SanDisk and Fusion-io: Sign of the (Consolidated) Times

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    Consolidation in the Flash storage industry continues unabated, a strong indication that expansion into enterprise-class environments will remain on a steady pace and that high performance, rather than greater capacity, will drive much of the storage deployment strategies in the age of cloud computing and Big Data.

    The latest move comes from SanDisk, which shelled out a cool $1.1 billion for market darling Fusion-io, despite the fact that Fusion-io has had trouble generating both new customers and profits for the past several quarters. The deal highlights SanDisk’s desire to break into enterprise storage markets, having spent much of the past decade emphasizing the mobile and handheld device market.

    At first blush, SanDisk and Fusion-io may seem like an odd pairing, considering that Fusion-io deals primarily in high-speed PCIe solutions like the ioMemory line while SanDisk already has its own PCIe solution, the Lightning card, to augment its professional SATA and SAS solid-state disk drive portfolio. However, Lightning never gained much of a following in enterprise circles, and it seems that Fusion-io’s problems stem from sales and marketing execution rather than technology. So in one easy step, SanDisk gains a world-class PCIe solution that should have no trouble finding its way through existing distribution channels.

    Also note that it was only last week that Fusion-io unveiled a brand-new memory solution that doubles capacity to 6.4 TB and is packed with performance-boosting features aimed at specific workloads. The Atomic card features a unique compression algorithm that coordinates with the data management tools in open database platforms like MySQL to enable block-level manipulation rather than working on individual cells. This allows for higher levels of data reduction without accelerating wear and tear on the Flash module. As well, there is a pool management feature for SQL Server 2014 that enhances available buffers to enable real-time database processing.

    The SanDisk/Fusion-io union is not just a simple consolidation of related technologies, but is in fact the continuation of a trend I highlighted a few weeks ago: consolidation aimed at forming integrated Flash solutions from formerly discrete components. Whether it’s Violin selling PCIe components to Korea’s SK Hyinx or Seagate picking up controller technology from LSI, the name of the game in enterprise Flash circles these days is integrated solutions that are easier to deploy and provide dramatic performance gains right out of the box.

    With that in mind, the moneyed classes are already turning their attention to other possible buyout targets, such as Nimble Storage and perhaps Violin Memory itself. Both were trending higher on Wall Street this morning, and Violin in particular has been mentioned in the buyout rumor mill a number of times over the past few months.

    Still, consolidation of storage resources may only be the first step in what could be a decade-long transition to fully consolidated computing environments. With server-side Flash storage components already bringing multiple-TB capacities to the PCIe bus, some are starting to wonder whether the traditional distributed storage model will last much longer. Top platform providers like HP and Cisco are moving quickly toward so-called converged infrastructure architectures, so it could very well be that once consolidation in the Flash storage market is complete, we will see another round of consolidation with the server and networking pieces.

    If this were to happen, you could say goodbye to the server, storage and networking industries and hello to the enterprise computing industry.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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