Violin Leverages Flash Array Expertise In Server-Based Cards

Apparently unwilling to cede the growing server-based flash storage market to the incumbent Fusion-io, and Flash Galactic Overlord wannabe EMC, Violin Memory is joining the fray with what it calls third-generation PCIe cards (Velocity) and a 2-4X price-performance advantage. Known for its all-flash enterprise arrays, the company has decided to branch out to cards because certain workloads perform better there than on attached arrays, said Ashish Gupta, Director of Product Marketing.

The company has been around since 2005 and currently has 350 customers and wanted to bring what it has learned on the array side over to the server side, he said. In addition to launching the cards, Violin is significantly expanding its relationship with Toshiba, its NAND flash supplier. Both companies intend to leverage each other’s intellectual property, as well as supply chain, manufacturing, distribution and R&D efforts.

“The alliance is absolutely critical to what we want to achieve in the market,” said Gupta. “They resell our arrays in the Japanese market… and will bring out additional products under the Toshiba brand, including the cards, or to build other form factors if they so desire.”

As the inventors of NAND, and a Violin investor, Toshiba allows Violin to provide “pretty aggressive pricing ($3-6/Gb)”, he said. “We believe this will create a huge shift in the market… it’s very disruptive.”

According to a report in July from 451 Research, host-based flash, i.e. Fusion-io, EMC and now Violin, is arguably an even hotter market than the all-flash-array space. From a capacity perspective, flash used as a cache or a tier in arrays still only accounts for about 2% of capacity deployed, said 451, but close to 66% of respondents have deployed flash in their arrays or have it in their future acquisition plans. Adoption on the server side of the market has progressed at a slower rate, with 23% of respondents either deploying or having plans for server-side flash, but there is a growing excitement around the technology.

For his predictions for 2013, Dave Raffo, SearchSolidStateStorage, said to look for major vendors to have all-flash arrays while expanding server-side flash products, more innovation from startups, larger capacity drives and a significant shrinking of the number of flash companies due to acquisitions. Following the ioScale announcement, he said Fusion-io is the early market leader, but it has plenty of competition, with LSI, Intel, BitMicro, STEC, OCZ and Virident Systems all selling PCIe flash.

Both the product and the partner announcements are significant for the market as well as Violin, wrote Mark Peters, senior analyst focused on storage systems, at Enterprise Strategy Group, in a new blog. For Violin, this is ‘both an offensive and a defensive play as there is increasing competition from a wide variety of both large and small vendors in the flash space, and Violin wants to address/drive as large a percentage of this nascent and dynamic market as possible…partly because it makes prima facia business sense and partly because it has a great deal of money invested (over $230M since 2009).’ The list prices for the new Velocity cards are ‘certainly going to garner some [positive] attention, as it clearly highlights that flash is becoming more affordable, and more ‘normal.’

For the market, Peters believes Violin’s move suggests that a range of solid-state types and implementations has value to users and is likely to become the norm. ‘The clear and early leader for server-based flash, Fusion-io, has itself made significant strides of late to offer different flash deployment styles and packaging. Violin’s price model also shows that ‘price matters’ – while that may seem like something of a “no shit, Sherlock” type of comment, it is actually evidence of something else – the move of flash away from just price-[mainly]-insensitive performance-centric applications, and to more price-sensitive ‘regular’ workloads.’

Peters believes flash technology, and the buoyant market it is creating, is going to get more crowded and competitive over the short term. ‘Violin’s new tune (geddit!?) is almost certainly good for users and for Violin itself, but I have to think it is just one step on a longer path and that in due course it will surely be followed by more integrated software system functionality (one has to assume that it did not buy GridIron just for fun!). This market-space gets more interesting – and compelling – by the day.’

Violin’s Velocity family consists of four models – 1.37, 2.75, 5.5 and 11Tb and 120, 180, 270 and 540k IOPs, respectively. Form factors range from low-profile to full height and full length.


Author: Steve Wexler

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