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Samsung buys into Fusion-io

Some vertical integration going on

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Fusion-io has taken a cash investment from NAND chip leader Samsung, strengthening an existing chip supply relationship.

Fusion-io makes the PCIe-connnected ioDrive, a NAND solid state storage module that fits inside a server and can be used as a solid state drive (SSD) to store data for a long time, or as a cache to store transient, hot data. It has also been developing the ioSAN, a networked SSD storage device of which little has been heard recently.

Samsung is the largest supplier of NAND chips with STEC, for example, using its flash chips in its zeusIOPS solid state drive. STEC supplies SSDs as replacements for hard drives and is expanding into the development of pure SSD storage devices, witness its recent deal with IBM to suply SSD product for the new SAN Volume Controller (SVC).

This represented a reverse for Fusion-io which had pioneered the concept jointly with IBM in the Quicksilver project, achieving one million IOPS from an ioDrive-equipped SVC.

On April 8 this year Fusion-io announced a new CEO, David Bradford, and a $50m B-round of investment. That investment was going to be used to "develop the next generation of Fusion-io technologies that will build on its... (current ioDrive) server-attached storage products to supply server-deployed, network-attached solid-state storage. The first of these products, releasing this summer, is the ioSAN. The ioSAN is a PCI Express-based product that extends the raw power of Fusion-io’s solid-state technology across the network."

Now we have an investment of an undisclosed amount by Samsung, a quasi C-round just six months after the $50m B-round. It would appear that Fusion-io has not been earning enough revenue to fund its development needs. The company says that quarter-over-quarter sales for its products have nearly doubled since the company announced its ioDrive product in late 2007, and MySpace has been announced as a customer. This growth rate might not be high enough.

The Samsung cash "will drive further solid-state innovation at Fusion-io". That's pretty vague. We're also told that Samsung and STEC "have also agreed to jointly evaluate technology for new SSD applications." That could be well-meaning marketing guff or it could refer to some new form of NAND or other non-volatile memory technology, 4-bit multi-level cell flash say, or Phase-change memory. Samsung has also almost certainly ensured Fusion-io will use its chips from now on.

If Fusion-io needs cash for further development and it went to Samsung rather than to its current investors this suggests that it's a serious amount, in the tens of millions, and that Samsung was a better source of the finance that the existing investors for whatever reason.

What Samsung customer STEC will think about Samsung investing in a competitor isn't known, but perhaps STEC might look more favourably at alternative NAND chips from now on. Micron has just introduced a new 34nm line of single and 2X multi-level cell chips. ®

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