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Lenovo fails to perform planned Spark SSD demo

Wed 10 Aug 2016

Lenovo data centre

Lenovo, the Chinese PC giant, planned to unveil its long-anticipated Project Spark solid state drive for data center use yesterday. However, it backed out of the demonstration at the last minute, citing a ‘reassessment of the risk’ involved with completing a demonstration of the technology so far from the 2017 mid-year release date.

Project Spark represents Lenovo’s initial entry into the highly competitive SSD market. A demonstration was planned at the Flash Memory Summit in California yesterday, but was cancelled on the same day. A spokesperson for Lenovo said, “Essentially, the leadership stepped back and did a reassessment of the risk for the loss of a competitive edge; they thought the risk was too great in doing it now versus doing it closer to release.”

The prototype SSD, approximately the size of a memory stick, is believed to have between 6 and 8TB of storage space. SSDs are generally used for cold storage, to hold data until it is sent for processing. The demand for this type of storage is growing, from 39 million units shipped in 2012 to an expected 189 million in 2017.

Lenovo is currently researching linking multiple Project Spark cards onto a single board, which could provide storage capacity of more than 48TB. While SSDs are efficient, energy consumption and cooling resources must be taken into consideration when linking several onto a single device.

The market for solid state drives is exceptionally cutthroat. Samsung is the market leader by far, with over 40% market share, trailed by SanDisk whose share varies from 12-20%. The remaining market share must be divided between all other suppliers, creating a state of high competition, low price margins, and a struggle for product differentiation.

If Lenovo manages to link multiple Project Spark cards onto a single board and achieves the potential 48TB capacity, it will provide far more storage than the equivalent Samsung option. Two of the largest capacity Samsung SSDs would provide a total of just over 30TB of storage and fit into the same space in a data center. The performance of the Project Spark SSD is impressive as well, measured at over 1 million IOPS, although that speed could be compromised in regular use due to power and cooling concerns.

“Flash storage in general is an extremely competitive space,” the Lenovo spokesman said. “It’s a very spec-driven war right now. How much capacity can you cram onto them? How small can they go? How little power can they sip? The window where innovation gives you a lead is very, very small.”

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