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Cenatek has new take on solid state storage

Solid state storage company Cenatek has acquired two products from drive developer John Lajoie Consulting.

Cenatek, a solid state storage company that came out of stealth mode only last month, has made an acquisition to supplement its technology. This week, the company bought two products from Ankeny, Iowa-based device driver developer John Lajoie Consulting. They are RamDiskNT and RamDisk9x/Me, drivers for Microsoft operating systems that emulate the functionality of a hard disk or floppy drive on RAM memory.

RamDisk technology enables main memory to function like a hard disk drive. No data is lost when the power is turned off, and system RAM is much faster than a conventional hard disk. It can be used for loading images at startup and saving them at shutdown, and for speeding up applications that make heavy use of disk I/O, including database programs and caches for Web browsers. The products support RAM disks of up to 4GB.

No financial details of the transaction were revealed. But the acquisition is intended to broaden the scope of Cenatek's yet-to-be-launched mainstream product line. It also delivers a ready-made customer base, and a couple of key licensing contracts, with Kodak and Motorola.

Priced at $35, the RamDisk product will be positioned as an entry-point to Cenatek's Rocket Drive product line. The Rocket Drive solid state disk will be positioned as a high-speed storage device when it begins shipping in September. It's claimed to be "thousands of times faster" than conventional hard drives and much cheaper than traditional solid state disks (SSDs). Delivered in the form of a PCI board, Rocket Drive functions like a hard disk but stores data using standard SDRAM memory chips rather than magnetic media. It attaches directly to the PCI bus on the motherboard, and should be able to achieve performance of up to one million transactions per second ? claimed to be the fastest data access speeds of any storage device available. Existing SSDs are typically channel-attached external devices using SCSI or fiber, and are limited to the speed or I/O transfer rates of the connection.

The first orders for Rocket Drive are due to be taken in October. Minimum memory configurations will start at 512MB. It will be aimed initially at workstation and small business server users, but the company hints at its use as "a potential building block for larger enterprise storage applications," and says it's particularly well suited to the server appliance market segment. Vendors in the emerging blade server market, some of whom are eying PCI as a potential standard format for blades, could also be an opportunity for the technology. Cenatek will sell directly, but also through strategic partners, hardware and software OEMs, resellers, distributors and systems integrators.

Privately held Cenatek, funded by Wellington Corp, which is itself part of the real estate and shopping mall company Triple Five Group, is based in Morgan Hill, California, with R&D facilities based in Redding. Its founders include CEO Jason Caulkins, previously of NASA's Ames Research Center. George Walker, an IBM and Tandem veteran, was recently brought on board as chief operating officer.

The company will compete with at least three other California-based SSD companies: Solid Data Systems of Santa Clara, BiTMicro Networks of Fremont and Imperial Technologies of El Segundo. Curtis, based in Minneapolis, is another long-term SSD supplier, and there are numerous firms in the related field of flash memory.

Solid Data claims market leadership, with a 35% share, followed by second place Imperial and third place Quantum (which exited the SSD market in June this year). Factory revenues in 2000 were $60m, according to a report from Peripheral Research. Solid says its focus is on the Unix-based high-end transaction server market, and believes Cenatek's technology will be more suited to content delivery.

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