Although it’s the world’s fourth-largest semiconductor manufacturer, and the third-largest memory company, you might not have heard as much about Micron as you should have.
Despite its low profile, Micron is truly a force to be reckoned with: last year it posted overall revenue of $30-billion and it employs 40 000 people worldwide. With R&D centres dotted around the globe, it manufacturers products in 12 different countries, although its head office is in the US.
Esther Spanjer, director of business development at Micron, explains that Micron was formed 43 years ago and, to date, has registered more than 50 000 patents. “We are currently ranked number 15 in the US list of patent holders.”
Sometimes established companies fail to keep up with the times: not so for Micron. Traditionally a DRAM manufacturer, the company added NAND products a couple of years ago.
“We have a very wide portfolio, split about 75% DRAM to 25% NAND,” Spanjer says.
Chances are, if you drive a car today, you are already using Micron technology since it’s the number one selling semiconductor for the automotive market, providing the chips for most vehicle navigation systems, among others.
“We are also very strong in the mobile phone market,” Spanjer adds. “And all the photos on your phone are probably stored on Micron memory.”
But you won’t encounter Micron products only in devices: “We are very strong in the consumer market, particularly in gaming, with DRAM and SSDs going into many of those laptops.
“And, in the enterprise market, we are a contender for everything that goes into the data centre, whether it’s DRAM or flash-based products, cloud SSD or server DRAM.
“In fact, anywhere you would need any kind of memory or storage – we are there,” Spanjer says. “And these days, that is pretty much everywhere.”
On an operations level, Micron consists of four different business units:
Compute and Networking Segment (CNBU)
CNBU products are sold into cloud server, enterprise, client, graphics, and networking markets.
- Cloud server: This market is primarily driven by intelligent edge devices capable of artificial intelligence and augmented reality, storing and accessing data in the cloud. This is a growing market with significant increases in DRAM content per server.
- Enterprise: Similar to the cloud server market, this market is also experiencing rapidly growing demand from intelligent edge devices which require rapid data analysis and storage to enable machine learning, training and inferencing. RDIMM DRAM memory modules support high performance, reliability, and integrity requirements for such applications.
- Client: Products in this segment support both PC unit growth, driven primarily by corporate replacement cycles from upgraded operating systems, as well as increases in content per unit. These products are also incorporated into gaming and ultra-thin notebooks.
- Graphics: These products are incorporated into applications providing virtual reality, augmented reality, and crypto-mining technology. There is a growing demand for graphics memory in gaming console applications, as observed in 2018.
- Networking: The networking memory market is characterised by long life-cycle DRAM products and, accordingly, a significant portion of the company’s sales to the networking market consists of products manufactured on their legacy 30nm and 25nm-series DRAM technology.
Mobile Segment (MBU)
MBU includes memory products sold into smartphone and different mobile-device markets and includes discrete DRAM, discrete NAND, and managed NAND.
For smartphones, the LPDRAM offers low-power, high-performance solutions which assures performance in the extreme environments demanded by high-end smartphones. High-end smartphones incorporate higher levels of NAND and LPDRAM that enable dynamic and advanced features such as larger 4K displays and multiple high-resolution cameras.
Additionally, the company’s smartphone products are utilised by OEMs to enable artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and life-like virtual reality capabilities into high-end phones such as facial and voice recognition.
Storage Segment (SBU)
SBU comprises of SSDs and component-level solutions sold into enterprise and cloud, client, and consumer storage markets as well as other discrete storage products sold in component and wafer forms to the removable storage markets.
SBU sales also include “non-trade” products consisting of products manufactured and sold to Intel through IMFT under a long-term supply agreement at prices approximating cost, which included 3D XPoint memory and NAND products.
- SSDs: SSD storage products are a combination of NAND, a controller, and firmware and offer benefits over HDDs of a smaller form factor, faster read and write speeds, and solid-state architecture. SSDs provide vital performance and features including speed, reliability, and lower power consumption.
- Enterprise and Cloud SSDs: Sales in this segment consist primarily of the flagship SATA 5300 and NVMe 7450 series SSDs. These products are also driven by intelligent edge devices owing to a shifting focus towards augmented reality and artificial intelligence.
- Client SSDs: Sales in this segment consist primarily of the 2450 series 3D NAND SATA client SSD, which is targeted at leading PC OEMs as a replacement to HDDs. These provide high performance, increased power efficiency, security, and capacity to the users.
- Consumer SSDs: Sales primarily consist of crucial-branded MX500 SATA and P5 Plus NVMe SSD. This is also replacing HDDS as end users place greater importance on performance, reliability and power savings guaranteed by this product.
- Components and Wafers: SBU sales in this segment primarily consist of 176-layer TLC NAND and QLC NAND technology.
Embedded Segment (EBU)
EBU comprises memory and storage products sold into automotive, industrial, and consumer markets and includes discrete DRAM, discrete NAND, managed NAND, and NOR. The embedded market is characterised by long life-cycle DRAM and NAND products factory-made on mature method technologies.
- Automotive: The company has a comprehensive and expanding portfolio of DRAM, NAND and NOR solutions in the automotive market supporting automated driver assistance systems and advancements in the driverless experience which require high-performance memory and reliability.
