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Xiotech's SSD strategy: beat Fusion-io

The people who run Xiotech are closely watching Fusion-io these days.

That’s because the rollout of its Hybrid ISE solid state storage system this month has increasingly brought Xiotech into competition with PCIe flash card vendor Fusion-io. Xiotech is also looking to go public eventually, and Fusion-io’s IPO this month raised $237 million.

Xiotech CEO Alan Atkinson said Xiotech will ship every unit of Hybrid ISE it could build this quarter, although he didn’t say how many units were built. “This will be the most successful product launch in Xiotech history, and the first of several products on our roadmap in quick succession that will work together,” he said.

Atkinson said part of the success of Hybrid ISE is due to the awareness of the flash market that Fusion-io created with its products and the attention its IPO created.

Xiotech takes a different approach to SSDs than most storage array vendors. Instead of using SSD as cache or plugging SSDs into traditional arrays, Xiotech puts a set amount of SSD capacity along with hard drives in its storage bricks. Each brick has 20 hard drives and 20 SSDs to provide 14.4 TB of usable capacity, and uses what Xiotech calls Continuous Adaptive Data Placement to move data between hard drives and multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs to optimize I/O performance.

Atkinson said Hybrid ISE is shipping mostly into new markets for Xiotech. The new customer base includes Fortune 500 firms, particularly financial services companies looking to accelerate database performance. “That’s not shocking,” Atkinson said. “That’s where Fusion-io is selling, and that’s where the SSD market seems to be.”

Like Fusion-io’s products, Hybrid ISE appeals more to the people who manage applications than traditional storage admins. Along with Oracle databases, SSDs in storage are a good fit for virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs).

Atkinson said Xiotech’s advantage is that Hybrid ISE is easier to set up and manage than PCIe cards. “Fusion-io goes to the apps guys and says ‘We can make your stuff look really fast.’ And it’s true,” he said. “But the administration of that is pretty difficult. They have to take a small LUN, open the servers up, put a card in, and roll their own DR solution because there’s no built in replication that looks like disk. And they have 800 gig as a target. That means they have to re-architect things.”

The storage vendor landscape has been re-architected the past few years as the most successful smaller companies have been gobbled up by the big guys. 3PAR, Compellent, DataDomain, EqualLogic, and Isilon all started around the same time as Xiotech but Xiotech is still on its own while the others have been absorbed by Hewlett-Packard, Dell and EMC. And most of those deals have been for billions of dollars.

Atkinson, who sold software vendor WysDM to EMC in 2008 before joining Xiotech, said it’s good to be among the few smaller storage system companies left standing.

“For a private company, those types of acquisitions raise your profile,” he said. “It makes it easier for us to look at a public offering, which is the path we’re on. There’s a dearth of companies in that space and storage has demonstrated itself to be hot. There’s a real appetite in the [financial] community for storage companies.”

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