SAN JOSE, Calif. – CEO Ahbi Talwalkar believes wireless base stations will fuel the next big round of growth at LSI Corp. The company has some still-secret signal processing technology that will help drive that opportunity, the chief executive said Thursday (Nov. 15) in an interview at LSI’s annual conference here.
LSI is doing relatively well at a time when the semiconductor industry is sputtering through a slumping global economy. The declining fortunes of the PC add to the pain.
Despite the hard times, Talwakar claimed he sees light at the end of the tunnel. He took the reins at LSI from industry icon Wilf Corrigan in 2005 to turn the struggling ASIC maker into a growing fabless company. Since then, LSI shed its fabs, acquired comms chips with Agere and, more recently, a superhot flash controller with Sandforce.
“We are in the top 15 percent of our peers with a 16 percent compound annual growth rate over the last three years, operating performance we have not seen in 12 years, and we are just getting started,” Talwalkar told EE Times.
Much of the good news lately has been from the Sandforce unit exceeding expectations with sales of flash cards into everything from big Hadoop servers to svelte Ultrabooks. With today’s electronics markets increasingly polarized into mobile and cloud segments, the big in-between space of PCs—including Ultrabooks—increasingly looks like a yawning chasm where semiconductor makers once sold 45 percent of their chips.
“I’d love to see someone find the right recipe to create a compelling need to buy a PC and spur demand,” said Talwakar. “LSI has up to 25 percent of its business exposed to PCs, but we don’t need the PC market to grow well as a company."
Talwalkar reserved judgment on whether x86 Ultrabooks can fend off an onslaught of ARM-based tablets until Intel ships early next year Haswell, its first CPU to use its 22-nm FinFET process. In the meantime, he’s placing LSI’s bets on growth in data centers and carrier networks.
On the show floor, LSI demonstrated a variety of ways it is plugging its Sandforce flash products as cache into a wide variety of servers and networks to accelerate performance on a host of apps. It also launched a new sub-brand called Syncro for shared storage products. (See pictures on the following pages.)
The first big Syncro product is a collaboration with Microsoft on cluster-in-a-box systems using Windows Server 2012 and LSI chips to share a disk array, initially between two servers. Eventually the systems will scale to the sweet spot of four to eight shared servers.
Multiple OEMs will start shipping the servers early next year as everything from complete systems for small businesses to building blocks for mega data centers, said Thomas Pfenning (below), a general manager in Microsoft’s server group, who spoke at the LSI event.
“We are quickly becoming the storage arm of data centers because we touch every aspect of storage now with flash and hard drive silicon, Talwalkar said.