Calcalist, a daily business newspaper published in Israel by the Yedioth Ahronoth Group (which also publishes Yedioth Ahronoth, the country’s most widely circulated newspaper) on Tuesday ran a story claiming Apple was actively engaged in talks to buy fabless flash memory chip maker Anobit for as much as half a billion dollars. In a follow-up story this morning, Calcalist reports that Apple’s senior research and development executive Dr. Edward H. Frank is already touring Israel, investigating possibilities of an Apple-run development center as numerous Silicon Valley technology giants already operate R&D centers in the country, including Intel, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Broadcom, Yahoo!, eBay and China-based Huawei, to name just a few.
Apple’s Frank is a member of Carnegie Mellon University’s Board of Trustees and chairs the university’s Inspire Innovation campaign. He is apparently holding meetings with a bunch of Israeli startups who are hoping to wow the world’s most valuable technology company with next-generation solutions promising to bring flash storage prices down while substantially extending the lifespan of flash memory chips. The delegation headed by Frank has already met with executives at Intel Israel, the Calcalist story claims.
Globes chimed in with information from sources that “Apple has hired Aharon Aharon, a veteran player in Israel’s high tech industry, to lead the new development center”.
Should the Anobit deal go through, reporters Assaf Gilad and Meir Orbach write, Apple may be interested in further acquisitions of other Israeli startups specializing in innovative flash storage solutions. This includes XtremIO which develops server-based storage systems and its rival Kaminario, as well as DensBits which specializes in controller based signal processing to improve the operation of flash memory chip processors.
DensBits licenses its technology which improves flash memory chips’ reliability to about 100,000 deletions – twice that of its nearest competitor Anobit – helping reduce the prices of flash memory chips dramatically. Both DensBits’ and Anobit’s technology is believed to be licensed by many flash memory chip makers. Specifically, South Korean Hynix uses Anobit’s solution for a flash memory chip inside the iPhone 4S. Interestingly, Apple co-Founder Steve Wozniak is lead scientist for a competing enterprise SSD operation called Fusion I/O.
Ed Frank can be seen in the below clip talking about his experience at Carnegie Mellon University and how it continues to influence him today.
Ed Frank is a natural fit for Apple considering his knack for combining art and technology, the quality Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs frequently highlighted in public speeches as one of Apple’s key differentiators. Per this quote on the Carnegie Mellon University’s web site, Frank said:
With everything I find myself doing, I always think there’s an aesthetic to it — from an engineering perspective but also from an outside aesthetic. And clearly, being at Apple, a lot of what we do really involves building things that aren’t simply great to use but they’re beautiful to look at.
He extends the mantra to his home, too:
There’s naturally a blend of art and technology in our home. The university has this too. What makes Carnegie Mellon so interesting is that increasingly those two sides are talking to each other.
The report goes on to speculate that Apple may be interested in Anobit to help reboot its stalled corporate computing efforts because the startup specializes in enterprise SSD drives. There’s also another viable explanation. Apple is predominantly a consumer electronics company and has actually been winding down its corporate efforts. This had become evident earlier this year when Apple discontinued its Xserve server lineup – though that’s not to say they won’t re-engineer and relaunch the server family around all-flash storage.
Anobit, a fabless semiconductor maker Apple is reportedly interested to acquire for a cool $400-$500 million for its engineering talent, provides flash storage solutions for the enterprise and mobile markets. The iPhone maker, known for its conservative approach to acquisitions, did previously snap up Intrinsity, the chip maker behind the iPad brain, and P.A. Semi, a fabless semiconductor company which specializes in power-efficient processor architectures.
According to their web site, the 200-people startup specializes in Memory Signal Processing (MSP) technology which “significantly improves the endurance, performance and cost of flash storage products and systems”.
Their MSP technology is already licensed to “the world’s leading flash manufacturers, consumer electronics vendors and storage system providers”, the company writes on the web site. The original report by Calcalist indicates Apple is already relying on Anobit’s solutions in the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air. This Storage-Switzerland article sheds some light on Anobit’s MSP technology:
Essentially this means they can detect flash problems in flash cells when they’re much older, allowing them to extend the usable life of MLC flash significantly longer than other manufacturers. The net of this ability is Anobit’s flash products have much longer endurance than comparable products from other vendors. They claim commercial-grade MLC endurance comparable to that of SLC flash from other manufacturers. Theoretically, this would enable users to replace SLC flash with the more economical MLC products.