Analyzing the SandForce Acquisition, An Interview with LSI

Yesterday’s announcement that LSI had entered into an agreement to acquire SandForce was interesting to say the least. The two companies have obvious synergy and should be able to leverage each other's resources to produce some powerful and innovative storage products. However, due to LSI’s strong position in the enterprise space and SandForce’s more consumer oriented position, along with the announcement’s minimal discussion of mainstream or desktop-targeted products, some questions lingered as to how LSI planned to market SandForce products moving forward. After all, dozens of manufacturers that specifically target enthusiasts and desktop users offer products built around SandForce’s solid state storage processors. How would the acquisition affect those businesses?

We just got off the line with Gary Smerdon, VP & GM of the Accelerated Solutions Division at LSI and he answered all of the lingering questions and more. Below we’ve got some slideware that further explains LSI’s decision to acquire SandForce along with some answers to our questions, direct from the parties involved.

Before answering our questions, Mr. Smerdon spoke a bit about how LSI planned to leverage SandForce technology for future Warpdrive branded solutions, and said that, “the additional technology synergies are fantastic and will help take the Warpdrive to a whole new level.” LSI and SandForce have been working together for a few years already, but Mr. Smerdon also mentioned that the acquisition will allow the company to optimize their platforms much further, which could be a big advantage for future products.

Gary also talked a bit about usage models and said that as NAND becomes more and more worn over time, the performance of the adapter using that NAND needs to stay constant throughout its life. Having a powerful storage processor in their portfolio will allow them to offer just that. The architectural benefits are already strong, but with the ability to do additional optimizations from both a firmware and silicon architecture standpoint, LSI’s believes there are many benefits that can ultimately be offered to their customer base. With that, onto our questions...


What does the acquisition mean for current SandForce partners that offer drives based on SandForce processors in the short term? And Long Term?
LSI is going to continue to support the customer base fully and there is no intent to restrict sales of SandForce technology to other storage manufactures. SandForce will continue to operate as a standalone business that is a division of LSI. LSI may even be able to accelerate sales. Having LSI as the owner of the technology may be a significant factor as current and potentially new partners make their purchasing decisions on storage processors for next-gen products.

LSI also wants to be sure there is a long roadmap for new products, and the company believes the SandForce acquisition helps ensure that. SandForce’s business model is already in line with LSI’s current model, with both companies licensing technology to third-parties and selling at the silicon chip level.  There are no plans to change that.


Although already partially answered, we also asked if SandForce would be operated as a separate entity and continue with business as usual offering controllers to partners, but with LSI leveraging the technology? Or will the SandForce and LSI teams be integrated?

LSI said SandForce will be operated as an in-tact business unit. SandForce currently employs about 185 people, and about 185 will be coming over to LSI to operate the new division. LSI wants to help the SandForce team takes things to a new level and not disrupt the company’s current business. It was also said that the current plan is to continue to use the SandForce brand moving forward.

Yesterday’s release mentioned enterprise and PCIe storage solutions a few times, but didn’t mention consumer desktops. What are LSI’s short and long-terms plans in the consumer SSD market?

“All of that business will continue.” SandForce’s technology is ideally suited to the markets they are addressing today. There is no intent to go into lower-end markets at this time, like the thumb drive market, because there is no benefit to using the technology there. LSI plans to continue to drive the high-end desktop and workstation markets, however, and has a clear roadmap for Ultrabooks, Notebooks, and other mobile form factors as well.


Is there a roadmap or projections for LSI branded SATA SSDs at this point in time?

LSI is going to leave that up to their partners. LSI will continue to develop reference platforms and successfully executing on SandForce’s future planed products, but ultimately LSI doesn’t have plans to manufacture and sell their own branded SSDs.

Beyond PCIe and SATA, are there any other interface or control technologies that LSI may be investigating or developing?

There are a myriad of possibilities here, with optimizations to the software stacks, interconnects and engines, but LSI was not calling out any specific roadmap moves at this time. Opportunities will definitely be explored as the companies become more integrated, but they wouldn’t speak to any specifics at this time.