Violin Adds A New String To Its Bow

Violin Memory has just announced it is expanding from all-flash arrays into the server-based flash storage world; aided by a new tighter relationship with Toshiba, Violin's moves cast light upon where the flash storage market as a whole is going...

Author(s): Mark Peters

Published: March 5, 2013

I couldn’t resist the pun in the title – it was either this one or "Violin orchestrates its next step!"

Anyhow, Violin just made two separate – albeit closely linked – announcements. I don’t usually comment too much on individual products but what’s happened is significant for the market as well as Violin so I figured a few lines are worthwhile. So, the news (in case you missed it) is this: first, Violin has extended its involvement with Toshiba into a formal IP-sharing partnership alliance; second, the first offspring of this new relationship is a series of server-based PCIe flash cards that Violin calls ‘Velocity’ and refers to (this is perhaps a semantic and philosophical discussion for another day…) as memory. So far, so good. What’s the significance?

  • For Violin – this is a move away from where it started (and, let’s be clear, will still play) which was in flash arrays/appliances attached to servers, whereas this is flash storage in servers. 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). These new Velocity cards range in list price from $3/GB to $6/GB which is certainly going to garner some [positive] attention, as it clearly highlights that flash is becoming more affordable, and more 'normal.'
  • For the market – 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, FusionIO, 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.

Flash technology, and the buoyant market it is creating, is not going to get anything other than more crowded and competitive over the short term. That’s generally good for users (aside from having to keep up with things!) as such competition and market growth usually drives more investment and innovation that in turn leads to better, and more affordable, products. 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 sytems 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.

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Mark Peters is an ESG senior analyst focused on storage systems. His particular areas of emphasis are block storage; virtualized storage; all types of solid-state storage; and the challenges of power, cooling, and space efficiency in data centers. Mark has more than 25 years of data storage industry experience and has held senior management roles in sales, marketing, product management, business development, and customer intimacy in the U.S. and internationally.

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