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XIO tosses the dice one more time

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Comment Neither-fish-nor-fowl storage supplier XIO is looking to server virtualisation for growth spurt that has so far eluded it. If this fails then all XIO's bets could be off.

XIO, the renamed Xiotech, makes Integrated Storage Elements (ISE): sealed enclosures of solid state and disk drives with a five-year warranty and rocket science-level software delivering high, predictable and constant performance protected against component media failures. The latest version, Hyper ISE, combines solid state dives and disk drives in a 2-tiered product with continuous adaptive data placement on the tiers.

XIO Hyper ISE

XIO's Hyper ISE

The ISE boxes are much, much more than intelligent storage array shelves but less than mainstream storage array controllers; more than JBODs but less than storage arrays, neither fish nor fowl as it were. Consequently XIO has arrangements with partners that include DataCore to provide the upper level storage controller stack functionality.

This means it has limited entry to enterprise customers who are conservative, dislike new things, and perhaps feel that a sealed canister means no thin provisioning and no ability to upgrade the disks inside to cheaper and/or larger capacity drives over time.

I think we can say that, in the five years since Seagate sold its ISE-inventing Advanced Storage Architecture group to Xiotech, Xiotech has not made a profit. Its VC backers bought in Alan Atkinson almost a year ago to turn things around. So far, he has not.

In August this year there was additional funding and a changed marketing effort with the company rebranded as XIO Storage, and a new focus on solution selling into the server virtualisation market. Alan Atkinson is entering his second year as the turnaround CEO and this year is probably a make-or-break one.

Hyper ISE with SSD and HDD

Hyper ISE module with SSDs and HDDs

We talked to him and his chief enterprise architect, Robert Stevenson, when they visited the UK

Hyper ISE launch, competition and markets

Alan Atkinson said that the Hyper ISE product was the fastest-selling launch product in the company's history, and that the company might end the quarter on 30 September with a shipment backlog. With Hyper ISE, XIO is competing against Fusion-io, Kaminario, TMS, Violin Memory, and Whiptail – all suppliers of shared access solid state storage systems.

Atkinson said: "I think the move to solid state is the most significant shift for storage since the rise of networked storage... There are eight to 10 suppliers in this space [with] different go-to-markets. For example, Nimble: customers looking at Nimble are not looking at XIO.

"It's good; there's no embedded incumbent with a CIO relationship. A number of our competitors are Indy cars with no power steering, no air-con and no brakes. They go really fast." Listen to that unspoken "but"... XIO's Hyper ISE on the other hand is likened to a fully-specified car.

You really want to put the storage controller in the hypervisor to minimise latency

HyperISE has high availability and mirroring, etc, but, according to Atkinson: "Its biggest advantage is price due to the SSD and disk drive combination compared to pure solid state storage."

He continued: "We can get more speed out of that box, because the data placement algorithm can be improved and customers get a speed boost via a firmware upgrade."

Robert Stevenson said server virtualisation, big data and the cloud all increased random storage I/O workloads "and we do well there... As mission-critical apps get virtualised and hypervisors run upper-level storage stack functions then XIO is well-positioned... You really want to put the storage controller in the hypervisor to minimise latency... EMC, NetAp, etc, will keep selling arrays with overlapping storage controller functionality and will be in the array sales preservation business."

Atkinson said: "The storage controller is under threat." To which competitors selling storage arrays might reply: "You wish". Atkinson talks of putting controller functionality in a spare server core. Of course the array vendors could point to their virtual storage appliances as doing exactly that.

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