Violin Memory Touts Flash for Primary Enterprise Storage

By Kenneth Corbin

As IT shops struggle to take on new initiatives, such as virtualization, big data, and mobile and cloud computing, storage has emerged as a central pain point.

Violin Memory, a startup based in Mountain View, Calif., has won funding from some of the biggest names in tech. Its products aim to address challenge with a series of flash memory arrays that serve as primary storage in the enterprise data center. The company claims that with this approach it can achieve a significant increase in throughput while providing reliable performance and minimizing latency.

"The fundamental technology issue is that mechanical disk drives have been unable to keep pace with Moore's Law's advances in compute and networking, singling out storage as the key data center bottleneck," said Matt Barletta, Violin's vice president of product marketing.

Violin bills its flash arrays as an economic replacement for multiple racks of disk-based equipment, offering capital-expenditure savings with a smaller data-center footprint, as well as lower operating costs in the form of reduced expenses in areas like power, cooling and management.

The high-end 6000 Flash Memory Array, for example, offers up to 1 million input/output operations per second (IOPS) with 4 gigabytes per second of bandwidth. Its footprint is a mere three units of rack space.

The arrays, which can be clustered together for higher-end, petabyte-scale storage and faster bandwidth, are attached to the network to serve as shared, primary storage.

While Violin continues to build its business with an eye toward a potential public offering, the company is working to explain the advantages of flash -- high availability, lower cost-of-ownership, robust performance -- to prospective customers as it looks to differentiate itself from other, more traditional storage approaches and from alternative flash offerings, such as SSD technologies.

"As flash storage becomes more mainstream, and as more vendors -- both established and startups -- enter the market, there is typical[ly] confusion on what technology is right for what use case," Barletta said. "Customers who are just starting to evaluate flash solutions are more likely to need education on the advantages [and] disadvantages of different approaches to flash and what use case is appropriate."

Violin sees a multi-billion-dollar market opportunity in deploying flash memory as primary storage in the enterprise. During the next few years, Barletta expects flash to eclipse disk-based technology as the default option for mission-critical data, with disk solutions relegated to archival storage non-essential data.

"We are already seeing the transition away from disk-based solutions to flash for primary enterprise storage," he said.

Earlier this month, Violin raised $50 million in a "mezzanine" round of funding in which SAP Ventures and Highland Capital Partners and others joined long-time backers Toshiba and Juniper Networks, bringing the company's total valuation to more than $800 million.

Violin's arrays are packaged as an integrated bundle consisting of hardware and data management software, an approach the company calls "chip to chassis."

The firm sells through a variety of channels, including a direct sales operation and partnerships with resellers, systems integrators and OEMs. Violin has also forged partnerships with some heavyweight IT vendors, including HP.

With the latest capital investment, Violin is planning to expand its global operations and to ramp up its research and development activities with a particular focus on data management and software.

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here

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This article was originally published on April 25, 2012