Violin Memory, founded in 2005, and
headquartered in Santa Clara, California, has been pioneering the future of
enterprise solid state systems, with rackmount flash memory arrays that deliver
unprecedented sustainability and low
latency for users seeking to accelerate business critical applications and to
virtualize and optimize their IT infrastructure.
designed for extreme sustained performance with high reliability and
serviceability, Violin's flash-based appliances scale to tens of terabytes of
capacity, millions of IOPs per second, gigabytes per second of bandwidth at low
- mentions on StorageSearch.com and
Violin's SSD blog
Editor:- September 30, 2015 - Violin Memory was
#9 in the Q2
2015 edition of the
Top SSD Companies List
which is researched and published by StorageSearch.com
That was the same position as in the previous quarter.
that 4 vendors dropped out of the the list (in this sequential quarter) and
given that other SSD companies too gave ground within the list - and that
Violin's sales were nothing to write home about - that strong showing in the
list by Violin deserves some attention and comment.
I think there
were 3 main reasons Violin was able to to maintain its interest in the
SSD reader base.
Read the new
article to see
what they are.
resurgence of interest in Violin - is
that good news?
Editor:- July 20, 2015 -
Violin was ranked #9 in the
Q1 2015 edition of
Top SSD Companies List
which is researched and published by StorageSearch.com.
- as reported last week in SSD
news - comparative interest in Violin spiked in the first half of July -
placing the company in the top 4 SSD companies researched by
Over and above the general competitive pressures in the
rackmount SSD market
(such as being known to users for the right reasons within a growing and
defined segmentation matrix while also figuring out how to manage a future
market in which there will be
competing suppliers) Violin faces specific pressures of change which will
effect it more than most others in its strongest base - the market for fast
This new competitive threat will come from a new
class of fast rackmount SSDs which will be emerging in the next year - based on
arrays of 2.5" NVMe SSDs - which will have the same impact on the fate of
this segment of the market (IBM FlashSystems, EMC XtremIO, SanDisk ION
Accelerator) as flash did on
RAM SSDs. It will
implode the cost
expectations and explode the scalability and market roadmaps.
re Violin - from the
Top SSD Companies in
If you strip away the software which does so little to
differentiate Violin from countless other flash array companies - you'd still
be left with a proven, proprietary,
controller architecture based, fast rackmount SSD - which (while being
somewhat more expensive to build than others which use standard COTS SSDs and
still has a role to play in some types of high performance, low latency, shared
The problem - is that the implementation is
more capable and more expensive than needed in most applications in the
market today. And you can't slow it down to make it cheaper.
wondering last December - if the often commented on
based, and marketing miss-positioning problems affecting the company - were
to raise questions about its viability operating as an independent entity -
who would still want to buy Violin? (the company) and why.
answer I came to (based on
boundary analysis) is that it may still have value as a reference
architecture for a memory supplier (who doesn't yet own a rackmount SSD
business) for redeployment as a white box, simple high speed,
Which is more than you can say about most of the companies
Violin competes with.
So there is enough value there - given another
rethink in marketing. (Or - as I've been saying for years - maybe with more
I'll be returning to the question of what happens
if you imagine enterprise SSD box vendors stripped away from their software in
later blog. ...read
the Top SSD Companies in Q4 2014
In August 2007 -
Violin Memory launched
the world's fastest 2U SSD - the
Violin Memory said it
had delivered 1 million IOPS on a single interface port (a world record)
using the latest version of its RAM based Violin 1010 memory appliance.
- Violin Memory
announced availability of a new model - a fast 4TB SLC flash SSD in a 2U
rackmount. Its patent pending non blocking architecture delivers the best ratio
of flash R/W IOPS in the industry - over 200K random Read IOPS and 100K
random Write IOPS (4K block). Interface options include:-
Channel and Ethernet.
Violin Memory announced
that Donald Basile has been named CEO. Dr. Basile (with over 20 years of
leadership experience) had recently served as the CEO of
March 2010 -
and VAR channel support for Violin Memory's 2U
rackmount FC flash SSD
- the Violin 1010 .
Although the headline specs of this very fast flash SSD are substantially the
same as when it was launched in
the 2 important things which have changed are:-
In April 2010 -
Violin Memory announced
a significant investment from
- the availability of SSD
ASAP-like features implemented by FalconStor's SafeCache and HotZone
In May 2010 -
partnership with Landmark
Ventures a technology-focused strategic advisory and
firm. No details were given but there have been several signs in the past year
that Violin is restructuring itself to better cope with the competitive and
growth demands of the
market. For example - earlier in this month Violin announced the
of former Cisco VP Larry Lang to its board.
