Why Apple is buying Anobit

Why Apple is buying Anobit

Summary: Calcalist says that Apple is making its largest hardware acquisition ever: Israeli firm Anobit. Who are they and what would they do for Apple? I've spoken to Anobit's CTO, Avraham Meir, and studied the technology. Here's what they're buying - and why.

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TOPICS: Banking, Apple, Mobility
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If the story is correct, Apple is not only getting "magical" technology, but also some of the world's foremost flash memory technologists. Update: It is official: Apple is buying Anobit for $500 million. End update.

Apple strategy Apple's high gross margins and huge cash hoard mean it can make investments that no competitor can. Many of their investments are in the supply chain - thousands of CNC machines, or billions of dollars of flash - but they also make technology investments where they believe they can create a lasting competitive advantage.

Will buying Anobit for a reported $400-500 million give them a lasting competitive advantage? Here's the scoop.

Anobit's technology Flash is not a well-behaved storage medium. It has many problems - fast writes are hard, data wants to leak away, and there's a ticklish relationship between the number of writes and how long data can be retained - and it's getting worse as chip capacities increase.

Flash works by trapping little clouds of electrons in cells. As feature sizes shrink those cells get smaller - and so does the number of electrons in a single bit. With the move to 3 and 4 bits per cell, the electron cloud gets down to a few hundred electrons per bit.

Electrons - tiny, negatively charged particles - like to escape their cells. That threatens your data integrity.

Anobit's technology combines signal processing with flash management to tame rowdy electrons and make flash look like a proper storage medium.

Signal processing Is that a 1 or a 0? Teasing the answer from ever-smaller electron clouds is hard and getting harder. That is signal processing.

Flash management Flash cells interact with each other - for example, voltage levels leak from one cell to another - and cells are sensitive to workload - as the number of writes increases so does the error rate - and these group effects must be managed.

Many flash errors, such as voltage level leaks, behave in predictable ways: voltage always leaks from high to low. Predictable errors can be corrected and then more sophisticated techniques applied to corner cases.

What Anobit delivers Anobit designs controller chips that make flash behave.

  • Reliability. Deep understanding of flash behavior enables Anobit controllers to make flash much more reliable than standard flash specs suggest: they can make 2 level cell flash as reliable as raw single level cell flash is today - a 10x improvement.
  • Performance. Flash can be written much faster than normal at the cost of more errors. But if you can fix the errors you can have fast flash.
  • Endurance. Reducing errors and managing the flash writes means you can make flash endurance - how long it retains data - much longer.
  • Power. Writing flash takes power - 128 flash die can't be simultaneously written on a SATA power budget - and fast writing takes more power. Those trade-offs need management.

The Storage Bits take If true, the Anobit acquisition is Apple's biggest hardware bet ever. And it is a good bet.

Anobit gives Apple a powerful competitive weapon that can be used to both reduce costs and/or increase performance, while increasing product quality in terms of reliability and battery life. Sure, flash manufacturers have the money to invest in competitive technology, but they'll sell it to all comers, leaving their customers with no differentiation.

And Anobit's expertise - they've applied for over 60 patents - is readily transferable to whatever next-gen technology overtakes flash. This acquisition is a long-term bet on the importance of cheap, fast and reliable solid-state storage for keeping Apple on the leading edge.

Comments welcome, of course. Now if Apple would invest in replacing the much hacked HFS+ file system.

For some details on what Anobit does, check out this StorageMojo post from April. Here's the link to Calcalist that was supposed to be in the overview.

Topics: Banking, Apple, Mobility

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26 comments
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  • Here is the real reason Apple is buying them

    Samsung is one of Anobit's customers. This move by Apple is in order to choke its competitors out of their suppliers.
    toddybottom
    • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

      @toddybottom Well if Samsung is a customer they are simply reverse engineering to copy their designs. That is the Samsung way.
      johnsuarez10
      • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

        @johnsuarez10 That is funny...:)
        WilliamA1970
      • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

        @johnsuarez10

        Ooops, I think you meant the Apple way. Why is Apple buying Anobit? Because that's how Apple does research and design - by buying other people's.
        tonymcs1
      • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

