Flash-storage vendor Violin Memory just got even faster by acquiring appliance-maker GridIron Systems. The move definitely improves Violin’s appeal for customers who want ever faster and more-intelligent storage systems, although at least one flash mega-user — Facebook — recently questioned whether “bigger, faster, stronger” can continue to be the flash-industry mantra. (More on that below).
GridIron’s appliance technology sits between a company’s servers and its storage systems, acting as a low-latency caching tier for high-value data. The appliance’s software constantly analyzes how applications are accessing data and then decides which pieces should reside where. Low-priority stuff might remain in the storage-area network (SAN), while high-priority stuff will move into DRAM or flash in the GridIron appliance that’s directly connected to the servers.
Flash arrays alone, like those Violin sells, already make databases and virtual-machine management significantly faster, so something like GridIron is really just icing on the cake. According to Violin CEO Don Basile, GridIron also has built a solid business in the worlds of video and video game production, and computer-aided design. These are areas where giving applications faster access to data means faster production so they can hit the shelves sooner.
However, there’s another way to look at the advent of flash as a first-class citizen in enterprise data centers, which is that it needs to address the needs of all applications rather than just those with extreme performance needs. As Facebook VP of Infrastructure Engineering Jay Parikh explained me recently, he thinks flash manufacturers (and by proxy, I assume, flash vendors such as Violin) actually need to broaden their product lines to address the needs of lower-performance applications. If the goal is to eliminate hard drives — which is Basile’s stated goal — Parikh thinks flash, Blu-ray and every other type of storage medium needs to include variations that resemble hard drives in terms of cost and reliability.
But rather than trying to work backward toward hard drives, Basile wants to make flash more durable and higher-capacity while still continuing to improve performance. In theory, if storage vendors can sell more enterprise-grade flash, its price tag will drop faster and flash manufacturers will invest more in enterprise flash technology as opposed to consumer flash technology that currently dictates what storage vendors have to work with. Violin actually has a strategic relationship with Toshiba that could help spur this shift, as might the growing number of flash-storage vendors including Fusion-io, Whiptail, EMC, Pure Storage and Nimbus Data.
“We do think they have a great vision over there at Facebook,” Basile said. However, he added, citing the gulf between Bill Gates’s rumored 640KB quote and Kingston’s new 512GB personal USB drive, “If we have speed, we don’t usually want to give it back.”
The deal is rumored to be worth between $200 million and $300 million.