In June 2010 -
it has acquired
the technology assets of of
In September 2010 -
availability of the
3140 - a 3U MLC SSD with 40TB capacity
priced at under $16
per GB and $3 per
- Violin Memory
SSD cache solution for NAS
systems which use NFS. Violin says its
vCACHE expands to
15TB of useable cache and delivers over 300,000 NFS operations per second over
8x 10GbE ports.
Editor's comments:- I spoke to
Basile, CEO of Violin Memory, and
Barletta a few days ago to get a current view of how the company sees
itself, competitors and the SSD market. ...click here to read the
In January 2011 -
Violin Memory re-entered
the top 10 in the 15th quarterly edition of the
Top SSD companies.
- Violin Memory
a $35 Million Series B funding round which includes
Toshiba - a strategic
investor since April 2010.
In June 2011 -
a $40 Million Series C funding round and said it expects to do $100 million
enterprise SSD revenue.
In July 2011 -
Violin Memory anoounced
it had been named
of the year" by AlwaysOn.
- Violin Memory
new models and options in its range of fast
FC SAN rackmount SSDs.
series - designed for high availability applications with no single point
of failure and hot swappable "everything" - provides 12TB SLC, or
22TB MLC usable
capacity with 200/600 microseconds mixed latency, 1 million / 500K
sustained RAIDed spike free write IOPS, in 3U rackspace at a list price around
$37K / $20K per terabyte.
In October 2011 -
Violin Memory achieved
its highest ever ranking in StorageSearch.com's
18th quarterly list of
the Top SSD Companies. Violin was #2 - based on search volume which
tracked over 350,000 online SSD readers in the 3rd quarter of 2011.
- Violin also entered
PCIe SSD card market.
Its full height Velocity cards have upto 11TB raw (8TB usable) capacity and
deliver upto 500K
- Violin Memory
it has filed a registration statement
S-1 with the SEC relating to the proposed IPO of its common stock.
December 2013 -
terminated the employment of its CEO Don Basile -
who had been CEO of the company for the previous 4-5 years.
In April 2014 -
re-entered the server based SSD acceleration market with the general
availability of its
Flash Array (WFA) - a 3U fast 10GbE
SSD accelerated apps
server with integrated servers and a shared 64TB raw flash SSD array.
- Hynix acquired
Violin Memory's line of
PCIe SSDs - for $23
Who's who in SSD? - by Zsolt Kerekes -
editor - January 2014
Violin Memory remains 1 of the top 3 best known and most researched
makers of fast
for the enterprise.
Violin was ranked #3 in the the Q4 2013
edition of the
Top SSD Companies List
which is researched and published by StorageSearch.com
- Violin has been most associated with being a performance leader in the fast
high availability FC SAN rackmount SSD market.
competitors (in performance terms) are:-
these competitors have published benchmarks which claim to beat systems from
For a new assessment (January 2014) of IBM's rackmount SSD
business see the article -
It's IBM SSD
Jim - but not as we know it.
who in SSD? - by Zsolt Kerekes -
January 21, 2013
Violin Memory - which launched its first SSD systems
in August 2007 - has been the subject of many
and IPO stories in the
past 18 months.
The company is a leader in these segments in the
enterprise SSD market.
recent acquisition of GridIron
Systems (a high caliber
SSD ASAP software IP
company) will enable Violin to strengthen its already established authority in
the enterprise market.
earlier comments:- September 2012
One way to look at
Violin is as the
controller architecture fast enterprise
company which has long wanted to be acquired - but which got passed over when
IBM decided to acquire
Texas Memory Systems.
Violin would have been more in the runnning for this SSD beauty pageant if they
had already had a market proven
PCIe SSD family too.
Because, with TMS, IBM scored leadership in 2
enterprise SSD silos
in one hit. Acquiring Violin plus a PCIe SSD maker would have doubled the cost
and led to inefficiencies in architecte and
was written long before Violin launched its own late to market PCIe SSD product
Here below are some earlier comments - April 2, 2012
Memory is listed in various of my enterprise SSD directories including:-
the top 20 SSD companies,
the fastest SSDs,
FC SAN SSDs and
is an important enterprise SSD company - having been at the #2 slot in
top SSD companies list
for the past 3 quarters.
Here's how the company fits in with my
various SSD classifications
has been telling journalists and analysts that it would like to be acquired or
that it might do an IPO since
continuing that spin - as part of a recent
million Series D funding announcement - Violin recently suggested that it
might be worth more than $800 million.
- SSD market silos:-
Violin is mainly engaged in the "fast rackmount SSD" and "high
availability SSDs" segments.
Nobody can be certain
what any SSD company is really worth - because it depends on the market
context - and Violin is still privately owned. But it can be interesting to make
comparisons with what we know about other SSD companies.
