Violin Memory acquires GridIron for flash cache SAN acceleration

All-flash array vendor Violin Memory expands product line by acquiring GridIron Systems, and its TurboCharger SAN acceleration flash cache appliances.

Violin Memory acquired GridIron Systems today, adding GridIron's flash cache SAN acceleration platform to its family of all-flash storage arrays.

Violin and GridIron both sell flash storage devices, but they play different roles. Violin Flash Memory Arrays serve as a primary storage tier and are used as a traditional SAN.

GridIron's OneAppliance TurboCharger incorporates flash and dynamic RAM (DRAM) as a cache to accelerate performance of applications on a traditional SAN. TurboCharger sits between the server and storage through Fibre Channel switches, and is primarily used for high-performance databases.

Violin did not disclose the purchase price for GridIron.

Narayan Venkat, Violin's vice president of product management, said the two vendors' products are complementary and Violin and GridIron have several common customers.

"GridIron is focused on accelerating applications on existing storage systems," he said. "It mainly accelerates databases and highly read-intensive workloads. We're used mostly for highly random mixed read-write workloads. We've run into instances with joint customers where GridIron fills a specific workflow as it pertains to caching."

Venkat said Violin will continue to sell TurboCharger SAN accelerator appliances, and will look to find a way to integrate GridIron's flash cache technology into Violin arrays. GridIron's employees will join Violin. The companies both have headquarters in Silicon Valley -- Violin in Mountain View, Calif., and GridIron in Sunnyvale.

Violin faces heavy competition in the all-flash market. Fellow startups Kaminario, Nimbus Data, Pure Storage, Skyera, Tegile Systems, and Whiptail all have all-flash arrays, and IBM acquired Texas Memory Systems and EMC bought XtremIO last year to enter the market.

Arun Taneja, consulting analyst of the Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, said adding GridIron can expand Violin's customer base without competing against its current products.

"Violin had all-flash covered as a tier, and this gives them a flash solution that sits mostly in front of non-SSD [solid-state drive] storage," Taneja said. "If I have a SAN array with hard drives, I can't accelerate that with a Violin all-SSD box."

Taneja said he sees the deal as a sign that customers are willing to buy flash storage, but doesn't want to scrap their traditional arrays, either.

"Nobody is willing to throw their current investment away," he said. "If you look at purchases of all-flash arrays, they have been mostly for either new projects or in emergency situations where they've swapped out current products. Violin is getting customers who want pure SSDs. But for one of those boxes, I would estimate 20 other scenarios where customers would rather improve what they have."

Violin and GridIron are both private companies, but Violin is the much larger of the two. Violin has 450 employees compared to GridIron's 20, and has raised $186 million in funding compared to about $30 million for GridIron. Violin has hundreds of customers, while Vankat said GridIron's customer base "is in the tens."

Violin has filed for an initial public offering according to a Bloomberg report last October. Violin has not publicly disclosed the filing, though, and Vankat would not confirm the report.

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