The announcement on Monday (Jan. 8) that Intel and Micron have decided to “update” – that is, end – their long-term joint development partnership for 3D NAND technology is nearly as interesting an exercise in public relations semantics as it is a significant technological and business development.
“The announcement involves the companies’ mutual agreement to work independently on future generations of 3D NAND,” Intel said in its announcement. The companies have agreed to complete development of their third-generation of 3D NAND technology, which will be delivered toward the end of 2018 and extending into early next year. “Beyond that technology node, both companies will develop 3D NAND independently in order to better optimize the technology and products for their individual business needs.”
Micron and Intel said they expect no change in the cadence of their respective 3D NAND technology development of future nodes. The two companies are currently ramping products based on their second-generation of 3D NAND (64 layer) technology.
According to Patrick Moorhead, founder and president of industry watcher, Moor Insights & Strategy, the announcement makes sense for Intel.
“There’s little benefit for the two companies to be working together,” Moor told EnterpriseTech. “Intel has reached the scale they need to go at it alone but I’m a bit concerned about Micron. When it comes to the highest performance flash, I am seeing OEMs choose Intel over Micron, which I am sure hasn’t helped the relationship.
Dairsie Latimer, managing consultant at UK-based Red Oak Consulting, said that “While it seems that Intel and Micron dissolving the NAND manufacturing partnership part of the IMFT (IM Flash Technologies, LLC, the semiconductor company founded in 2006 by the two companies) joint venture is big news, it’s hardly the first time that the relationship has had a hiccough.” He said there have been times when Intel apparently either disagreed with Micron over a technical choice or decided not to invest in a joint venture site.
“It would seem that the slightly divergent technical and business goals that each had for IMFT have finally meant that it no longer serves the purpose that it once did,” said Latimer. “I suspect that the initial motivation was Micron wanting a strong partner to take them off the hostile takeover dart board and for Intel to get a leg up when it decided it wanted back into the memory/NAND market. The margins that Intel likely make on the NAND (once you factor in the required investment into IMFT), it’s probably single digits, just doesn’t make it that attractive compared to the margins they will eventually hope to make from 3D XPoint under the guise of Optane and the DIMMs. They can always buy NAND on the open market for their SSD products.”
The two companies will continue to jointly develop and manufacture 3D XPoint at the Intel-Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT) joint venture fab in Lehi, Utah, which is dedicated to 3D XPoint memory production.
“Micron’s partnership with Intel has been a long-standing collaboration, and we look forward to continuing to work with Intel on other projects as we each forge our own paths in future NAND development,” said Scott DeBoer, executive vice president of technology development at Micron. “Our roadmap for 3D NAND technology development is strong, and we intend to bring highly competitive products to market based on our industry-leading 3D NAND technology.”
“Intel and Micron have had a long-term successful partnership that has benefited both companies, and we’ve reached a point in the NAND development partnership where it is the right time for the companies to pursue the markets we’re focused on,” said Rob Crooke, senior vice president and general manager of the Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group at Intel Corporation. “Our roadmap of 3D NAND and Optane technology provides our customers with powerful solutions for many of today’s computing and storage needs.”