SSD controllers for
example. Violin has its own SSD controller technology. In
bunch of SSD controller companies (SandForce,
for amounts ranging from $300 - $500 million.
That doesn't tell
you what someone might pay for Violin - because the products, business models
and market segments are significantly different. But it gives you a
Here's a what-if? scenario to ponder on.
Violin were to use its controller technology to design and market PCIe SSD
cards - instead of rackmount SSDs that would give it access to bigger markets.
But it doesn't and whether that's a lost opportunity - or the best business
decision that Violin's management ever made remains to be seen.
SSD market segments which Violin does already operate in could grow to be
to accomodate several muli-billion dollar companies - without venturing into
risky PCIe SSD card / component terrirtory.
And in this context you
may be interested in an earlier article -
... if Fusion-io
sells more... does that mean Violin will sell less?
info about Violin Memory take a look at the links above and
- editor mentions on StorageSearch.com
- editor's earlier comments:- November 2011
highly competitive market of enterprise SSDs Violin is unusual in being a
company which - having launched its first product (in
August 2007) -
realized it had got things slightly wrong, then went back into stealth mode,
restructured its product, changed its management team and financing and then
re-emerged a few years later with a better sense of where it was going - and has
since lived to tell the tale. It's #2 in the top SSD companies list (Q3 2011).
wouldn't recommend other companies to try this disjointed route to market - but
sometimes that's just the way it happens. And it shows that if your core
technology is advanced enough - you may have enough time to to learn from
customers what you need to do to re-package the tech in a way that's more
relevant to their needs - before anyone else can get ahead of you and steal the
Violin's first systems (in 2007) were enterprise grade
PCIe connected solid state memory accelerators. As we know from what happened
afterwards - enterprise users are comfortable with the idea of
PCIe SSDs so long as
they are cards - but when it comes to
they prefer to stick with traditional network storage connectivity - rather than
introduce a new type of storage box.
The core of Violin's technology
is a big
architecture memory array which enables non blocking reads after flash
writes, has full duty cycle garbage collection and delivers "spike-free"
When I spoke to Violin's CEO -
Basile recently about this he said that inside their protection
array they're actually doing 5x more IOPS than the customer is seeing
outside the box and on the datasheet.
Speed is a core dimension of
series rackmount SSDs offer. Another is reliability (no single point of
failure). But the company's positioning is that it offers very high density,
high performance tier 1 storage at a competitive
price per terabyte
that connects to legacy SANs. If you like what fast SAN SSDs can do for your
apps - then this one of the companies which has to be on your shortlist.
- editor's earlier comments:- October 2011
Violin Memory - was #2
in the top 20 SSD companies list in Q3 2011 (published by
StorageSearch.com in October 7, 2011) - the company's highest position since
these quarterly search based rankings began - and up 2 positions since the
This ranking improvement was already in place -
before the company announced details of its new tier 1 SSD storage in September
- and affirms my view that when enterprise SSD readers see a product or company
they like the sound of they want to learn more.
When I spoke to
Violin's CEO a few weeks ago - the question of the top SSD companies list did
arise (as it often does when I talk to SSD companies). At the time I
muttered something - like I think you're still doing OK - whereas in fact I
had been seeing searches about the company and its products at the top end of
my analytics screens for a few months - as well as getting frequent questions
about them from VCs and investors.
Congratulations to Violin on
making such a successful come back. (Although there's still a steep hill
to climb to the #1 slot - which got 84% more searches than Violin. Violin
itself got 9% more than the #3 ranked SSD company.)
was the 1st company to focus on the very high performance
PCIe connected SSD
market (in 2007)
and has appeared from time to time in the
fastest SSDs lists.
a few years (2009 and 2010) the company appeared to lose momentum and
focus. When I spoke to
Violin's CEO Don Basile in November 2010 - I said they looked like a
company which had gone back into stealth mode. They are in effect a new company
with new funding ($75 million in the 1st half of 2011) but still marketing the
same technology base products - which due to their holistic design have
very high capacity and performance for their package footprint. Violin says it's
on course to reach $100 million revenue this year.
Violin stand relative to my SSD architecture models?
than new dynasty and
than small) SSD architecture.
Alternatives to Violin Memory?
competing products in this category see the
fastest SSDs and
Other makers of tier 1 FC SAN SSD storage (with hot
replaceable modules) include:-
Kaminario - whose
product line includes MLC and RAM SSD options - and
Huawei Symantec - whose
SLC only product line has lower performance but also lower cost.
makers of FC SAN SSDs which, however, require application dependent
configuration to support failover configurations include:-
Texas Memory Systems
and Solid Access
Many other FC SAN SSD systems appear to overlap with
Violin's product range - but don't in reality compete for the same application
slots. These include auto-tiering
SSDs / ASAPs from Dataram
and GridIron Systems.
