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Top data storage acquisitions: SSD technology in demand

Ellen O'Brien

In December 2011, the closely scrutinized $1.4 billion Seagate-Samsung deal closed to put an exclamation point on a year in which hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drive (SSD) technology

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were in demand. There was a great deal of consolidation among hard drive vendors during the year, following a flurry of storage array acquisitions in 2010. But storage array acquisitions didn’t entirely disappear in 2011.

Below, we’ve highlighted the data storage acquisitions that altered the storage landscape in 2011:

1. Seagate-Samsung make deadline, Western Digital-HGST deal pending. Seagate Technology acquired Samsung Electronics’ M8 product line for $1.4 billion in December. The deal required seven months to close, mainly because of major regulatory hurdles. The Seagate-Samsung acquisition gave Seagate its archrival’s enterprise hard drive business, which led regulators to have serious concerns about what that means for competition in the marketplace. The deal gives Seagate Samsung’s line of 2.5-inch high-capacity hard drives. Samsung will also provide Seagate with chips for enterprise SSDs, while Seagate will supply hard drives to Samsung for PCs and consumer devices.

With the bells sounding the New Year, the biggest hard drive deal of all -- Western Digital’s proposed $4.3 billion takeover of Hitachi Global Storage Technology (HGST) -- didn’t close in time to make the 2011 calendar. The Western Digital-HGST deal is predicted to close next March, a year after it was first announced. The close was delayed by anti-trust regulations, but Western Digital finally won European Union approval in November to acquire Hitachi's HDD business after agreeing to sell off some assets to eliminate concerns regarding competition.

2. Hitachi and BlueArc make it official. The only surprise with this data storage technology acquisition is that it took so long. Before completing the $600 million Hitachi-BlueArc deal, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) sold BlueArc NAS systems for five years through an OEM deal. And although BlueArc filed forms to complete an IPO and go public, it relied on HDS for more than 40% of its revenue and never had a profitable quarter before joining the HDS fold.

3. Oracle brings Pillar into the fold. It’s hard to put a price tag on this one. What we do know is that Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison and some key business associates were owed $544 million by Pillar Data Systems, the result of loans and interest that funded Pillar from the start. In July, Oracle acquired Pillar, calling it a key fourth element to its data storage strategy. How much Oracle actually pays Ellison, Pillar and the many other players involved won’t be revealed until 2014, when Pillar’s performance will be evaluated.

But enough about the numbers; let’s talk storage. Pillar's Axiom storage array handles block and file work at the same time, and is application-aware -- using faster disk drives for data that's more dynamic than data assigned to slower disks. The Oracle acquisition of Pillar was described by Oracle as part of its strategy to “redefine storage” and, in essence, build out a line of hardware products that makes its applications run faster.

4. NetApp grabs LSI’s Engenio. NetApp Inc.'s $480 million acquisition of LSI's Engenio means NetApp has two platforms after years of positioning its single, unified platform as a competitive advantage vs. the various network-attached storage (NAS) and storage-area network (SAN) options available from other vendors. But NetApp execs played up the two different markets the company is targeting, saying the Engenio block-storage systems will be positioned in video and other high-performance computing (HPC) markets while the NetApp FAS platform is aimed at mainstream storage and virtualized infrastructures. As with the HDS-BlueArc and Oracle-Pillar deals, the players in this acquisition knew each other well -- NetApp CEO Tom Georgens held the same post at Engenio before joining NetApp in 2005.

5. SanDisk bets on Pliant, multi-level cell (MLC). SanDisk Corp. acquired startup Pliant Technology for $327 million, giving SanDisk entry into the enterprise market and providing more resources for development of Pliant’s technology. SanDisk buying Pliant was the company's way of betting on Pliant’s MLC-based flash technology as the next big thing. SanDisk plans to continue to sell Pliant’s single-level cell (SLC) flash as well, but SanDisk execs see MLC as the best way to push more flash technology into enterprise shops.

6. Fusion-io acquires caching software startup IO Turbine. PCI Express (PCIe)-based solid-state storage vendor Fusion-io Inc. went public in 2011 and made its first acquisition a few months later. Feeling the heat from other flash vendors such as STEC Inc. and the OCZ Technology Group Inc. -- which each introduced new PCIe-based SSD offerings in 2011 -- Fusion-io bought caching software startup IO Turbine for approximately $95 million. Fusion-io buying IO Turbine highlighted the increasing popularity of SSD-based, or flash-based, caching.

7. Quantum pockets Pancetera. Backup and archive player Quantum Corp. picked up Pancetera Software for $12 million. Quantum acquired the virtual machine (VM) backup specialist to boost its DXi data deduplication line and, eventually, its StorNext file system. Almost all of Pancetera’s employees joined Quantum, including the co-founders and CEO, and the acquisition was seen as a way for Quantum to gain credibility in the area of protecting data on virtual servers.


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