If you were a firm-swallowing storage giant, how WD you digest them all?

Branding, real estate need sorting out

Analysis Western Digital is chewing on agglomeration antacids as it continues to digest the 14 acquisitions made by the firm itself and its various business unit family members over the past decade or so.

The storage giant is seeing consolidation to nearline disk drives in its main revenue-earning business – and is also restructuring facilities.

It's also facing a considerable brand unification exercise to cut out overlapping and inconsistent branding.

How we got here

Here are all the acquisitions by WD and its own acquired units since 2009.

  Western Digital HGST SanDisk
2017 Upthere    
2016 SanDisk ($19bn)    
2015   Amplidata  
2014     Fusion-io ($1.1bn)
2013   Virident  
    Velobit ($35m)  
    sTEC ($340m) SMART Storage ($307m)
2012 HGST ($4.8bn)   FlashSoft
2011     Pliant
2009   Silicon Systems  

The two main transactions were WD buying HGST in 2012 as part of the disk drive industry consolidation process, and then buying SanDisk in 2016 to seriously get into the flash industry, with the SanDisk-Toshiba flash foundry joint-venture, and have a similar vertically integrated model to its disk drive business, spanning raw media to systems.

Each acquired business had its own facilities, front line, product line and back office staff, and branding. All these have slowly been consolidated into HGST and SanDisk, and now these two are being consolidated into WD.

Facility estate changes

We have already seen one facility change, with the closing of a Kuala Lumpur disk plant.

This followed on from WD relocating its headquarters from Irvine in southern California to San Jose in the Bay Area in April last year. It has facilities elsewhere in Silicon Valley – Fremont, Milpitas (SanDisk's old HQ), Newark and Redwood City. There are other facilities in the Boston area, Colorado and Minnesota.

The planned closure of a Marlboro, Massachusetts office was reported this month, plus that of facilities in Salt Lake City and San Diego.

Branding confusion

As a result of the two major and myriad minor acquisitions, WD has three major brand groups with a lot of overlap and inconsistent, non-uniform brand naming and imagery.

Here's an overview:

Product WD HGST SanDisk
HDD Black Performance Ultrastar  
  Blue PC Mobile Travelstar  
  Gold Enterprise Cinemastar  
  Purple Surveillance Performance kit  
  Red NAS NAS Desktop kit  
  Red Pro Desktop kit  
    Mobile kit  
SSD Black   NVMe PCIe
  Blue   Skyhawk
      SATA SSD
Portable My Passport    
Personal Cloud My Cloud    
External Storage My Book    
  Elements Desktop    
NAS My Cloud    
Compact Flash     Extreme Pro
Platforms   Ultrastar Ultrastar
    2U24 2U24
    4U60G2 4U60G2
    InfiniFlash InfiniFlash
Systems   ActiveScale ActiveScale

It needs a branding blitz to unify this mish-mash.

The branding scheme would have to cover the various product groups, and their application to consumer, prosumer, small, medium and large businesses.

Combining Western Digital and HGST disk drive branding would be a major step here, followed by combining the SSD brand schemes, which have three levels of overlap.

The Western Digital disk brands are based on colours, and HGST's are based on something-stars, apart from the various drive kits which are different from both colours and something-stars.

SanDisk SSD branding appears to bear no relation to its flash card branding, which has a Western Digital Purple microSD overlap.

There is evidence here of three separate product development organisations reporting to three individual business units, each with their own branding history and ideas.

Somehow this trio will be brought together and turned into a Western Digital product group family.

As we mentioned earlier, disk drives are consolidating to 3.5-inch high-capacity nearline drives and the firm will need a single integrated manufacturing system to sell drives to hyperscale buyers or to OEMs like Dell EMC/NetApp. These are sophisticated buyers and the storage giant wouldn't strictly need two main brand groups (WD + HGST). The Register storage desk sees HGST and WD coming closer together, with the latter brand likely retaining more prominence.

The reason disk drives are consolidating is flash; and SanDisk is vital to WD's future. The joint venture with Toshiba for flash chip manufacturing, which WD bought into when it bought SanDisk, is the crown jewel. For now, SanDisk brands have more market presence than WD flash brands. For those waiting to see movement on a unified product development and product pipeline as well as a unified branding, there are a lot of complex, moving parts to consider. Strap in, it's going to be an interesting ride. ®

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