Notable SSD market players: Fusion-io, Violin Memory and — wait for it — Google

Strapping young flash storage startups ate some of the incumbents’ lunch last year, according to new Gartner data the Register posted Wednesday. No wonder big companies like SanDisk (s sndk) SanDisk (s sndk) and HGST’s Western Digital have been moving to enhance their offerings.
For storage arrays incorporating flash, the big winner last year was not storage giants EMC (s emc) or NetApp (s ntap) but Violin Memory, with a 19.4 percent stake in sales of those units, worth upward of $72 million, according to the new data. Violin Memory is reportedly barreling toward an initial public offering and recently jumped into the PCI-Express flash market to boot.
Smaller players Nimbus Data and Pure Storage also deserve mentions for showing up in the flash-storage-array standings with 5.9 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively.
Server-side flash star Fusion-io (s fio) got an impressive chunk of the revenue in the enterprise SSD category last year, with 13.6 percent, second only to Intel, (s intc) which got 18.1 percent. Fusion-io beat out plenty of companies that have been around for longer, including OCZ, Samsung and SanDisk. But business from webscale companies such as Apple (s aapl) and Facebook (s fb) plays a big role for Fusion-io’s respectable market position, which means marketshare could drop should those big customers choose to take their business elsewhere.
A surprise player in the enterprise SSD market: Google. (s goog) That company captured nearly 9 percent of all the revenue from enterprise SSD sales. It’s curious, because Google does not come to mind as a hardware vendor. The company isn’t actually selling SSDs to other companies, but rather obtaining SSD components and having them put together and tested for its own use. “We have to associate a revenue number to the Google consumption, although admittedly it is closer to cost than any of the other vendors since they consume it all internally (they wouldn’t pay themselves the margin of course),” Joe Unsworth, research vice president at Gartner, wrote in an email.
Google’s independent flash production makes sense, as flash is a key element of Google’s storage architecture, and the company has been known to go out of its way to incorporate special hardware to meet its own needs, from on-server backup batteries to custom switches.
Strong performance from less staid vendors, and Google’s going it alone, is bad news for the more tenured players, which surely want to be in on the ground floor as the flash market keeps growing. They could respond with more product innovations, or they could pull out their wallets. The acquisition route is already well traveled. Still more could be on the horizon.