Toshiba, others invest $20M in flash memory array maker Violin

Toshiba is second only to Samsung as a supplier of NAND flash chips

Flash memory array maker Violin Memory Systems Inc. announced this week that Toshiba and a number of other companies invested more than $20 million in its operations -- and Toshiba will be a main supplier of NAND flash memory chips to Violin.

Toshiba is second only to Samsung Electronics Co. in producing NAND chips for products such as solid state drives (SSD) as well as MP3 players and USB memory sticks.

According to Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, Calif., Toshiba's backing of Violin is key to the company's continued growth since it will become a preferred customer. And it's good for Toshiba's NAND group, since it will get a better understanding of the important enterprise SSD market.

Currently, enterprise SSDs are the only SSD market showing real signs of growth. "We forecast a [compounded annual growth rate] of 168%, taking sales to $1.1B in 2013," Handy said.

Violin's main competitor among enterprise NAND flash makers is Fusio-io. Samsung has a similar tight supplier relationship with Fusion-io. But, Violin is at least a year behind Fusion-io in development, which puts it at a distinct disadvantage, according to Handy.

"Fortunately for Violin, their CEO (and I believe other officers) are ex-Fusion-io execs," he said.

Conversely, Fusion-io totes Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as its chief scientist.

"Unfortunately, Toshiba's SSDs are sold by Toshiba's semiconductor group, which has very little interaction with the [hard disk drive] group, so this investment is not likely to create any synergy between Violin and the Toshiba [hard disk drive] business," Handy said.

According to a report by Reuters, Toshiba plans to begin producing higher capacity NAND flash chips using sub-25 nanometer (nm) lithography technology. The company currently uses circuitry that is 32nm and 43nm in width. The denser memory technology could also be incorporated into Violin's products, offering greater capacity over time.

Currently, Intel and Micron Corp.'s joint venture, IMFT, is the only company creating NAND flash using 25nm lithography. Samsung uses 30nm technology.

Violin did not disclose who its other investors were in this latest round of funding, but said it plans to offer more information later. In 2007, Violin garnered $10 million in its first round of funding.

"The addition of capital and access to Toshiba's technology and strategic supply adds the final critical component to allow us to provide large quantities of our Memory Arrays to OEMs, end customers [and] distribution and solution partners, including our recently announced global FalconStor relationship," Don Basile, CEO of Violin Memory, said in a statement.

Violin's storage systems configure solid state memory in a RAID configuration using proprietary software to evenly distribute data across the flash memory so as to not wear out any one sector. The Iselin, N.J.-based company uses NAND flash to create Flash Modules in its appliances. Unlike solid state drives, the modules reside on motherboards and do not use a hard disk drive form factor.

Violin's 1010 Memory Appliance comes with 64GB or 128GB of single-level cell flash memory modules. Each 2U (3.5-in-high) appliance can scale to 4TB, although systems start at 320GB. A rack stacked with the appliances scales to 64TB of capacity.

The 1010 Memory Appliance has a random or sequential read rate of 300,000 I/Os per second and a 200,000 I/O per second sustained write rate. Violin claims its appliance is more than 50 times faster than traditional disk storage and four times faster than 2.5-in or 3.5-in form factor SSDs.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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