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Flash array vendors Whiptail, SolidFire make moves

Competition in the all-flash market will grow intense in 2013, and startups Whiptail and SolidFire this week moved to strengthen their companies.

Whiptail closed a $31 million funding round today. Ignition Partners led the round, with BRE Ventures and Spring Mountain Capital participating, along with strategic investors SanDisk, an unnamed “Silicon Valley industry titan,” and debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank. Whiptail also hired a new CFO, Catherine Chandler.

SolidFire bolstered its senior executive team, adding RJ Weigel as president, John Hillyard as CFO and Tom Pitcher as VP/International.

Whiptail is the first startup to receive funding from SanDisk Ventures’ new $75 million fund for strategic investments. Alex Lam, director of SanDisk Ventures, said SanDisk picked Whiptail among the flash array vendors because its arrays can scale into tens of terabytes today with plans to drastically extend that.

“There’s a lot of noise in the industry from companies talking about the size of the round they raised or they got investments from Sequoia or somebody like that,” Lam said. “But you really want to look at the core technology. I look at the ability to take a terabyte and scale to petabytes without the customer having to purchases a new platform.”

Whiptail recently said its upcoming Infinity storage will scale to 360 TB in early 2013, and CEO Dan Crain said it will eventually go to petabyte scale

SanDisk and Whiptail had no previous relationship, but you can expect Whiptail to get its flash memory from SanDisk now. Lam said SanDisk will likely look to invest in server-side flash and flash software companies next.

“This is our first stake in the ground to show we’re serious,” he said. ”We view flash as disruptive in enterprise storage. We want to build up an ecosystem of enterprise flash technologies.”

Whiptail received a much smaller funding round – less than $10 million – in January 2012.

SolidFire stands out from other all-storage array vendors because it sells almost solely to cloud providers. Weigel fits with that strategy, because he ran sales and field operations at 3PAR in the early days when a good part of its customers were service providers such as Savvis and Terremark. Weigel said cloud providers hold great potential for SolidFire.

“So much of what’s in the cloud now is not the most critical apps,” he said. “People are putting test/dev and backup in the cloud, but customers have been waiting for quality of service and guaranteed SLAs for the most critical apps, such as Oracle. We’re going to deliver on that promise. Cloud service partners will be able to put together a business practice around our storage.”

But Weigel and SolidFire chief marketing officer Jay Prassl said they can see the day when SolidFire moves into the enterprise as well.

“Cloud providers are step one before taking the next step into large enterprises,” Prassl said. “We get a lot of calls today from enterprises, and we don’t hang up the phone. We’ll be announcing some of them next year. But companies that have a specific focus like SolidFire can do well in the cloud space.”

Weigel added: “Obviously, there will be a time and place where other markets make sense, but we are focused on the service provider cloud space today. It’s a great growth market for us.”

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