        @tonymcs@... Ok, name what other major corporation that doesn't buy other companies to get their tech. Of course you can and you never would have said anything if it wasn't a shot at Apple. You have once again proved you are one of the, if not the, worst of the small minded Apple haters. Apple is by no means perfect but come on, you need to get a life.
        non-biased
    • Because, of course, Anobit is the only maker of Flash memory in the world

      nt
      baggins_z
      • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

        @baggins_z

        He probably has tons of shares in Microsquash.
        Celticuser
  • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

    Would be nice if you included the price of Anobit... Apple has a TON of cash, but not all of this is in the USA. Buying a foreign company could relieve a bit of this issue. Anobit is an R&D company - so they may never make or fabricate something that makes Apple money directly - this could also help Apple foreign profit "issues".<br><br>Will Apple leap ahead in Flash Memory technology like they have moved ahead in mobile processing/gpu technology?<br>
    bbx11
    • Next is AMD

      It would make a ton of sense for Apple to buy AMD. With the love at a low with Intel (seems that way from the outside), an acquisition of AMD would help them do with CPU/GPUs what they have done with flash memory technology here. They are the only company with Intel-like chops.

      We shall see...
      dcristof
      • Can't see Apple throwing money on a slowly sinking ship like AMD.

        @dcristof
        Apple's long-term plans probably lean toward completely ARM-based architectures, so I can't see them swooping in to save AMD. For now, I see Apple riding along on Intel processors while they simultaneously develop an ARM-based multi-core/multi-cpu desktop design. Once they have that finished, I see them abandoning Intel and AMD altogether in favor of their own custom chips. Imagine the excellent processors in the iPad/iPhone 4S scaled up by 32 for their desktop systems.
        BillDem
      • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

        @dcristof, almost anything BUT AMD. That company is falling further behind, and has nothing of value to Apple, or anyone else, for that matter. The only products they have these days that compete are GPU's. Apple doesn't need to buy them for that.
        melgross
      • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

        @dcristof I think a much better choice target would be Arm Holdings. ARMH's market cap right now is $11.5 Billion. Not only the great technology that would belong to Apple, but the ability to help drive the R&D at a talent laden company to help ensure the greatest technology is focused upon the direction Apple wants to take the IPhone and IPad. They would not need for ARMH to be profitable... tho they should certainly continue a policy of licensing that is followed by ArmH... but they could bring more research money than ArmH can as a standalone firm.
        WilliamA1970
      • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

        @dcristof

        Apple has always needed someone to custom design chips for them, like CPUs. They tried once, together with Motorola and IBM - the PowerPC thing. It was great time for Apple -- except that other companies didn't want Apple's success.

        So if Apple can buy itself a great innovative company like AMD, why not? They will get the best GPUs and the best multi-core CPUs out there. Apple's software is sufficiently multi-core aware and they may bring out great products.
        Especially, if the chips are made to their specification.
        danbi
    • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

      @bbx11 Good point. I added the rumored purchase price of $400-500 million. That will make a dent in their overseas cash, but they have billions more stashed away.

      Apple has to believe there is some kind of sustainable advantage. I have some ideas about where this might be going. Stay tuned.
      R Harris
  • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

    A hoard of cash, not a horde. A horde of proofreaders have evidently been laid off from ZDNet.
    hwrd_lwrd
    • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

      @hwrd_lwrd Perhaps the horde off cash is attacking a small country somewhere? lol
      THavoc
    • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

      @hwrd_lwrd LOL
      jgoode1
    • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

      @hwrd_lwrd
      Whoa! Good catch. We do our own proofreading here, so I'm to blame.
      R Harris
  • It's the storage woes...

    Something about Occam's razor comes to mind....Sure, there is tech advantage to be had from an R&D perspective. But that's an explanation that leapfrogs the more immediate and pressing issue of the day: the industry is suffering from the HD shortage (Thailand flooding). This alleviates market pricing pressure for Apple. Device makers are using flash drives as an alternate to disk; this obviously drives the prices up. Apple doesn't have the volume of someone like HP. This move means they *own* a Flash supplier -- instead of having to *pay* competitively higher prices, they *set* the prices for others, and get what they need at a fixed price...with guaranteed supply.
    Techboy_z
    • RE: Why Apple is buying Anobit

      @techboy_z
      From what I am understanding, anobit does not manufacture flash, but provides the firmware to make it more stable and reliable. If the buy-out goes through Apple would still not be manufacturing and thus will not be setting the prices.
      This is only what I have gotten from what I've read so far. Can anyone elaborate?
      acltd