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Samsung gobbles flash upstart for starters ... Servers for main?

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Memory and NAND foundry owner Samsung has bought a flash caching software startup called NVELO.

The South Korean giant has gobbled up NVELO's technology, its products and its staff for an undisclosed amount and without revealing whether it is paying cash or using stock to do so.

NVELO is privately owned and headquartered in Santa Clara. The upstart produces Dataplex adaptive cache storage management software that detects highly active data on a hard disk and automatically moves it to a flash drive, thus reducing access times.

As we understand it, Dataplex, launched in August 2010, has a consumer PC focus, and is a reactive technology. There are no facilities for forcing or pinning an application's data into the SSD. It is fully automated and it needs no user management.

Dataplex runs on the SSD host system, under Linux or Windows, and tracks disk file and block access. NVELO thinks the cache should be four times the host's DRAM capacity and will produce data access speeds up to 90 per cent or more of a pure SSD system.

The company has several deals with computer makers to ship PCs with its software and a flash drive. For example, OCZ's RevoDrive PCIe flash card uses it and so too does OCZ's Synapse SSD.

As well as OCZ, NVELO software ships with the Crucial Adrenaline SSD, EDGE and Mushkin SSDs and others. Competing products include CacheWorks from Nevex (a Canadian startup) and FlashSoft from SanDisk.

Many of NVELO's senior managers, including the CEO, come from Denali Software, a supplier of electronic design tools for memory manufacturers that's based in Sunnyvale. Denali was bought by Cadence Design Systems for $350m in June 2010. NVELO was formed as a spinoff from Denali during that acquisition; Cadence holds an equity investment in NVELO. Cadence's Nimish Modi, senior veep for research and development in its System and Software Realization Group, said at the time: "We see NVELO as a key player in bringing SSD technology to mainstream computing through its caching software products and scaling the core technology to address enterprise storage."

It is understood NVELO inherited Denali's Dataplex engineering, marketing, and business development teams, who had been working on the software for more than three years.

There was a $6.6m series-A funding round in July 2011; at that time NVELO stated: "The capital will support the expansion of the Dataplex product line for consumer computing and the launch of a new Dataplex storage product designed specifically for server storage caching."

Samsung and servers?

Now to Samsung: it makes PCIe flash cards and SSDs. NVELO's Dataplex is a natural fit for both product lines and Samsung has consumer and enterprise applications in mind for DataPlex; there's an obvious plan here to develop NVELO enterprise storage and server caching gear, and to couple Samsung's hardware to the acquired software.

We expect Samsung's distribution channel to pump DataPlex-enhanced PCIe and SSD products to notebook and desktop manufacturers. The existing NVELO pacts with PC maker are probably safe for now; Samsung is not saying anything about ending them - but Samsung flash products compete with the Crucial, EDGE, Mushkin and OCZs of this world, and over time the deals will probably fall apart unless these companies take Samsung NAND.

Let's say for argument's sake that Cadence put $5m cash into NVELO and that total funding has been $11.6m. A 5:1 buyout pattern would indicate Samsung paid $58m for the company. We note that Samsung has investments in Fusion-io, which makes PCIe flash hardware and software, and Pure Storage, which makes enterprise all-flash arrays and uses Samsung silicon. It's impossible to forget that Samsung also makes notebook computers, tablets and smartphones.

But Samsung doesn't make server computers; how it can distribute a server flash caching product - that would have to work with hypervisors - is not known. Mainstream server and storage vendors already have their own flash array and server flash strategies worked out, and these may involve suppliers such as LSI and Micron.

It is difficult to imagine Samsung entering the mainstream server and storage array flash hurly-burly with a server flash caching software product. Will the supply of NVELO server caching software to white-box server makers justify the $58m purchase? Are we seeing here an indication that Samsung may be developing its own server products?

Is this a stretch too far? We think not. El Reg data centre supremo Timothy Prickett Morgan has mulled this over - and don't forget Samsung has licensed ARM's 64-bit Cortex A50 processor design, the one intended for server applications. ®

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