And yet another category of similar sounding - but functionally
different - network SSDs is a class of
bulk storage SSDs (with
internal compression and dedupe) from companies like
Nimble Storage and
accounted for 65% of Violin's revenue in FY 2012|
|Editor:- September 16, 2013 -
Here are some interesting pieces of information about
have come to light as a result of its recent
related S1 filing documents.
- Violin's revenue was approx $51 million for the 6 months ended July 31,
2 years earlier - in
June 2011 -
following an earlier funding round the company's CEO had said he hoped "to
surpass $100 million in revenue this year (2011) the first step in building a
billion dollar company."
The S1 filing indicates that actually
Violin achieved revenue of about $53 million for the year ending January 31,
- In FY 2012 HP accounted
for 65% of Violin's revenue - but HP was no longer the biggest customer
in the 2 most recent quarters and apparently HP has not (yet) sought to qualify
Violin's flagship product - the
- Violin has incurred a net loss in each quarter since its inception.
- Violin is hoping to raise $146 million (approx) from its IPO
- a big chunk of Violin's past "advertising" spend seems to
have been weighted towards the restricted reach of expensive physical
advertising space - with a seemingly
to web ads. Could that be why Violin hasn't got more customers?
acquires GridIron |
|Editor:- January 21, 2013 - Violin today
it has acquired GridIron
Editor's comments:- in
October 2012 I
listed GridIron as 1 of the 3 main contenders to
Fusion-io in the
enterprise SSD software
stakes -with the qualifying comment...
"GridIron - probably has
the most sophisticated SSD
ASAP software in the industry. But it's a shame it has been tied (until
recently) to their hardware - an SSD HDD hybrid box."
announcement - which adds to the growing list of
acquisitions in the modern era of the SSD market - will enable Violin to
strengthen its already established authority in the enterprise SSD rack market.
video re advantages of home grown controllers|
|Editor:- January 23, 2012 - I commented recently
that the top 10 SSD
companies in Q4 2011 all had one thing in common (apart from the fact they
make SSDs) - they all had their own proprietary
architecture which they could use to optimize products for some application
markets (even if some of them also used other controllers too). |
video - Violin's,
CTO Software Jonathan Goldick
talks about the benefits they get from having their own controller.
|Violin unveils naked cost
advantages in reliable SSD arrays|
|Editor:- September 27, 2011 -
new models and options in its range of fast
FC SAN rackmount SSDs.
series - designed for
applications with no single point of failure and hot swappable "everything"
- provides 12TB SLC, or 22TB MLC usable capacity with 200/600 microseconds
mixed latency, 1 million / 500K sustained RAIDed spike free write IOPS, in 3U
rackspace at a list price around $37K / $20K per terabyte.
demanding applications (but still featuring hot swap memory modules) the
company has also extended its lower priced
to 16TB SLC usable capacity.
Editor's comments:- when I spoke
to Violin's CEO -
Basile about the new 6000 series he was curious about how I would tell
you what's unique about this product and signal whether it's relevant to you or
I said - when it comes to reliability -
you've either got it - or you haven't - and there aren't too many enterprise
SSD systems which have hot-swap everything. That's one of the reasons the
latency looks slow - compared to many other fast SSDs - because the figures
quoted here include the latency of the internal factory built protection
Another angle - I said is your product is an example of
architecture". When I explained what I meant - Don agreed and said
what it means for the customer is
Because when you look at the raw capacity that's lost to over-provisioning
and RAID like protection
and get down to the usable capacity that the customer sees in an MLC rack - say
- then Violin's 6000 delivers about 70% of the raw capacity - versus nearer to
30% in an array of 2.5"
SSDs for example. That confers a 2 to 1 native cost and density
(SSD TB/U) advantage.
I said Violin's density looks good too - compared
say to Kaminario's K2.
also said - that our SSD readers would recognize what was meant by "spike-free"
IOPS - because of various
about this - and because another enterprise flash vendor -
Virident Systems -
had made that one of the
talk about compared to some other flash
PCIe SSD companies. I
knew that in Violin's case that was due to their patented non-blocking write
architecture - which was explained to me when their
products came to market in 2008.
Don said - that inside their
protection array they're actually doing 5x more IOPS than the customer
is seeing outside the box and on the datasheet - and that helps too.
also asked about price - and where they were relative to $30K / TB - which is
the ballpark for this type of product - and you can see where Violin are above.
That's a competitive figure for a no SPOF SSD.
