Western Digital gears up for shift to SSD

Hard disk manufacturer Western Digital is finally getting serious about solid state drives. The company will use this week’s purchase of SSD specialists Silicon Systems (for a neat US$65 million in cash) to jump-start a line of WD-branded solid state drives.

But don’t expect WD-branded slabs of flash memory to suddenly appear in your laptop. Silicon Systems’ expertise is in the enterprise space and hinges on supplying solid state drives to companies building enterprise servers along with niche markets such as industrial systems embedded computing and military and medical hardware.

And while flash-enhanced hybrid drives failed to catch on in the wake of Vista and its hybrid-friendly ReadyDrive booster WD is expected to roll some of its newly acquired SSD technology into high-performance hybrid drives for the enterprise market. Hybrid architecture is also tipped to appear in the forthcoming second-gen VelociRaptor II hard drive.

In commenting on the purchase WD President and CEO John Coyne noted that the “Silicon Systems’ intellectual property and technical expertise will significantly accelerate WD’s solid-state drive development programs for (netbooks)” so there’s a chance WD is edging for some share of the netbook market. Or maybe that’s just the Hot Topic de Jour and a word that’s sure to go down well with the analysts.

Seagate is taking a similarly measured approach with plans to enter the SSD market this year but keep its cards at the big business end of the table. Rich Vignes Seagate’s senior manager of market development says the company sees “two primary applications for SSDs. One is as a boot device for blade servers… the other application is as a very high-performance device that can be used for portions of databases.”

It seems that both these hard drive champions are content to leave the consumer market for netbooks and the new wave of thin-and-light notebooks open to Samsung Intel and co…