Toshiba Invests In Flash Storage Vendor Violin Memory

Violin Memory on Monday said that Toshiba was the leading investor in a new $20 million-plus round of funding in the company, making Toshiba its largest strategic investor.

Even more important, the two companies also signed a supply agreement under which Toshiba will help ensure a more stable supply of the memory chips on which Violin's storage appliances depend, said Matt Barletta, vice president of product marketing for Violin.

Violin does not manufacture solid state drives or flash memory cards, Barletta said. Instead, it manufactures storage appliances with RAID protection that use flash memory instead of hard drives as the storage media, Barletta said. These storage appliances can be used to store performance-critical data, or with traditional arrays to speed up data center performance, he said.

Barletta declined to specify how much Toshiba invested in Violin other than to say that it was several million dollars, and that Toshiba is the company's largest strategic investor. There are a couple others, but he said their identities will not be revealed until later this month.

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The signing of a supplier agreement with Toshiba is huge for Violin, Barletta said. The company uses over 10,000 dies of Flash memory in a single appliance, and flash memory prices have doubled in the last six months, he said.

"NAND flash memory is a finite resource," he said. "All the SSD vendors are competing for that resource with companies like Apple, which uses it for their iPad and iPhones. . . . We don't control our own destiny. It's hard to plan in such a situation."

Flash memory is also changing quickly, with capacity doubling every nine months or so. Barletta said 32 GBs per DIMM was standard last winter, but 64 GBs per DIMM is standard today. Violin is also testing 128-GB DIMMs now, and has also received prototypes of 256-GB DIMMs.

Toshiba is investing several billions of dollars in new flash memory manufacturing, and has traditionally focused its sales efforts on the consumer electronics memory market, Barletta said.

"But Toshiba also sees the advantage of entering the enterprise market, especially as the hard disk drive business starts spinning down as the solid state storage business grows," he said.

Barletta declined to provide details about the new supply agreement with Toshiba, but he said it is not a single-source deal.