I said that for people
who are serious about enterprise SSDs it's relatively easy to decide what
products you may want to focus in on after just seeing a couple of simple
Don did also mention a comparative write up - about their
SSD versus another so called "tier 1" storage solution - from
EMC. Violin think it
makes them look pretty good - but I can't understand why anyone cares how they
stack up to EMC - who never understood the SSD plot - which is why their (at
one time) prime SSD supplier
STEC has had a bumpy
revenue stream in recent years.
I had one final question for Don -
which wasn't about Violin's new SSD - but about
which had come to my attention while I was googling the company just before
||When can we expect to see a
picture of a naked man featured on a
poster ad? - I asked.|
He laughed and indicated it wouldn't be
|World's 1st PCIe rackmount
|In August 2007 -
Violin launched the
world's fastest 2U SSD.|
This was the 1st time that a
had been featured on StorageSearch.com.
Earlier SSDs with a claim to
ultra speed fame had included
There were 2 things which stood out when this product was
1 - the high density (compared to other
RAM SSD products), and
2 - Violin's promise to follow up with a later flash SSD model with
the same interface and form factor. That promise was made good in
November 2008 -
when the company announced a 4TB SLC flash 2U model with over 200K random Read
IOPS and 100K random Write IOPS (4K blocks).
revenue declined 18% compared to year ago|
|Editor:- August 27, 2015 - Violin Memory today
that revenue for the quarter ended July 31, 2015 was $15.3 million - which was
18% lower than the same period a year earlier.|
Violin's revenue in calendar year 2014 was about half that of
Which does make you wonder where Pure's revenue will be 2 years after its own
|Violin's revenue continues
|Editor:- June 2, 2015 - Violin Memory today
that revenue for the recent quarter ended April 30, 2015 had declined 33% yoy
to $12 million and was 41% less sequentially compared to the previous
Editor's comments:- part of the tragedy of the Violin
story is that so many great things were once expected of it - as you can see by
this news coverage -
4 years ago -
about a $40 million funding round and aspirations to become the "the
fastest growing storage company in the decade".
expectations owed much to its emergence in the market in
2007 when the
rackmount SSD market was at the tail end of the
RAM SSD dominant era
and about to make the fateful transition to the dominance of flash.
Violin did launch its first flash array in
2008 it was a
year behind the rackmount flash SSD market leader in shipments - but that
didn't appear to matter so much in a market where there were so few competing
suppliers. At that time Violin was one of just two leading
flash array suppliers in the early fast rackmount flash SSD accelerator
But the market didn't remain simple.
through 2009 (year
of SSD market confusion), evolved into 2010 (year of the enterprise
flash bubble) and then swiftly therafter in many stages became
As all that was happening - Violin's inability to
redeploy its controller technology to lower performance applications and its
unwillingness to focus on a smaller number of winnable segments - led the
company in later years to dissipate its marketing resources in many
unproductive directions - precisely when - due to the growing number of
hundreds of viable competitors - a more focused strategy might have been
|Violin warns users about "effective"
|Editor:- April 22, 2015 - Violin Memory says that
"effective storage capacity is a terrible measurement on which to make any
firm plans (for buying flash storage arrays)" in a new blog -
My Capacity? Effective, Usable and Raw Explained.|
Because Violin goes on to say - "You simply cannot
know what the effective capacity of a storage system is until you put your data
on it. And you cannot guarantee that it will remain that way if your data is
going to change."
advises - "Never, ever buy a storage system based purely on the effective
capacity offered by the vendor and always consider whether the assumed
data reduction ratio is relevant to you. (Also, be very careful to read the
small print when a vendor offers a guarantee regarding data reduction ratios.)"
comments:- This is a direct retaliation aimed at competing vendors - who
using unfair tactics - such as the crowd sourced intelligence which enables them
to have a pretty darn good guess how "effective" will translate for
you (based on similar customers) are willing to take bets on
the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing.
It's the kind of
bet which is easier to finance when you've already proved it works and when
you're picky about which customers you offer it to. Which you can only do with
marketing analysis. Effective capacity promises are safer with effective
|VIMMs, controllers and
firmware's place in the box|
|Editor:- October 27, 2014 - As Violin's flash SSD
- are such an important part of their system offerings - and as they have
established themselves as a de-facto proprietary standard in the enterprise
(in the same way that if you ship enough quantities of anything over several
memory product generations and over 6 years expanse of time it is an
industry standard - despite having no
ORG as custodian of the
That was my pretext (6 months ago) for suggesting
Herzog, Violin's CMO - that readers like you - might be interested to
know how many VIMMs the company has shipped.
