Apple has purchased solid-state drive (SSD) maker Anobit, an Israeli start-up that makes storage products for data center use out of consumer-grade NAND flash memory. According to the Israeli newspaper Calcalist.com, Apple paid about $500 million to purchase the private company.
Apple already uses Anobit’s flash chip technology in the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air laptops. According to reports, Apple would use Anobit’s technology to increase the flash memory in its devices, as the cost to produce it would be significantly lower than purchasing it from a third-party provider.
According to published reports, Anobit’s executives gathered employees at its Herzliya headquarters to inform them of the completion of the Apple deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted about the deal stating, “Welcome to Israel, Apple Inc. on your first acquisition here. I’m certain that you’ll benefit from the fruit of the Israeli knowledge.”
Neither Anobit nor Apple would immediately confirm the acquisition.
Anobit has produced two generations of its Genesis SSD technology. The intellectual property that sets it apart from other SSD manufacturers is its controller, which uses firmware it calls Memory Signal Processing (MSP).
The controller technology extends the endurance of standard consumer-grade multi-level cell flash from about 3000 write/erase cycles to more than 50,000 cycles, making multi-level cell (MLC) technology suitable for high-duty cycle applications such as relational databases.
“You’re either using a more advanced controller with consumer grade NAND or you’re leveraging enterprise-class NAND. Anobit’s approach is to use the cheapest NAND they can find and then use their more advanced controller technology,” said Jeff Janukowicz, a research director at IDC.
Anobit is not alone among SSD processor makers who can extend MLC NAND’s reliability. For example, Sandforce makes a processor that uses data compression and RAID architecture to get around the limitations of MLC.
Sandforce uses 24-bit/512-byte error correction code in its flash controllers to extend the life of MLC-based SSDs. “However, the fundamental issue is that the signal quality is declining, and Anobit’s technology helps to get a ‘cleaner’ signal,” said Gregory Wong, an analyst with Forward Insights.
As of September, Anobit said it had sold 20 million MSP controllers to systems makers, which include consumer-grade products as well as single-level cell (SLC) SSDs sold by other vendors.
Genesis T-Series SSD
The Genesis SSD boasts a maximum sequential read/write rate of 510MBps. Its predecessor had a sustained sequential read/write rate of 220MBps and 180MBps, respectively.
Anobit has shrunk its circuitry from the earlier 40-plus nanometer (nm) process to 25 nm, thereby allowing it to double the capacity of the drive while also shrinking it from a 3.5-inch form factor to 2.5 inches. The Genesis is available in 100GB, 200GB, 400GB, and 800GB capacities.
As circuitry shrinks in flash memory products, error rates increase because the electrons used to create bits of information leak between the thinner cell walls. In order to fix data errors, manufacturers include error-correction code in their NAND flash. The higher the bit-error rates, the more ECC is required. Simply put, Anobit’s processor is able to continue to read data for a longer period of time compared with typical NAND flash with hard-coded ECC, which takes up flash capacity.
Wong said Anobit is the first company to commercialize its signal-processing technology, which uses software in the controller to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, making it possible to continue reading data even as electrical interference rises.
[Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas’s RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]