In an interesting twist on the consolidation trend in the solid-state storage industry, Seagate announced a $40 million strategic investment in PCIe flash vendor Virident. The move opens Seagate's OEM and distribution channels to Virident's FlashMAX cards and broadens Seagate's solid-state portfolio beyond its SAS-interface Pulsar drives.
In return for its cash, Seagate will get to nominate a member to Virident's board of directors. This the fifth round of funding for Virident since it was founded in 2006. It brings Virident's total funding to $103 million, including investments from Artiman Ventures, Globespan Capital Partners, Mitsui Global Investments, Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital and Cisco.
Virident has been in the PCIe flash card business from the beginning. Its FlashMAX cards are based on its own flash controller, which not only levels wear across the card's flash, but also does 7+1 RAID 5-like data protection across the flash chips. This protects data against cell failure as well as full die or package failures. The FlashMAX cards, like Intel's new DC S3700 enterprise SSD, deliver high performance, low latency and also consistent latency when under heavy load. Because flash chips have to erase a full block of 256 Kbytes or 512 Kbytes at a time, most SSDs suffer unpredictable write latency when they run out of empty pages and have to perform housekeeping.
Virident, much like Fusion-io, promotes the idea of accessing the capacity the FlashMAX provides through memory-like access paths, not just as a solid-state disk. This approach, while it may require application support, promises lower latency and greater flexibility than disk-style interfaces. Hopefully Virident, Fusion-IO and one or two of the other PCIe flash vendors will be able to get together and standardize some flash memory access APIs so application vendors can take advantage of them without tying their code to a single vendor's hardware.
Seagate's imprimatur and marketing channels will boost Virident's position in the PCIe flash market, but I wonder why Seagate didn't just acquire all of Virident and make a real commitment to the flashy future.