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Micron buys PCIe extender Virtensys, backers trouser hefty payout

Like a SAN without the SAN. And you know what that means

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SSD maker, Flash and DRAM fab operator Micron is buying Virtensys, a startup selling PCIe-sharing appliances

Virtensys' VIO 4000 product connects to servers' PCIe busses and enables a group of servers to share PCIe peripherals, such as NICs, HBAs, direct-attached disk drives and PCIe-connected solid state drives (SSDs). Such SSDs have become one of the hottest server technologies, led by suppliers like Fusion-io, because they dramatically accelerate server applications that would otherwise be disk I/O-bound, eliminating both network latency and hard disk drive latency from I/O times.

Virtensys, founded as a spin-out from Xyratex in 2006, has offices in Manchester, UK, and Beaverton, Oregon, and has consumed some $40 million of funding in three rounds. Its CEO and chairman is John Nicholson and the company sells its products to OEMs, such as Micron. The VIO 4000 product line uses Micron's P300 and P320h SSDs.

Edward Doller, Micron VP and Chief Memory Systems Architect, said: "Virtensys' PCIe-sharing technology has helped change the way data center operators manage and deploy their virtualized I/O resources, and Micron's enterprise PCIe drive delivers market-leading speed, reliability and power efficiency. This agreement would enable a combination of enterprise technology solutions that have the opportunity to virtualize SSD storage on the path to a more flexible and dynamic data center."

That's the key. A bunch of Micron SSDs could be shared by servers and form a subsidiary tier of memory. Software will be needed to populate the SSDs with data and farm out their capacity to servers in some optimised way. Fusion-io has its ioTurbine caching software to do this, but only on a per-server basis, and Dell is working with its RNA software on server flash storage. OCZ has acquired SANRAD for its server flash caching functionality.

Micron can now be expected to make PCIe-connect flash memory arrays. Virtensys' ability to turn DAS disk into a shared, but not networked, storage facility, a SAN without the SAN so to speak, is something that is quite new to Micron and it will be interesting to see what happens with it.

The transaction is subject to closing conditions and is currently anticipated to close by the end of the month. The amount paid has been kept secret but, based on $40 million funding and a 4x payout to Virtensys' backers, looks to be in the $160 million area. ®

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