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SSD Developer NxGn Exits Stealth Mode To Join Crowded SSD Market

NxGn, a startup formed by a core group of ex-sTec and ex-Western Digital execs, is entering the competitive SSD market with plans to develop its own SoC (system-on-chip)-based controllers.

Startup SSD manufacturer NxGn on Wednesday came out of stealth mode with plans to build SSDs based on its own high-performance controller, a move seemingly at odds with the current contraction this part of the flash storage market is undergoing.

NxGn, founded by a group of SSD veterans from sTec and Western Digital, includes a core group of people who have worked on this technology for a long time, said James Fife, vice president of business development for the Irvine, Calif.-based company.

"The team has been together for some time," Fife told CRN. "They put sTec, or Simple Tech as it was known before, on the enterprise SSD map, and got the whole enterprise SSD industry started."

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They include NxGn Founder and CEO Nader Salessi, a former vice president at sTec and vice president of the SSD Business Unit of Western Digital; Co-Founder and CTO Vladimir Alves, former senior director of SSD SoC (system-on-chip) at Western Digital; and Co-Founder and Senior Vice President of SSD Solutions Richard Mataya, who was vice president of hardware engineering at sTec and senior director of SSD hardware engineering at Western Digital.

sTec in its heyday was the primary supplier of SSDs to the enterprise. EMC partnered with sTec in 2008 when it became the first top-tier enterprise storage vendor to add SSDs to a disk storage array.

Western Digital in June of 2013 acquired sTec, making it a part of that company's HGST SSD business. Several of NxGn's employees left sTec for Western Digital prior to the acquisition of sTec, but then left Western Digital to form NxGn when it was clear that HGST would be taking over Western Digital's SSD business, Fife said.

The SSD market today is vastly different from when sTec first came to market, said Todd Swank, director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based system builder.

"Best of luck to them," Swank told CRN. "I'm not sure how they will separate themselves from companies like Intel or Samsung, which make SSDs and also the flash component inside them. And companies like Seagate that are moving into flash and who have years of storage relationships they are trying to get in."

A startup like NxGn likely has connections with enterprise customers they can leverage, Swank said. "But they're going up against some pretty well-funded competitors. We've got more people trying to sell us SSDs than we know what to do with."

NEXT: NxGn Banks On Its Own Controller Tech For Success

Fife said that many of the SSD vendors in the market today buy their flash chips and their controllers from other manufacturers and put them together in SSDs.

"We design our own controller," he said. "It's a true SoC solution to get high performance, lower power consumption and smaller size."

NxGn is targeting enterprises in the hyperscale and cloud computing markets with its SSDs, which comply with the M.2 standard for use on small-form-factor cards, Fife said.

The company's controller uses LDPC (low-density parity check) code in conjunction with low-cost consumer-grade flash chips to ensure the flash memory in the SSDs offer enterprise-quality reads and writes, Fife said.

It is targeting applications such as cold storage, in which data is taken off the fastest storage medium when not being accessed but then moved back to high-speed mediums when needed, he said.

"There's quite a demand for SSD cold storage from the webscale guys like Google and Facebook," he said. "If grandma on Facebook wants to see a photo of her grandchildren, Facebook doesn't want those photos stored on the highest-speed storage, but also doesn't want grandma waiting long to have them retrieved."

NxGn is also targeting the nascent microserver market, Fife said.

When asked whether the market needs another SSD vendor, Fife said a lot of those in the market today do not have their own intellectual property.

"They have the infrastructure to build SSDs, but not the flash controller technology," he said. "Flash controller manufacturers are more of our competitors. And there are so few out there. Most have been acquired."

NxGn expects to start making evaluation units available for testing by enterprise customers late this year. The company hopes to have samples using controllers based on FPGA technology early next year, with full production of SSDs using its SoC-based controllers slated for late 2015.


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