Storage startup raises more funds to disrupt industry with its SSD arrays.
Solid-state systems supplier Pure Storage has received an additional $225 million in venture capital in a sixth round of funding, raising its total stake to $470 million. The amount is unprecedented for a storage startup and illustrates the potential disruption that may be underway in the storage industry.
At the same time, there are a plethora of companies that see solid-state drives (SSDs) as both disruptive and a chance to forge a new storage success story. Many of them have ample venture capital backing, even if short of Pure Storage's total. At the same time, some of them are floundering. OCZ Technology Group filed for bankruptcy in December. Fusion-io, judged by many to be the market leader, reported lower revenues at the end of 2013 than the year before. And the board at Violin Memory, after a successful IPO in September, fired its five-year veteran CEO Don Basile in December following diminished returns at the end of the company's first public quarter.
So what's different about Pure Storage? Since it's still privately held, no one knows exactly what are its revenues, profits (if any), or customer base. On a list of the top SSD vendors, Fusion-io was number one, Violin was number three, OCZ was number eight, and Pure Storage was only number 10. And what's worse, Pure Storage became the target of a suit by EMC last November. EMC is miffed that Pure Storage has hired away a number of its executives and is suing on the grounds they may have taken with them company secrets.
CEO Scott Dietzen said in an interview that he isn't too concerned by these headwinds. He said Pure Storage can be distinguished from other storage companies by the insight of its founders, CTO John Colgrove and chief architect John Hayes, and its emphasis on making SSDs fit in with existing systems in the datacenter.
Dietzen said CTO Colgrove is the former chief architect for storage vendor Veritas. "He knows as much about spinning disks as anyone on the planet," Dietzen said, because he has written a lot of the software that governs a disk's operations. As solid-state drives appeared, "he realized that all the code written for spindles was going to have to be rewritten" for SSDs, and in 2009 left to found Pure Storage. Chief architect Hayes "is every bit his intellectual equal, as brilliant a computer scientist as I've ever worked with," Dietzen said, and they, along with engineers from Google, VMware, and a team of 25 PhDs in development, are producing the software for the arrays in Pure Storage's SSD product lineup.
PureStorage CEO Scott Dietzen
Dietzen himself is an experienced software product developer, one of the original project leaders for the WebLogic application server, acquired by BEA Systems and then incorporated into Oracle with BEA's acquisition. The difference between SSDs vendors will be determined by the quality of their management software, he told the Flash Memory Summit last August in Santa Clara, Calif. As a word of warning, then-Violin-CEO Basile made ambitious-sounding pronouncements at the same time.
But Dietzen said Pure Storage arrays are being designed to be compatible with existing systems in the datacenter, and that compatibility has been a big part of his firm's success. It's also built automatic deduplication and compression into its products, which reduces the footprint of the data it stores by a ratio of 6 to 1.
Although no hard figures were made available, Dietzen claimed Pure Storage saw a 700% increase in revenues last year. (It's that kind of measure that makes you wonder how low revenues were the year before.) The firm
Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio
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