I said this would enable
prospective customers to compare the installed weight of this controller
architecture to other things which they can get numbers for - such as units of
PCIe SSDs etc.
don't have those VIMM shipment numbers - but I found it refreshing to see a
recent blog from Violin which talks again about the hardware inside its arrays
- coming as it does after a stream of announcements from Violin which have
focused mostly on software compatibilities - in which almost the exact same
words could have been said of other competing rackmount SSD despite them
having completely different innards.
does firmware come from? - by Erik Ottem,
Director of Product Marketing - Violin - answers this question more from a
business perspective than a technical software writing angle.
point is that Violin's biggest systems competitors have made up their deficits
in raw flash array architecture by
buying companies or
licensing 3rd party software - whereas Violin controls everything about the
way that the thousands of flash memory chips in each
architecture system are connected and managed. ...read
Editor's comments:- While nothing in Erik's
blog is really new - for anyone who has known the company for a long time - I
think it's a healthy restatement of what makes this company different from most
of its competitors.
Having said that - owning your own controller
architecture - also carries its own consequences in terms of the
cost of the raw
memory you have to buy too.
|Currently there is no type
of mainstream flash which isn't being used in some type of enterprise SSD
And if you hear vendors say - that their array is better because it
uses so called enterprise MLC (eMLC) it simply means that they don't know how to
manage the flash with their own IP and have passed the buck to their memory
suppliers and to their customers (who have to pay more).
In some high end enterprise market applications - however - there are
valid reasons you might choose to pay more...
|12 key SSD
ideas which changed in 2014|
|VCs and SSDs|
the Top SSD companies
how fast can your SSD
- making the same SSD - with less flash
how will Memory
Channel SSDs impact PCIe SSDs?
SSD racks announced (and unannounced) by Violin|
|Editor:- June 24, 2014 - Violin Memory today
a new rackmount SSD -
7000 - which can provide upto 280TB of raw fast
enterprise flash (using Violin's standard
modules) in 18U. |
The key thing about the 7000 is that it's a software
services rich storage box -which enables many types of replication functions
to be easily scheduled and run concurrently (if so desired) between various
7000 nodes in dispersed geographic locations to ensure data survivability.
also offers an upgrade kit which enables existing users of its legacy 6000
storage arrays to interoperate with these services.
comments:- June 25, 2014 - yesterday in this space I promised I would give
you a bigger story about Violin.
I said - it wouldn't be about this
new product - the Concerto 7000 - which I regard as an incremental and
predictable gap filler - but instead about an interview I conducted with
the company last week driven by the need to understand their business
strategy better and to assess how they aimed to fix this paradox...
time Violin (or any enterprise SSD vendor) adds new market optimized software
and features into a new product line - it makes the new product more attractive
to some users - but much less competitive for most users.
that marketing paradox with Violin's aspiration to significantly grow revenue
led me to pose some very direct and detailed
questions to the company. And I got some very interesting answers.
In early to mid June more than the usual number of
investors had been asking me questions about Violin which I mostly answered
by referring them to scattered fragments of content which talked about their
themes - on the pages of StorageSearch.com
With another quarterly
update of the Top SSD
Companies coming soon - I was already thinking it might be a good idea to
freshen my profile page for Violin - when I got contacted by a
the company asking if I wanted to talk again to Eric Herzog
who was planning another round of editor / analyst briefings about a new
software related product announcement (see above).
I said - "thanks
I'll be happy to talk (again) to Eric. But my main interest is not Violin's
new software (I talk to over 100 pure play
companies). However - if Eric is happy to divide his time between talking
about the new product launch and my random questions about Violin (prompted
by many hours of discussions with readers about Violin in recent days) then
let's make a date."
And that's how this meeting got set up.
things turned out - we used nearly all the allocated time talking about my
segmentation issues - and with less than 3 minutes remaining at the end of that
I said to Eric - I get the idea (about the software in the Concerto 7000). I'll
read up about it.
BTW - I didn't send Eric any advance notice of my
That's partly because I prefer thinking on the
spot and we've spoken about enterprise SSD segmentation before so I know
he thinks fast.
I thought it might be a nice break for him to get
away from the standard presentation treadmill.
To be honest I wasn't
really sure how much of our conversation I would eventually be able to write
about either - because I was touching on some serious business issues.
what's good for me to know - when I'm talking in my self appointed pastoral
role as the virtual best friend of every SSD company - isn't the same as
what's good for the world at large to know - especially competitors.
- the people I talk to regularly know that although I'm a bit strange (who else
would be crazy enough to spend so much time thinking about this market) I can
be relied on to keep their secrets.
On my part I was hoping to get
clarification on 2 issues.
- Business limiting factors in the server based SSD acceleration market.
Violin had made it clear it wasn't go to play in the PCIe SSD market - and the
company's VIMMs don't suit a memory channel SSD form factor either- the
company's only publicly known stakeout in this market is the recently launched
While that's an interesting experiment - which will appeal to some
kinds of users who like Windows and who like the idea of having a single
source integrated SSD enhanced apps server - and while it gives Violin a
definitely different personality to other vendors competing in this space - I
could see 2 problems which would limit the scale of this business.
the fact that Violin provides the servers.
