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Violin Memory acquires Gridiron Systems

Violin Memory acquires Gridiron Systems

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Yesterday, Violin announced that they have acquired Gridiron Systems, a vendor of cache acceleration hardware and software.  At the outset it may seem odd that an all-flash vendor would want to acquire a company offering acceleration for traditional arrays, however this could be a very smart deal indeed in a number of ways.

Software is King

Although hardware is important (IT has to run on something), most differentiation comes in the software.  Violin currently has a different architecture using VIMMs (Violin Intelligent Memory Modules), but they still ultimately use NAND flash.  There’s also some DRAM in there used for storing metadata, but the persistent technology is the same.  Differentiation can come from software, a message surely not lost on CEO Don Basile, who was formerly the CEO of Fusion-IO, a PCIe SSD card memory vendor.  Fusion-IO sells solid hardware, but the effectiveness of software solutions in that space will be the reason that the company succeeds or fails.  By acquiring Gridiron, Basile could be following his Fusion-IO strategy of clever software to make use of the hardware; covering all his bases, to use a baseball analogy.   But how could he use it?

Flash For Everything

I can see two possible ways that the Gridiron technology could be used by Violin.

  1. Sell it standalone.  Continue to sell the Gridiron OneAppliance TurboCharger as it is today.  There is stil a huge market of HDD-based arrays out there that still sit on the balance sheet and could benefit from this technology.  In addition, for those organisations who are skeptical about all-flash arrays at this stage, the Gridiron solution offers an entry point into the customer at low risk; the TurboCharger is only accelerating read requests and so could be removed with little impact.  What it does do, however is demonstrate to the customer that flash could be useful, and so lead on to an all-flash sale.
  2. Use the IP within Violin technology.  The all-flash market is getting more competitive by the day.  Hitachi are making dedicated flash hardware, EMC are entering the market (eventually) with XtremeIO and there’s a wide range of other platforms to choose from – Whiptail, Kaminario, Pure Storage, Nimbus to name but a few.  Startups have to keep ahead of the competition and the Gridiron IP could be integrated into Violin’s existing product line.  Remember that all-flash arrays are great at write IOPS, so being able to migrate more read workload to a dedicated tier or section of the appliance could allow Violin to squeeze more performance out of their existing boxes and keep that competitive advantage.

Of course Violin could choose either course, or another one entirely, only time will tell.

The Architect’s View

Violin are determined to own the all-flash marketplace and are aggressively pushing their technology forward.  In some respects they remind me of EMC in the old days.  Adding to their already considerable IP can only help propel them forward and keep that differentiation any startup needs against the big storage vendors.  With an IPO for the company imminent, it’s certainly an interesting time indeed.

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About Chris M Evans

  • http://twitter.com/flashmannnn flashman

    I’m very surprised by this acquisition, which does not fit well in Violin philosophy. For Violin, cache is only a (bad) compromise , not a solution.

    What I think is that announce is preparing something bigger. Like Violin bought by a “big one”, or , why not, direct competition with Fusion-IO ….

    Fusion IO is essentially, and for most of enterprises, a caching solution, thanks to their very good software. But they don’t own any hardware and they are, with their PCIe solution, in a dangerous area. Because Flash manufacturers (Thoshiba, samsung, Micron, …) or Flash Controller maker could enter this lucrative market , which much more competitive pricing….

    It is, indeed, quite easy for someone who is already familiar with hardware making, and who already has software intelligence solution for managing Nand chip, to come and play.

    Violin have their VIMM (which is NAND flash packaging) and their Memory Gateway Controller (which is the manager of the Flash NAND). All these are hardware and could be easily packaged in a pci express form factor. What is missing is just the caching intelligence. So Here comes Gridiron …. and this is what I think the Violin future could be : very fast Flash array for those who really needs performance (Read & write) and reliability , and fast caching (thanks to gridiron) for those who are not yet convinced by full Flash array, or just don’t need very fast write performance.

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