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Rehearsals over, Violin Systems raises curtain on comeback

Violin flash customers can consume FSP hardware as a service with three-year subscription at guaranteed cost of 1 cent per GB per month, based on 140 TB and data deduplication.

Violin Systems this week took the next step on its comeback trail with the launch of a monthly cloud subscription that allows customers to use Violin Flash Storage Platform hardware arrays as a billable service.

Violin CEO Ebrahim Abbasi also said the all-flash array vendor is recruiting more than 50 engineers to help complete projects. Those include upgrading arrays with 3D NAND solid-state drives (SSDs) and PCIe Gen 4 networking to support NVMe over Fabrics custom flash modules.

Violin subscription comes with guaranteed fixed price

Violin will continue to sell and support FSP arrays as an outright purchase, but the new on-demand option is intended for enterprises looking to restrain capital expenditures. Violin also offers users the option to consume FSP flash as fractional capacity under a monthly leasing program set up with financial partners.

Abbasi said the subscription underscores an effort to de-emphasize hardware in favor of more robust storage software. It also allows customers to shift storage costs from capital expenditures to an annual Opex model.

Violin Systems CEO Ebrahim AbbasiEbrahim Abbasi

"We've added a subscription model that allows customers to pay X amount of dollars per month for three years. After the three years are up, you can do a technology refresh [and upgrade] or keep your existing system and continue paying the same amount," Abbasi said.

The subscription includes Violin's installation and ongoing health checks. Violin guarantees storage at 1 cent per gigabyte per month, based on 140 TB of flash with FSP 7450 systems and presumed 4-1 data deduplication. That works out to about $250,000 for a three-year subscription. Subscription for an FSP 7650 system, without dedupe, is about 5 cents per GB.

Lifetime controller upgrades are a new battleground for all-flash array vendors. Violin's flash upgrade mirrors programs such as Pure Storage's Evergreen and Kaminario Flex, which enable data centers to receive updated controllers as the vendors make them available.

CEO Abassi: Violin flash makeover just getting started

Violin Systems is the new corporate name for the all-flash pioneer. Formerly Violin Memory, the vendor had a meteoric rise to the public market in 2013, fueled by sustained demand for high-performance flash storage. But Violin was unable to parlay its engineering work -- it owns nearly 60 U.S. patents -- into a profitable business, mainly because it was slow to develop a software stack.

The company declared bankruptcy in December 2017 after fruitless searches to find a buyer. Violin reemerged in April 2018 after receiving private funding to reorganize from hedge fund Quantum Partners.

"The single biggest reason that Violin started to falter is that it stayed focused only on the high-performance aspect of the market, while other all-flash vendors emerged to ship arrays that featured enterprise-class data services. Violin missed out on the data services part," said Eric Burgener, a research director of storage at IT analyst firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass.

Abbasi said those deficiencies have been remedied and he expects Violin Systems to turn a profit by 2019.

We want to move out of the intensive care unit into our own room.
Ebrahim AbbasiCEO, Violin Systems

"The company has been like a patient in the intensive care unit. That put us behind on technology development. We're fast-tracking that now by hiring engineers and partnering to borrow engineers from other companies," Abbasi said. "We want to move out of the intensive care unit into our own room."

The Violin Systems 2018 product roadmap includes a new array based on 3D NAND SSDs, a flash array with support for block, file and object storage, and cloud tiering. Abbasi said Violin will deliver a proprietary NVMe over Fabrics-based flash array in 2019.

Burgener said the immediate challenge for Violin Systems is to sell new storage gear to its existing installed base before it can woo new enterprise customers. While Violin had few all-flash competitors when it first started, now all major vendors sell flash systems and plan NVMe support.

"There is a lot of synergy among customers that have stayed with Violin and know their technology," Burgener said. "The installed base of customers needed the highest performance storage they could get. Now, Violin is producing another high-performance system that will leverage NVMe.

"The challenge facing Violin is whether its hardware architecture will produce sufficiently differentiating performance at a cost that people are willing to bear. The opportunity is there with an NVMe-based system, but it's tough to evaluate how successful they'll be until we have real-world data points."

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