Most big users will
prefer to standardize on servers from their preferred server suppliers.
- the market limiting effect of the Windows SQL environment.
there are other OS's and other apps.
So I opened my conversation with Eric by saying I had been
speaking to a lot of people about his company recently and one of the main
things I wanted to talk about was what Violin was going to do about the
apparent segmentation problem - which is - the more you specialize a product for
one group of customers - the less attractive you make it for everyone else.
- Business limiting factors in the SSD storage array market.
particular I was wondering how Violin was going to deal with customers of the
type who liked its earlier array products - specifically because they didn't
come with a lot of software strings attached.
My concern was - that
that Violin's new product roadmap looked like it was going down the road of
increasing product specialization and increasing the software bundle.
despite what some naive market reports about the SSD array market may tell you
- more functionality equates to a worse matching product for those customers who
prefer to use a different preferred set of software.
customers in that group - who don't want it - all it does by being in the
bundle is slow things down, add to their costs and support and integration
I couldn't see the solution to this question coming from a continuing sequence
of product variations like the last 2 products.
And to make sure we
were on the same page I said - the outward sign of real marketing strength -
is being able to say with confidence which segments you definitely want to
walk away from.
He said straight away - we already did that when we
sold the PCIe SSD business.
Which showed we were on the same
So I quickly gave Eric a summary of the concerns which I
have already outlined to you above. And this is a summary of what he said.
the server side - he said he has seen those exact same issues.
named some customers (which I won't divulge here) who liked the look of the
WFA and went as far as evaluating it. And when they did that they liked the
performance they got.
(He reminded me BTW that the initial published
performance numbers for the WFA came from Microsoft - and not from Violin.)
But sometimes he conceded - that Windows is just a small part of a
customer's OS mix. If they're a big organization it's too cumbersome to start
supporting additional types of systems components in their infrastructure.
- on the SSD storage array side - he readily agreed with my point that there
are many customers who prefer using their own software which they already have -
rather than introducing a new bundle of software like that in the 7000. (And he
went on to give me a lot of examples of such use cases which Violin has seen
in its customer base.)
By then he'd already told me about how Violin
was already satisfying those needs with an unannounced new product.
said - I am not going to walk away from that kind of business or those kinds of
In a way - when Eric first told me the details - I was
surprised. But I wasn't shocked.
Because I had been thinking that the
solution might lie in the direction of a stripped down - no frills - software
light SSD array.
But I had anticipated that might be a future product.
Like a Strad 2000...
Can I talk about this? - I asked.
- but don't name the customers or the other details about the software
environments we talked about - said Eric.
So this is where I can reveal
the details of Violin's new product - which satisfies many of the problems I
mentioned above - which arise from having too much specialist software in an SSD
Although - not exactly.
Eric said - we can keep
the 6000 competitive and up to date - because most of the modules (power
supplies, fans, memory) are interchangeable with the 7000.
In a way the
solution is obvious. But in another way it's not.
I said to Eric - the
usual thing in this industry is that when a company brings out a new product
which looks a bit like the product they had before - but which does more - then
everyone assumes that the old product is obsolete.
maybe there's a case to made for relaunching the 6000.
- who simply look at the bullet points and count how many different software
features it's got - will hate it.
But the customers - who just want a
fast reliable and predictable SSD box - and who don't want to be told what
software they have to run with it - will be delighted.
BTW - I
deliberately didn't ask Eric to break out numbers for WFA sales.
won't try to estimate them by comparing them with similar things to guess a size
I said to Eric in this conversation - you don't need
analysts or market reports to tell you if the WFA experiment is working. You're
going to know that soon enough from your sales people.
So if it's still
in the product line next year - that will be a clue to us all.
the enterprise SSD box riddle game,
hidden segments in the enterprise for rackmount SSDs,
this enterprise SSD different?
|Hynix buys Violin's PCIe
SSD product line|
|Editor:- May 29, 2014 - Today in line with
previous guidance signals - Violin Memory (which in
January 2013 had
been observed to tentatively dip its toes as a late entrant into the raging
torrents of the PCIe SSD
market - but which had not been regarded by me as very likely to survive
a rigorous swim)
that it has sold its PCIe SSD product line to Hynix which paid $23
million in cash and assumed certain liabilities totaling $0.5 million. |
enters fast HA SSD apps server market|
|Editor:- April 22, 2014 - Violin Memory today
general availability of its
Flash Array (WFA) - a 3U new fast 10GbE
SSD accelerated apps
server (64TB raw flash capacity) - for Microsoft enterprise software
environments (with unique software developed by Microsoft) which opens up a new
market opportunity for Violin and which enables it to compete head to head
with vendors who sell enterprise servers accelerated by
PCIe SSDs or
SSDs with its own proprietary solution - which integrates servers preloaded
and configured with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 with fast RDMA memory access
to an internal fabric of Violin
Editor's comments:- This product announcement is
the nexus of several past business strands for Violin and also I think marks
another major reset point for the company in terms of its positioning and
business potential in the SSD market.
