Flash storage never sleeps

The flash-storage market got another jolt of momentum last week with speculation that EMC (s emc) is considering an acquisition of Israeli flash startup XtremIO, but that might have been just a sign of things to come. Although a flash M&A spree is likely to ensue if EMC closes that deal, the two biggest names in the flash storage space — Violin Memory and Fusion-io (s fio)– are keeping the hits coming in the meantime.

For Violin the news is (what else?) more money. The company is expanding the $50 million Series D round it closed in late March to $80 million and is making room for new strategic investor GE Asset Management. The previous $50 million was at an $800 million valuation, although Violin CEO Don Basile told me then he expects the company is worth billions should it go public later this year.

A couple commenters noted in my post on the EMC-XtremIO rumors that Violin is all about performance, and that such a focus won’t necessarily win the day for flash-storage companies hoping to become standard fare within enterprise data centers. Whether that’s a fair assessment of Violin is open for debate, the commenters’ general point about quality of service, virtualization integration and other enterprise-grade features as the true differentiators is well taken. If all car buyers cared about was speed, luxury automobiles would resemble racecars more than dens. Still, barring a colossal collapse, Violin’s piles of cash, huge valuation and laundry list of strategic investors suggest it has the goods to find itself among the industry leaders for a long time.

For Fusion-io, which went public itself last year, and has been flying high since, its momentum comes in the form of early support behind its recently released ioMemory software development kit. Fusion-io and Violin are architecturally quite different — the former being a server-side PCIe component and the latter being a network-attached storage array — but Chris Mellor at The Register offers an insightful take on how certain deployment scenarios are blurring the line between the two companies.

Specifically, he writes, deployments of new Fusion-io SDK partner Couchbase and new Violin partner SAP (with its HANA in-memory database) end up looking remarkably similar in theory. Either way, hot application data resides in-memory (DRAM), while everything else resides on flash. Couchbase on Fusion-io is more like a motorcycle with the passenger holding onto the drivers waist, while SAP on Violin is more like a motorcycle with the passenger riding in a sidecar, but they’re both accomplishing the same goal.

If Violin and Fusion-io do start competing more directly, we’ll be in for a wild ride. What seems certain, however, is that it’s just a matter of when, not if, flash storage catches on in a major way. With more money and more software-vendor support always flowing into the market, there will soon be precious few reasons not to give the technologies a serious look.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user fotomak.