A Marketer’s look at the Flash Memory Summit 2012

Posted: August 28, 2012 by David Lamont in Flash Memory Summit 2013, Interesting Data, Opinion, Reviews
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I made my annual pilgrimage to the 2012 Flash Memory Summit at the convention center in Santa Clara, CA. This is one of my favorite conferences and this year’s event was bigger and more professional than ever. There was a lot to see and hear, but I’ll focus on what what caught my attention in the enterprise SSD arena — the market I’ve worked in since 2003 (the year my agency, Marketingsage, started helping Texas Memory Systems with PR and lead gen.)

Seagate’s annual slap-up-side-the-head for SSD vendors

The “Business Case for SSD” keynote by Jeff Burke, Seagate’s VP of Strategic Marketing, made an impression — not just on me. It was also one of the noteworthy topics being discussed at the lunch tables.

Seagate’s presentation amounted to their annual slap-up-side-the-head for the SSD vendors touting the imminent overthrow of hard disk drives — basically everyone in the very large room.

Seagate Chart (myyellow notes paraphrase what was said)

Seagate pointed out that the SSD forecasts have so far been overstated, the SSD sector is a tiny portion of the storage market, and Flash manufacturers could never meet the near-term or medium-term capacity demands of the market. He’s right…but this presentation (and others by Seagate) sure make me think that Seagate may be sandbagging on some real strategic issues:

  • A big chunk of Seagate’s profits come from its high end, higher margin, enterprise HDDs that typically go into arrays. The high-end market is readily moving to SSD because the economics in this performance-centric arena favor Flash over spindles. And, the laptop market is increasingly impacted by Flash-based tablets.
  • Seagate is essentially a vertically integrated manufacturing firm that’s fully invested in HDDs, not necessarily storage (all devices). It faces the Innovator’s Dilemma and may easily become another Kodak if it doesn’t match its lip-service with a big commitment to new technology.
  • Seagate lacks the core Flash technology in an arena where the firms with the core technology may be too big to easily acquire.
  • Building SSD systems causes a conflict with their OEM customers like HP, EMC, Dell, etc.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to see Seagate make a big acquisition as it moves to secure its future.

Start-ups and the new audience

The keynote by Rado Danilak, CEO of Skyera, also stood out with me. Skyera is a start-up that just announced a box of flash with de-dupe, compression, and technology to extend the life of their MLC chips.

The room was packed. However, the presentation turned out to be an overview of some well touted storage and performance issues.  Frankly, I thought the presentation was too light for a room full of technically orientated industry insiders. But by the end of day Thursday I had met so many first timers, that I now think the presentation may have hit the mark with this year’s attendees. There are a lot of new people learning about the technology, products and market.

Skyera is the shiniest of the new players, but Whiptail came sporting their new look (designed to be more corporate.) The memorable lizard logo was gone. Whiptail also makes a Flash system and uses de-dupe and compression to lower the cost per (stored) gigabyte. I’ve always thought they were smart to focus on solving cloud and virtualization performance problems, rather than marketing boxes of Flash in the face of well established players like Texas Memory Systems and low-cost producers. However, one look at the VMworld lineup shows how crowded the point-solution space  has become.

Another new firm, Shannon Systems, also exhibited. They are one of many new China-based makers of Flash-based products. Shannon was showing another MLC-based PCIe card.

It was good to see these innovative players at the expo, but I’ll bet they met far more industry peers than enterprise customers at this particular summit. This event is better suited to those with an OEM model.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

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