Speed Rules: Violin Scores $35M for Flash Memory

February 6, 2011 Off By David
Object Storage
Grazed from GigaOM.  Author: Derrick Harris.

Flash-memory appliance maker Violin Memory has closed $35 million in new funding, further proof that improving the speed of data access is becoming a driving force in enterprise data centers and that flash will be a foundational piece to solving those performance problems. NAND flash memory creator Toshiba America Electronic Components led the round, with Juniper Networks pitching in, as well as “other corporate partners, crossover investment funds, high net worth industry leaders and private equity general partners.” Violin has now raised $51.1 million more than$110 million, although its momentum is likely just getting started.

What makes flash memory so appealing to businesses is that it address a number of critical concerns, including better performance, lower energy use and physical consolidation. Violin’s products include two very dense, yet high-performance storage arrays that can houses tens of terabytes on a single appliance while performing hundreds of thousands of sustained IOPS, as well as a front-end cache for network file systems and a gateway that turns Violin arrays into storage clusters that can be incorporated into an enterprise SAN. Violin acquired some of its caching technology last year when it bought the soon-to-be-bankrupt Gear6. On top of its density compared with hard disk drives, flash memory consumes far less energy because it does not involve spinning disks. Violin’s named customers — AOL, Microsoft and HP — underscore the promise for flash, especially in webscale data centers where power is at a premium and data needs to be served in a hurry.

Violin is among a number of vendors pushing flash memory as a replace for hard disk drives. Primary competitors in the pure-flash game are Fusion-io (which has raised $111.5 million itself), Pliant and the combination of Seagate and Samsung, although pretty much every major storage vendor has added some flavor of solid-state-drive tier to their storage hardware offerings. One of the big drawbacks of flash memory has been cost compared with spinning disk, although prices for NAND flash memory continue to drop, leading to even more favorable price-performance comparisons with hard disks. Hard disks still dominate the storage landscape and likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future because of their relatively low costs and proven reliability, but it looks like investors suspect that flash is poised to begin its data center infiltration.