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EMC and Western Digital make flash software buys

EMC acquires ScaleIO and Western Digital picks up VeloBit in examples of hardware vendors adding flash software as the solid-state market heats up.

EMC Corp. and Western Digital Corp. strengthened their solid-state storage portfolios this week by acquiring startups with flash software technology to enhance their hardware products.

EMC signed a definitive agreement to acquire storage pooling software provider ScaleIO Inc. following weeks of speculation. The deal is expected to close this month.

Western Digital acquired VeloBit Inc., which sells server-based caching software for block-based primary storage and solid-state drives (SSDs). VeloBit will be integrated into Western Digital's wholly owned subsidiary HGST Inc. (formerly Hitachi Global Storage Technologies), which manufactures SSDs and hard disk drives (HDDs).

ScaleIO will integrate with EMC's flash software, PCI Express cards

ScaleIO's Elastic Converged Storage (ECS) software pools storage across servers, using RAID striping for data protection and rebuilding failed disks in parallel with the remaining nodes.

When ScaleIO launched ECS in late 2012, it billed it as a way to turn servers into an enterprise storage area network. The ScaleIO website compares ECS to converged systems such as EMC Vblock, Hewlett-Packard Converged Infrastructure, NetApp FlexPod and Oracle Exadata. ScaleIO also offered ECS to cloud service providers as a way to build block-based storage to compete with Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS).

Still, EMC sees ScaleIO as a flash software play. ScaleIO will join EMC's Flash Product Division upon completion of the acquisition. Barry Ader, general manager of EMC's Server Flash Business, said EMC plans to eventually integrate the ECS technology with its XtremSW server caching software (formerly known as VFCache) and its XtremSF PCI Express (PCIe) flash cards.

"We had laid out some plans [in March] when we made our last flash announcement," Ader said. "As part of that, we started talking about how customers had been asking us about pooling storage and pooling flash technologies across a variety of server infrastructures, and being able to bring that capacity together."

ScaleIO also brings some of the capabilities that EMC laid out in May for its ViPR software-defined storage initiative to flash. In his blog about the acquisition, Zahid Hussain, senior vice president and general manager of EMC's Flash Product Division, wrote that "the beauty of ScaleIO is that it takes a software-only approach to managing SSDs, PCIe flash cards, HDDs -- or any combination of these -- within the server. Over time we will build in additional enterprise features so that advanced data services can be delivered irrespective of the underlying hardware."

Hussain added that EMC shares ScaleIO's vision of bringing the software to service providers. "With ECS as the foundation, EMC can build out a scale-out server stack for a wide variety of use cases like VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure], virtualization, databases and HPC [high-performance computing]," he wrote in his blog. "For example, we can provide elastic, dynamic and flexible flash storage to service provider partners who provide public cloud to their customers."

VeloBit accelerates Western Digital's flash initiative

VeloBit is the second flash-related acquisition for Western Digital's HGST subsidiary in less than a month. On June 24, it revealed plans to buy SSD vendor sTec Inc. in a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year.

VeloBit's HyperCache flash software prioritizes data using a content-locality caching algorithm based on popularity rather than on how recently the data was accessed. It also supports both read and write caching.

Ulrich Hansen, HGST's senior director for SSD product marketing, said the acquisitions are key to HGST's move into enterprise and data center flash storage.

"We're investing in high-growth areas when it comes to enterprise storage," he said. "We are interested in optimizing those kinds of solutions where SSDs and HDDs are present, and we do believe that there's a role for software to enable that.

"We made this investment to bring that technology and capability in house so we can offer our customers solutions that consist of SSDs, HDDs and the kind of enabling software that puts both of these products to best use," Hansen explained.

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