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IoT Gets A Flashy New Player, SanDisk Releases IoT/Industrial Products

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
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SanDisk announced its new line of SanDisk Industrial products, which is a dire sign for the existing plethora of small companies providing products for the IoT/embedded/industrial markets (which in many ways are all one and the same).

Just a few short years ago, the client and enterprise SSD markets consisted of an entire constellation of third-party SSD vendors that would build SSDs from NAND and SSD controllers purchased on the open market. The majority of these companies actually had no manufacturing facilities. These companies simply contracted the work out to other companies, such as Avant or Lite-On, that had SSD manufacturing capabilities. These companies slapped the third-party vendor's sticker on the product at the end of the SSD manufacturing line, and the third-party vendor then sold the SSDs on the general market.

The problem with this approach boils down to cost. Third-party vendors purchase NAND and controllers on the open market -- which is volatile and always carries a premium. The soothsayers of the storage industry predicted several years in advance that once the NAND fabs (Flash Forward (Toshiba/SanDisk), IMFT (Intel/Micron), Samsung and SK Hynix began selling their own SSDs, the market would contract. The NAND fabs offer the lowest price across the board -- you simply can't beat a NAND fab on cost. NAND is the most expensive component of an SSD, and thus the fabs always own the cost advantage.

The predictions were right, the client market jelled around the big fabs, and the third party vendors are either gone or selling to a vastly reduced market. In fact, the only non-fab companies that still have a significant presence are Kingston and Lite-On, and that is due to their wafer-processing capabilities. 

Which brings us back to the SanDisk announcement at hand. The embedded space (which also encompasses IoT and Industrial) currently features a similar composition of third-party manufacturers, but the klaxons are surely blaring as SanDisk enters the market.

It's no secret that SanDisk has had a troubling run of bad luck. Several factors led to its recent crash in its stock value -- but the advantage of producing its own NAND remains unchanged.

For a company with financial issues, the exploding IoT market presents a big tasty piece of low-hanging fruit. Gartner Research estimated that the IoT explosion will result in an incredible number of Internet-connected devices. In fact, IoT devices will outnumber humans 4-to-1 by the year 2020 -- that equates to 28.48 billion Internet-connected devices (if the population of the world remains the same as today's 7.12 billion). In other words, there is certainly gold in the IoT hills.

SanDisk, and others, have already begun the excursion into the automotive market, which resulted in the evisceration of the HDD solutions that previously dominated the segment. Astute market watchers viewed this as the NAND fabs testing the waters of the embedded space, and it appears they are right.

SanDisk designs its industrial flash products for the harsher environments that are prevalent in the IoT space. The new devices are for factory applications and industrial computing, utilities, medical equipment, surveillance camera systems, digital signage, robotics, point-of-sale computers and others.

The offerings include an Industrial XT SD Card that comes in capacities of 8, 16, 32 and 64 GB. These capacities may seem small to the casual observer, but they are perfect for cost-sensitive embedded applications, where each unneeded gigabyte of storage equates to lost profit. The XT SD cards also feature slower speeds that are perfect for the space (only 20 MB/s of sequential read/write performance). There isn't a need for high performance in the majority of embedded applications, so performance is viewed with the same critical eye as capacity -- vendors do not buy more than they need.

The company is also offering XT iNAND eMMC 4.51 embedded flash drives, which come in capacities of 4, 8, 16 and 32 GB and provide more speed with sequential performance of 30/120 MBps read/write.

The XT products aside, SanDisk also offers its Industrial iNAND embedded flash drives with 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 GB of capacity and sequential read/write speeds of 20/130 MBps. These drives also feature enhanced power immunity and an Enhanced User Definable Area (EDUA) SLC partition. SanDisk has had integrated SLC layers in its products for some time, so this is a natural extension of that functionality that allows users to select the amount of capacity they wish to dedicate as SLC NAND. Finally, its Industrial SD and micro SD cards come in 8, 16, 32 and 64 GB and feature sequential read/write speeds of 20 MBps.

These products feature the key differentiator in the extended temperature threshold of -40C to 85C, which is much higher (and lower) than the typical 0-60C found in client products. High temperatures have a tremendous impact on the performance and endurance of any flash-based solution. Qualifying flash products for temperature extremes requires the use of higher-binned flash, firmware optimizations and increased overprovisioning. To boost durability, SanDisk Industrial flash products stick with more endurant 19nm flash, in contrast to the 15nm it employs for client applications.

SanDisk will also have to adjust to the realities of the embedded space to find success. Some companies that manufacture end products expect support, and the ability to purchase the exact same type of product, for ten years -- and even longer. Network switches, robotics and even office printers are common products that tend to have a long shelf life. The fickle nature of the NAND manufacturing game, where each step down to smaller lithographies imparts even greater savings to the manufacturers, does not always mesh well with the long-term game plan preferred by most companies in this space.

There is also a myriad of third-party IoT/embedded/industrial competitors as well, and most of them have had extended experience with this market segment, along with robust and mature product lines. These companies also have significant investment in future-looking technologies. Virtium, for instance, is already onto the popular PCIe interface paired with its slim M.2 SSDs.

SanDisk, by contrast, still has a limited selection of M.2 offerings for OEM applications, and none for the embedded market. In either case, we are sure the entrenched embedded storage vendors are taking notice of SanDisk's continuing excursion into their stomping grounds.

The new SanDisk Industrial storage solutions are currently available worldwide.