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Toshiba takes Violin Memory stake

New flash string to its bow

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Toshiba has taken a strategic stake in flash memory product supplier Violin Memory and agreed a flash chip supply deal.

The move echoes that of Samsung, which also invested higher up the supply chain for its NAND chips by buying into Fusion-io.

That firm makes PCIe-connected flash memory products resident inside a server's enclosure, whereas Violin Memory makes PCIe or externally-attached flash memory 1010 Memory Appliance products up to 4TB in size.

Don Basile, ex-CEO of Fusion-io, was ousted by David Bradford, whom Basile brought into Fusion-io as a board member. Basile then spent time at Iron Capital, a venture capital firm with an investment in Violin Memory, before becoming Violin Memory's CEO in September last year.

In January Violin announced a new round of funding and said it had raised $16.63m of a $26.91 equity offering. It now says it raised more than $20m in March. That suggests Toshiba has made an investment of at least $10.3m. Violin's initial round of funding in 2007 brought in around $10m and there were other funding rounds in 2008 and 2009.

Violin has previously said it will bring out flash product with HDD-class pricing. Toshiba partners with SanDisk, which has 4-bit multi-level cell (MLC) technology patents. The more bits there are in a flash cell the cheaper flash memory is on a per-GB basis. However increasing the bit level in MLC memory tends to lead to slow writes and reduce the working life or endurance of the memory. It adds to the complexity of the flash product controller, which has to ensure a fast write speed and adequate working life. That is Violin's expertise.

Violin's main competitor in the externally-attached flash storage device space is Texas Memory Systems with its RamSan product line. ®

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