Date: Tuesday , November 27, 2012
OCZ has soft-launched its brand new Vector SSD series into the market (PDF Press Release) as the first in a new series of drives that is sporting OCZ’s new Barefoot 3 controller. This is the first truly proprietary OCZ controller and hopefully it is coming to market at the right time, as OCZ has experienced some tremendous corporate turbulence over the last few months.
Many enthusiasts will view the Vector as the rebirth of OCZ as the company attempts to emerge from the troubles currently plaguing it. Others will possibly see this as the dying breath of an SSD giant, by all accounts the largest independent SSD manufacturer in the world, as it stock plummets and an SEC investigation seems imminent.
There has rarely been such a polarizing company as OCZ, at least outside of the GPU market. Virulent detractors pounce on any excuse to bash OCZ for the slightest of indiscretions, mainly stemming from the discontent fomented during the SandForce BSOD problems. In contrast, legions of computer hardware enthusiasts snap up OCZ’s latest SSDs as soon as these are available, and then post prolifically to OCZs bustling forums.
By all rights, part of the troubles that OCZ has experienced over the years has been due to its willingness to embrace new technologies and bring those to market faster than the competition. Some decry this as OCZ "beta testing" on its customer, while others classify it as OCZ simply beating its competition to market.
In reality OCZ has done more to bring the average consumer SSD technology than perhaps any other solid state drive company. With the launch of the Indilinx Barefoot-powered Vertex series of SSDs OCZ countered Intel's ridiculously high priced products and brought the guy on the street SSDs at realistic price points. Along the way OCZ has transitioned and changed extensively to focus on the lucrative SSD market.
OCZ also made some very solid acquisitions to strategically place the company into the driver’s seat as it has expanded into the enterprise space and began to develop its own SSD controller. Acquring Solid Data, Indillinx, PLX technologies, and SANRAD has positioned OCZ perfectly for developing a tremendous patent portfolio, currently at ~100 and climbing. OCZ is utilizing its newly acquired IP to develop exciting new products for the consumer and enterprise space. The "holy grail" of owning the controller IP it uses reduces margins tremendously, and puts OCZ in full control of any issues should those arise. This pathway has been a long-term goal for OCZ since the consolidation into an SSD-focused company, and would also allow OCZ to license and sell controllers to third parties.
OCZ finally realizing this goal as it comes painfully close to a possible collapse is disheartening to say the least. Storm clouds aren't on the horizon for OCZ, but rather over the building and its pouring rain.
Another pathway of OCZ's, similar to many other small companies, has been to be purchased and absorbed into a much larger OEM company. OCZ began to field requests for purchase over the last year as the pace of consolidation in the SSD market quickens. This is where many say the troubles begin. In order to make itself more attractive to larger companies OCZ began to pump up their sales via a number of tactics, including selling their products with mail-in rebates and giving retailers price guarantees. This led to OCZ essentially selling SSDs under cost. The massive sales did bring several suitors to call, with Seagate chiefly among them.
Deferring profit loss while also raising the visible market cap of the company is a blowfish tactic. While swelled up it looks impressive, but once it runs out of breath the deflation is dramatic. Seagate and OCZ went far into negotiations, but Seagate eventually backed out of the proposition. It is rumored through trusted sources that this was spurred by Seagate looking into the books at OCZ and not liking what it saw. This led to the Chief Financial Officer taking a decidedly early and unexpected retirement, and CEO Ryan Petersen's resignation being accepted by the board (many speculate he was forced out).
Now the time to pick up the pieces begins with a new CEO and a plummeting stock price, bottoming out at an all time low of $1.10. There is an estimated 40 million dollar loss for the previous quarter, and even that number isn’t final. OCZ has delayed its 2Q earnings report to investors.
Investors have already begun to file lawsuits alleging that OCZ broke the law in regards to financial reporting, and the SEC is stepping in. The SEC has served OCZ with an subpoena requesting documents and information for the press releases on September 5, 2012 and October 10,2012. OCZ is also being ordered to surrender financial reports pertaining to the customer incentive programs.
The new CEO Ralph Schmidth has publicly stated that OCZ proactively contacted the SEC and intends to co-operate fully with the investigation. By all rights many in the company were blindsided by the hidden issues that were generated rapidly over the last quarter, and OCZ is looking to clean up its image and get back to business.
So were Ryan Petersen and the CFO playing a shell game with the intention of attracting a buyer which simply spun out of control? Petersen’s past includes a felony conviction, and many of our readers will certainly recall the days gone by of Ryan’s exploits with unhappy RAM customers. Are we seeing one last ditch effort for OCZ to either make it or break it?
It’s up the SEC and its investors to sort all that out, but surely all of this has to weigh on the minds of OCZ’s customer base as warranty periods and long term support certainly enter the minds of SSD users.
All that said, we have the new OCZ Vector SSD ready to head to our test bench for review. Let’s see what the realization of OCZ's quest for its own controller brings to the table with the Indilinx Barefoot 3 onboard the OCZ Vector SSD.