Western Digital invests in enterprise SSD maker Skyera

Traditional hard drive makers like Western Digital have largely stayed out of the SSD market. The company's solid-state SiliconDrive lineup is pretty sparse; it's limited to enterprise-oriented products that use SLC memory exclusively and top out at just 128GB. WD continues to funnel money into SSD development, though. After providing the initial funding for enterprise SSD firm Skyera, WD has "co-invested" in a $51 million "Series B round of financing."

The press release doesn't mention any other co-investors, but it does indicate that WD's contribution extends the strategic relationship between the two companies. That relationship "includes joint technology development," although it's unclear to what extent the two are working together.

Skyera seems primarily focused on cost-effective enterprise storage solutions. The press release touts the shyHawk storage system, a rack-mounted product that uses 19/20-nm MLC NAND and is priced at less than $3 per gigabyte, an apparent "industry breakthrough" for this class of storage.

Skyera's proprietary controller technology anchors the skyHawk, providing "advanced flash management algorithms" to extend NAND life. Interestingly, the controller is capable of "softening writes" during periods of lower I/O traffic. This process uses "a lower electrical charge" when writing to the cell, which is supposed to reduce the substrate degradation that causes flash wear. The controller also includes a compression scheme and a RAID 6-like implementation that work together to slash flash writes by factor of 10X, Skyera claims.

Although the skyHawk systems are clearly built for server racks, the underlying flash management mojo should be valuable for any SSD, including client drives and caching solutions. It will be interesting to see whether the technology works its way into any Western Digital products—and how long it takes the hard drive maker to expand its solid-state offerings.

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