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Texas Memory Systems acquires storage virtualization IP from Incipient

Solid-state drive vendor Texas Memory Systems has analysts envisioning a hybrid storage tier with the purchase of assets from storage virtualization startup Incipient.

Solid-state drive (SSD) vendor Texas Memory Systems (TMS) Inc. has acquired patents and intellectual property assets from storage virtualization startup Incipient Inc., opening the door for Texas Memory Systems to create tiered storage systems with SSDs and spinning disk.

Incipient first demonstrated its split-path network-based storage virtualization product at Storage Networking World (SNW) in the fall of 2003, but didn't make its Incipient Network Storage Platform (iNSP) generally available until the fall of 2006. The firm was privately held and financed by venture capital firms Greylock Partners, Sigma Partners, Globespan Capital Partners, HLM Venture Partners, GrandBanks Capital, QuestMark Partners and Wasatch Advisors. Overall, it received $95 million in venture capital funding.

Woody Hutsell, president of Texas Memory Systems, said Incipient remains a separate entity, and TMS acquired only its data management patents and source code. Incipient will continue to support existing customers, although it's unclear how many customers the startup had. Hutsell declined to comment on the cost of the deal.

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Incipient's network-based storage virtualization works similarly to IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC). It sits in the network and provides "single pane of glass" management of data spread across multiple storage pools or disk arrays. Hutsell said the key points of Incipient's IP for Texas Memory Systems are high-speed virtualization and storage management capabilities, and that TMS probably won't market the product using its current platform.

Texas Memory Systems hasn't declared its intentions for the Incipient IP, but there are several intriguing possibilities. Hutsell said TMS could place a storage virtualization head on a storage system such as one of its RamSans and virtualize storage on third-party arrays, the way Hitachi Data Systems does with its Universal Storage Platform V (USP V).

"That's a good way to think about it," Hutsell said. "There are a lot of possibilities, and that's definitely one of them."

TMS could also use the Incipient IP to manage hybrid arrays containing SSDs and spinning disk drives, he said. "The way the market is evolving is into two tiers—solid state and hard disk drives, and you have to be able to build and manage both environments."

Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, was Incipient's first reference customer during his former post as IT manager at the City of Mesa, Ariz. He said Incipient's migration capabilities could fit in well with the Texas Memory Systems SSD platform.

"The latest generation of [Incipient's] technology was focused on data migration," Boles said. "Incipient is an elegant data mover. Under the covers, Texas Memory has been developing expertise in helping customers with what data to move to solid-state storage. Incipient could be a tool to make that a less sticky problem."

It remains to be seen whether TMS's integration will stop there, or if Incipient is part of the answer to "what Texas Memory Systems wants to be when it grows up," Boles said.

Henry Baltazar, a storage analyst at The 451 Group, said he thinks Incipient will move further down the storage management path, citing a conversation he had with TMS officials at the Flash Storage Summit this past April.

"We were having a discussion about how flash storage is cheaper from a price-per-IOPS perspective than high-end storage systems, but the thing is, if I'm buying a Symmetrix, I'm not just buying storage—I'm buying it for management functionality," he said. "SSDs are very fast but also very small. You need something to make sure data that's hot is sitting on flash capacity at the right time. A virtualization layer gives [TMS] that kind of flexibility."

Should it go that route, TMS will be following other major vendors like EMC Corp. into the market for automated flash tiering. EMC announced Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) with its Symmetrix V-Max last spring. FAST is expected by the end of this year, and will work with solid-state drives. Sun Microsystems Inc. also offers automatic caching algorithms for placing data on SSDs with ZFS.

Incipient sold its software on a Cisco Systems intelligent switch, but the product never caught on. "Network-based storage virtualization is not necessarily an easy sell," Baltazar said. "Moving away from that architecture might be the smart route."

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