SanDisk buying highlights importance of software-defined storage

Today’s news of flash-memory giant SanDisk buying out in an all-cash transaction valued at $1.1 billion wasn’t entirely all that unexpected. Today’s flash storage market is in a state of flux with a flood of acquisitions and offerings taking place as big storage players like SanDisk and Western Digital are trying to boost their storage expertise with companies that can bring software expertise to the table.

In late May, storage provider Seagate Technology purchased Avago’s flash businesses for $450 million. Last September, Western Digital swallowed server-side flash storage company Virident for $683 million, which came only three months after the hard-drive maker spent $340 million to purchase solid-state drive company sTec. EMC has even gotten into the flash storage battleground with its updated VNX hybrid storage array that it rolled out last September.

With the advent of cloud computing, companies don’t want to have spend their time manually determining which data should be partitioned to RAM, flash or even a spinning disk; they want software to figure this out and automate the task.

While’s (S FIO.N) recent management issues certainly don’t offer a sense that the company was operating on steady ground, the fact that SanDisk sought it out highlights the ever-important need for software to be integrated with hardware in order to improve efficiency.

Both Western Digital and Sandisk have specialized in making physical boxes, but they haven’t focussed on software, which is Cottonwood Heights, Utah-based’s specialty.

Frank Frankovsky, chairman and president of the Open Compute Project Foundation and former Facebook vice president of hardware design and supply chain optimization, applauded the purchase in an email to Gigaom: “[] still have a strong enterprise feature advantage [software] and putting SanDisk fab (and lower cogs) behind them should be a powerful combination!”

Facebook uses’s flash technology for its operations that require a lot of speed, and has been working on software to improve its efficiency, such as the case with software that can recognize unreliable areas of flash memory so data won’t be allocated to the troubled spots.

Even Oracle, a company notoriously slow when it comes to technological innovations in recent years, recently announced new software that allows companies to partition how their storage is managed, with the most important data being kept in dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) followed by flash and then disk.

Monday’s acquisition also puts flash-storage specialist Violin Memory (S VMEM) in the spotlight. The company has been struggling to stand on its feet ever since the company’s shaky IPO in September and a torrent of class-action lawsuits led to former CEO Don Basile getting the ax.

As of the time of this writing, the Santa Clara-based company’s shares were up to $4.20, compared to last week’s close around $3.90.

Nowadays, it’s not just enough for storage companies to sell drives; they need to be able to have the software that can slice and dice where exactly data gets stored, all in the name of better performance. SanDisk’s move likely won’t be the last instance of consolidation in the storage market.