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Disk drive kingpin WD whips out wallet for upstart Skyera

It's not the first time it has given flash firm a cash injection

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Who'd have thought it? When flash array startup Skyera announced its $51m second round funding we knew Dell was leading it but what we didn't know was that disk drive bigwig Western Dig was in there too.

WD appears to be lagging behind Seagate in adding a solid state drive dimension to its disk drive business. Seagate is bringing out its third generation flash/disk hybrid drives while WD has yet to ship its first generation.

Seagate has invested $40m in flash array startup Virident and expanded its Pulsar line of SSDs using Samsung NAND chippery and controller tech. Steve Luczo's company has also invested in NAND controller startup DensBits.

WD's acquired HGST subsidiary, which operates at arm's length, has a line of SSDs developed with Intel's help. WD itself has an embedded SSD line suited for military-style applications, through an acquisition of SiliconSystems in March 2009, but nothing apart from that. Now it has jumped onto the flash storage roundabout with this Skyera funding contribution.

WD says its investment is an extension of the existing strategic relationship between the two companies that includes joint technology development. We also learn that Western Digital had previously funded Skyera as its initial outside investor. Well, well, crafty WD.

Skyera Skyhawk flash array

Skyera CEO Radoslav Danilak said: "The backing of Western Digital has enabled us to ramp our business across marketing, sales and engineering. … having a close working relationship with Western Digital, the world's top disk drive vendor, is invaluable as we set out to reshape the storage landscape."

Er, yes, Rado, but how exactly will that work? Will WD sell your arrays as a distribution partner?

WD CEO Steve Milligan was positive but wouldn't be pinned down on detail: "We see companies like Skyera as offering a dramatic improvement over traditional approaches to emerging storage challenges." Skyera is the kind of company that is "addressing today's most exciting storage opportunities."

The opportunity to replace primary data access from slow storage arrays using disk drives like the ones WD and HGST make, with solid state storage arrays like Skyera's Skyhawk? Under what kind of arrangement will WD benefit from this transition? It's hard to see any real benefit unless WD sells the flash arrays or owns a company that does.

Seagate has its Virident investment and WD now has its Skyera one. The two CEO supremo Steves - Luczo at Seagate and Milligan at WD, are beginning to move in near lockstep now. Who's going to make the next flash move and what will it be? ®

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