strength in intellectual property.

And you’re selling mostly to OEMs, integrators and so on, rather than directly?

We want people to use our technology in their systems. We think winning tier-1 OEMs will help us build a pull-through model, but we’ll also reach out to CIOs because if we can convince them that this is the right answer to the storage bottleneck, they’ll pressure the OEMs to offer it.

 

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