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Flash startup Virident pockets $26M and storage-savvy CEO

PCIe flash card startup Virident Systems closed a $26 million funding round this week, and hired a CEO that signals the vendor is entering a new phase.

Former BlueArc CEO Mike Gustafson is Virident’s new boss, replacing founder Kumar Ganapathy. Ganapathy will remain with the company and work closely with the executive team on business strategy, new product development and strategic partnerships.

Ganapathy’s background is in engineering, while Gustafson ran sales and marketing at Fibre Channel switch maker McData before moving to BlueArc in 2005 and selling the NAS vendor to Hitachi Data Systems last year. The change comes as Virident is ready to make its FlashMax II cards generally available following years of intense product development.

“We were looking for somebody who could take us to the next level as far as sales and marketing, and Mike has a lot of experience there,” Virident’s VP of Marketing Shridar Subramanian said. “He enabled the growth of BlueArc in the NAS space, established a strategic OEM relationship with Hitachi, and was responsible for the acquisition of BlueArc.”

Gustafson will likely pursue partnerships with large storage and server vendors at Virident. Although Mitsui Global Investments led the Series D funding round, it also included previous strategic investors Cisco, Intel and an unidentified storage vendor who industry sources say is EMC. To compete with the likes of Fusion-IO, Micron Technology and LSI, Virident will need the types of OEM and reseller deals those players have with storage and server companies such as Cisco, EMC and their competitors.

Subramanian said Virident isn’t finished with product development either, and will add software products and features to make its products better equipped for the enterprise than its competitors’ devices.

“There are quite a few players in the market with products,” he said. “But it’s pretty easy to put a bunch of flash chips together and claim you have a flash-based product. What’s difficult is to optimize performance and provide enterprise-class performance. A lot of differentiation will be in software, and that’s where we are investing with the new money as well.”

The round brings Virident’s total funding to $76 million. New investor Hercules Technology Growth Capital and previous investors Globespan Capital Partners, Sequoia Capital and Artiman Ventures also participated.

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