Violin - a proudly proprietary storage vendor . . .

I met with Violin Memory at VMworld Europe last week in Barcelona. It’s always good to spend a bit of time talking with vendors and get to see under the skin of the company a bit.

Chief impression was that Violin spends a lot of time telling you what it’s not about.

“We don’t do cache,” is one of its pronouncements. It believes the job of its flash is to act as super-fast storage in its own right, not as a cache corrective for the deficiencies of spinning disk. “You have to stop thinking about flash as disk augmentation,” Violin technology VP for EMEA Mick Bradley told me.

“We don’t believe in data tiering*,” they also say. Here again they have faith in their ability to, “provide the performance of flash at a price comparable to tier 1 disk”, meaning, in Violin world, that your hot data should be on their product and there’s no need for it to be anywhere else except in backups and then archives.

Hybrid flash storage? “A race to the bottom in one use case”, ie virtual desktops.

Server-side flash? Another compromise.

Perhaps its boldest and potentially most confusing claim is when it tells you they, “don’t sell SSD”.

It does, of course. Violin bases its all-flash array products on NAND flash chips it obtains via a supply chain deal with Toshiba. It puts this silicon on bespoke cards that carry all its special sauce; ie all the software that does that does the striping, data protection, wear-mitigation etc across these so-called VIMMs, or Violin Intelligent Memory Modules.

So, what Violin actually means when its says, “We don’t sell SSD” is that it doesn’t sell commodity SSD in 2.5″ or 3.5″ disk drive format.

You can’t say Violin doesn’t aim for a bold idea of what it does and doesn’t do, and has a decent roster of customers including, most recently, the UK’s air traffic control organisation, NATS.

But, informal conversations also reveal a frustration with a customer community that rarely looks beyond the big four or five storage array vendors. You know, the ones you’ll never get sacked for buying from.

That, however, is the lot of the small storage vendor, especially one that so proudly ploughs its own furrow with technology that is obviously deeply proprietary. It’s not like you could simply swap in commodity drives to a Violin array if the company or its arrangement with Toshiba went belly up.

It’s one of those contradictions of the storage industry and of IT in general; the more you carve your own profitable proprietary niche the more you make yourself a potential single point of failure. And that’s a fact that can’t be lost on potential customers.

(* Despite not believing in data tiering it is planned to add it to future Violin Memory arrays, said Bradley at VMworld)

(For blog posts before mid-September2012 see UK Data Storage Buzz.)