- Industrial: Products like NOR, MCP managed NAND and others in this segment enable applications in the evolving IoT market including factory automation, transportation, and surveillance.
- Consumer: Products sold in the consumer market include DDR3 DRAM, SLC NAND and EMCP which are used in a diverse set of consumer products including service provider and set-top boxes, video cameras, ultra-high definition televisions, and many more applications.
This adds up to a pretty big portfolio for channel partners to get their heads around and understand when certain products or SKUs are to be preferred over others.
“The first thing that partners need to get to grips with is the question of compatibility,” Spanjer explains. “So we have developed our Configurator Tool. The partner simply types in the part number they are interested in and fills in details of the motherboard and CPU. The tool will immediately tell them if the part number is compatible – or which one would be.
“Or, the partner can key in a competitor part number and the tool will let them know what the Micron equivalent part number is.”
The Configurator Tool was initially developed for Micron’s consumer offerings, but has been extended to include its data centre products as well.
“The backend engine that we use for this tool can be incorporated into the distributor’s website too, so they can offer this functionality to their partners,” Spanjer says. “This is what Syntech does as part of its partner value-add.”
The Configurator Tool is just one way that Micron ensures channel partners have the best and most up-to-date information at their fingertips.
“We also do monthly calls to give partners market updates and product updates,” Spanjer says. “During these sessions we cover anything new coming down and what they should be aware of – from us and from the market in general.
“Partners also have the opportunity to share experiences with their counterparts in other territories.”
In an industry characterised by constant change, partners also appreciate being able to learn about unfolding technology trends that will influence their businesses.
“So we do background training for our partners where we cover new technologies,” Spanjer explains. “For instance, we have done a few sessions on DDR5 – what it is and why it is important.
“These sessions help our partners keep themselves knowledgeable on the products, as well as the technology and the market.”
There’s a lot happening in the technology space in 2022.
“This is the year of PCIE Gen 4 on the flash side; and on the DRAM side, we are transitioning to DDR 5,” Spanjer says. “These are the two big tech trends that we are starting to see in all flavours and products around the world.
“We are helping our partners with ongoing training ensuring they have the right collateral and understand replacement part numbers.
“We want to ensure they are ready for the new DDR platforms that are coming from Intel in the fall, so we have been talking to them since January, making sure everyone understands what is happening and why it is happening. This way, they will be ready to talk to their customers.”
A lot of vendors talk about their partners being part of their team, but Spanjer says Micron takes this statement seriously. “We don’t want our partners to simply be box-movers. They need to be an extension of our sales team, so we need to give them the tools to enable them.”
Spanjer believes that, coupled with its wide range of top quality products, these personal interactions are what sets Micron apart from many other vendors.
“Indeed, I think it is quite unique,” she says. “Micron is not the only channel-focused vendor out there, but we have a much better focus on the human aspect of business than many of our competitors.
“It is a lot nicer to do business with Micron than with many other vendors.
“This philosophy of customer care has a lot to do with the company’s culture,” Spanjer adds. “Our CEO is very focused on equality and inclusivity – and makes sure that we walk the walk.”
And it’s showing results. Last year, Micron announced that it had achieved equal pay for women and men. “And the company proactively looks to hire minorities whether in race, religion or disabilities.”
This is accompanied by proactive community outreach programmes, with millions of dollars in the last few years being spent on Covid-19 relief and humanitarian projects.
“Overall, the company culture is very focused on the person behind the business,” Spanjer says. “We all want to stand behind a company we believe in, which reflects in all the interactions that we have with our partners and customers.”
Partnering with Syntech
In a lot of ways Micron and Syntech are very similar organisations: they both have a partner-centric operating philosophy and a people-first culture.
Angelo Petersen, procurement manager and acting-Micron product manager at Syntech, explains that the distributor always goes the extra mile to add value and enable its partners.
“For reseller partners, it is important that they can get their hands on the product when they need it,” he says. “So we ensure that we maintain healthy stock levels. We place an order on Micron every week on Wednesday, it ships on Friday and lands early the following week. This means that, even if we don’t have a particular SKU in stock, the partner and customer don’t have a long wait.”
Helping partners understand which component to use is another key pillar of Syntech’s partner engagement model. “We send a wealth of training materials to customers and run regular internal training sessions with our sales people so partners are always up-to-date with what’s going on.
“This training relates to Micron products, but also to the industry in general. For instance, we are currently sharing training on DDR 5 memory.”
Caring and communication are key to Syntech’s partner engagement, Petersen says. “We make sure that we always go the extra mile to make sure our partners are well informed. Whether it’s new products or shortages, we communicate proactively.”
One of the tools partners are most excited about is Micron’s memory Configurator Tool, available to resellers on Syntech’s website. “This tool is so easy to use,” Petersen enthuses. “If a customer needs a quote on DRAM or SSD components, they simply type in the motherboard or machine information and the tool will kick out which memory models and SKUs will work with that machine. This takes all the guesswork out of building or upgrading – something that is particularly valuable when it comes to enterprise servers, where it’s even more crucial to have the right memory.”
The Memory Configurator is kept up to date with any new PCs, servers and components that come on to the market.
For more information on Micron and how Syntech can assist you, use this QR code, or go to www.syntech.co.za