Fusion-io CEO: Storage Heading For Commoditisation

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Fusion-io CEO David Flynn talks to us about how the storage industry is heading for commoditisation because of flash at the server

Fusion-io is well-known for being an employer of Apple legend Steve Wozniak. Yet there is much more to the flash-focused firm than that.

It’s technology powers servers across the globe in some major companies, including Salesforce.com and Facebook, and it’s gaining a lot of followers.

We caught up with CEO of Fusion-io David Flynn to talk about what he makes of recent moves in the storage and server space, in particular EMC’s dalliance in the latter market, and what is happening to the storage industry more generally.

What did you make of EMC’s recent move into the flash space with Project Lightning and the VFCache product?
They announced Project Lightning two weeks before our IPO roadshow, which was interesting. When we came out of stealth mode and first announced our product, it was the fall of 2007, the same month EMC had announced putting SSDs in the storage array. We said ‘that’s great’ because at the server it is a whole lot more capable of accelerating applications than in the storage array.

It was kind of a victory for them to capitulate that performance is no longer going to be provided by the storage array. The performance was going to be independently provided at the server. The writing was on the wall.

But it actually goes to a deeper transformation that is happening in the industry. It’s not just about mechanical storage to solid state storage, it’s that solid state storage allows folks to go to more open storage models as opposed to mainframes. The SAN [storage area network] is a mainframe, it takes rocket science to build it, vertically integrated, vendor locked, proprietary system. You can’t put your disk drives in it, you’ve got to get them from EMC at a huge markup. It’s a closed ecosystem.

When you can put flash in the server and accelerate any SAN, independent of the SAN, that opens it up by splitting performance from capacity. That’s a scary thing for EMC because ultimately it means the commoditisation of the capacity market.

Do you worry that big players are following this trend of converged models at the server end? Do you feel threatened?
There will always be competition around. The question is who is going to be the most capable of selling it. The thing we recognised was that the server vendors sell servers and the storage vendors sell storage. Selling the unique value proposition of flash, we have become more adept at that than anybody.

Now the irony is it’s not just about selling flash. Think of it like selling a Formula One car engine – nobody wants to buy an engine, they want to buy a fast car. What we do is the full solution set. When you take our hardware and put it in the systems, you have to have the software to integrate it and you have to solve all the other things that break or otherwise get in your way of actually going fast. What I’m saying is that inside of traditional servers, when you push them to these performance levels, other things break. Network adapters overflow, buses have issues, the servers overheat because they’ve never been run at 100 percent utilisation.

We have become the most respected vendor for making sure your solution works. That’s what has won us business at many of our large customers.

We don’t sell engines. We sell speed and we do it better than anybody… EMC is still coming at it from a storage point of view, we are looking at it from an application for a point of view. And the environment in which that engine goes is foreign to EMC, it’s the server environment. They don’t even make the engines themselves. We look at them as rather disadvantaged when it comes to server side flash.

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