Difference in opinion might have prompted Fusion-io leadership changes

The stock market was shocked Wednesday by news that two founders of flash memory vendor Fusion-io (s fio), CEO David Flynn and Chief Marketing Officer (and one-time CEO) Rick White, have suddenly left the company. Some analysts are speculating that a difference in opinion over the company’s future direction could be to blame for the shakeup.

Former Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) executive and Fusion-io board director Shane Robison (pictured) takes the CEO position. Robison previously was executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer at HP. Reuters reported that Robison was involved with HP’s Autonomy and Palm deals. Flynn and White will get into investing, according to a statement.

With Flynn and White leaving, it’s possible that there was a disagreement about the company’s future direction, rather than an operational matter causing issues, according to a Credit Suisse research report:

Departure due to operational reasons or strategy disagreement? Given that both David Flynn and Rick White are founders, we think the issue may not be operational but more of a disagreement regarding the long term direction of the company. We continue to believe that Fusion-io has potential for long term growth and could be seen as a possible acquisition target for numerous large cap tech companies including NetApp, EMC, Cisco, IBM and possibly Oracle, Intel and Samsung.

Fusion-io, which announced last month that it had paid $119 million for NexGen Storage, has been in an acquisition state of mind in the past few years. It also has picked up IO Turbine and ID7.

As the company has matured since its 2005 establishment, it has become more of a known quantity in storage, with webscale customers in Apple (s aapl) and Facebook (s fb) and original-equipment manufacturer relationships with Dell, (s dell) HP and IBM. (s ibm)

The company is not directly selling NexGen’s hybrid-storage gear; rather, it will rely on systems integrators to do that, Flynn told me last month. That means the company won’t compete against its existing customers, such as HP and IBM. The idea is to help systems integrators compete with the likes of EMC (s emc) for business from small and medium-sized businesses, Flynn said.

At the same time, through the NexGen acquisition Fusion-io got a hold of ioControl software that could help diversify Fusion-io’s software capabilities. Flynn clearly positioned the NexGen buy as a software-defined storage grab. But it wouldn’t be surprising if Flynn and White don’t want to work for a software-first company. Robison, meanwhile, seems to be eyeing the software-defined storage space for his new company. “Fusion-io has an incredible opportunity to continue to transform the software defined storage industry,” he said in the company statement.

Regardless of what happens at Fusion-io, recent commitments to flash memory on the part of EMC and IBM promise that it will continue to be a hot space. Smaller vendors such as Fusion-io, Violin Memory and Virident might want to shift and prepare for acquisitions by the bigger guys, and that might not be what Flynn and White had in mind all these years.