Here are a couple of things
for you to be thinking about this new product.
- Violin was already one of the
leading companies in
the rackmount SSD
market before this product line. Its previous products provided various ways
to accelerate apps by connecting their storage to existing servers.
this new product - if you're using enterprise apps from Microsoft - Violin can
now provide the servers too. And the fast flash is already integrated in the
server blades with a low latency software connection into server RAM via
custom VIMM acceleration code written by Microsoft.
While not as
scalable as some of the new vendors in the general cloud / SDS market
(Violin's new system currently scales to 4 arrays) - Violin's box will be one
of the 2 or 3 fastest boxes in the market today.
- Look Ma - no PCIe SSDs!
Less than a year after Violin made its
late entry into the PCIe SSD market (in January 2013) the company's new
management in 2014 was saying that it would soon exit that business.
exit strategy made sense even before today's announcement - because it's a
different type of business. - Violin was late to market - and PCIe SSDs
requires different technical and marketing support than systems. (You saw a
mirror image of some of those problems with
boostrapping of itself into also being a systems company last year.)
Violin's case - seen from the company's business perspective - with its WFA
product - you can now see why decoupling from the PCIe SSD market makes even
more sense than it did before for 2 more reasons.
1- If Violin isn't
using its own PCIe SSD form factors in its own servers (but using its
proprietary VIMMs instead) then why should anyone else use them?
Another reason in the balance is that the WFA will compete directly with server
makers who are in the market for PCIe SSDs. If Violin found it hard trying to
sell PCIe SSD to server makers before - the company's entry into the SSD
server market would shrink such design prospects even more.
Going back to the WFA
product launch. I think the WFA is the most significant new product direction
for Violin since the company switched away from using DRAM in its rackmount SSD
arrays - and over to using flash (in
- A new style of marketing.
When I spoke last week - ostensibly
about the WFA product briefing - to Eric Herzog,
Violin's new CMO - I started by repeating something I'd already said to him
earlier by email.
Violin's big Achilles heel in recent years in my view
had been its marketing.
Since September 2011 (long before the
company's IPO) I had been saying to readers on these pages as directly as I
could that Violin's marketing communications and advertising was not fit for
I told Eric that I regarded his arrival in the company as a
way to change all that.
He told me that he agreed - and had already
taken steps to correct a lot of past obvious mistakes.
On the business
development side he said the new management team at Violin included a strong
hybrid of skills in both big enterprise companies and startups.
personal level - having left a lot of money on the table from his previous post
in coming to join Violin - he believed there was a great opportunity for
Violin to be much more successful than it has been upto now. And a part of what
he would be doing is ensuring that the company communicated more clearly - in
the same kind of language that its customers used - what Violin was all about
and how its solutions made good business sense.
|Marketers in the enterprise
flash array market like to believe that when they introduce new features into
successive product generations these will always be regarded as having some
value by potential customers. |
But that's not always true.
where the the segment multiplication factor of design stability comes in.
hidden segments in the enterprise|
|Violin's 1st quarterly
|Editor:- November 25, 2013 - Now that Violin is a public
company - it has to publicly report revenue etc - and in its first such
for the quarter ended October 31 - revenue was $28 million - which the company
says was 37% more than a year ago. ...more in SSD news|
|VMEM? - "Ouch" -
says Business Insider|
|Editor:- September 28, 2013 - 2 days ago (Thursday) Violin Memory
the pricing of its IPO which began trading on the NYSE Friday as "VMEM".
The company got the money it wanted - $162 million - but those who bought at
the original price didn't consider themselves quite so lucky. |
- was how Julie
Bort summarized this in her
in Business Insider - re Violin's Awful IPO.
comments:- the weaknesses in Violin's past track record at delivering
promised revenue following earlier investments and the intrinsic low
scalability and restricted reach of its eccentric advertising preferences
were reported on these pages early enough to warn you.
I think the
company will have to change its marketing - and not simply spend more on what it
does already - to satisfy its investors and ensure continuity of the technical
roadmap for its customers.
Why Violin Memory's IPO
Disappointed, by the CEO of
Nimbus Data - who was at
an investor's conference at JP Morgan Chase's San Francisco offices just at the
time VMEM launched.