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Violin storage adds WFA models, pay-as-you-grow option

Violin Memory adds four models of its Windows Flash Array (WFA) and "pay-as-you-grow" pricing.

Violin Memory Inc. today added four new models of its Windows Flash Array and a "pay-as-you-grow" pricing option that will let customers non-disruptively turn on extra incremental capacity with the purchase of a software license key.

The Santa Clara, California-based company shipped the first Windows Flash Array (WFA) storage system in April at 70 TB raw capacity, but Violin storage customers subsequently asked for smaller models, according to Eric Herzog, the company's chief marketing officer and senior vice president of business development.

"We basically got the feedback: 'Hey, give me a cheaper one.' And it was easy to do," Herzog said. "We did the work in about 30 days."

The new WFA-16, WFA-24, WFA-32 and WFA-48 Violin storage models will be available with raw capacities of 17.5 TB, 26 TB, 35 TB and 52 TB, at list prices ranging from $250,000 to $475,000. The previously released WFA-64 now lists at $595,000.

The WFA product combines hardware from Violin's 6000 Series and Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 software, which supplies features such as replication, snapshots, thin provisioning, data deduplication and compression.

Herzog said Violin started out with the larger WFA-64 on the logic that most of the company's customers run mixed and multiple workloads on one array. "They don't just buy a point product where they need only five terabytes."

But George Crump, president and founder of Storage Switzerland LLC, noted that Windows-only storage environments tend to be relatively small.

Customers who purchase the WFA-16, WFA-24 and WFA-48 arrays can expand the raw capacity through an available software license-based option at a list price of $125,000 per 8.8 TB increment.

The WFA-16 and WFA-24 models actually ship with 32 Violin Intelligent Memory Modules (VIMMs) and 35 TB of raw capacity. But WFA-16 buyers can use only 17.5 TB, and WFA-24 purchasers have access to only 26 TB, unless they purchase the software license key to turn on the additional capacity.

The WFA-48 ships with 64 VIMMs and 70 TB of raw capacity. WFA-48 purchasers can use only 52 TB unless they buy an incremental upgrade to get to about 60.8 TB, or a second incremental upgrade to reach 70 TB.

"Most organizations buy flash to solve a specific performance problem and then struggle with upgrading that flash system as they look to solve other performance problems," Crump wrote in an email. "This allows them to incrementally address each problem as it occurs."

Customers who choose to upgrade the capacity of the WFA-16, WFA-24 or WFA-48 wind up paying more money than if they purchased the larger capacity at the start. For instance, the list price of the 35 TB WFA-32 is $395,000. A customer who starts out with a 17.5 TB WFA-16 and upgrades to 35 TB pays a total list price of $500,000 in the end -- $250,000 for the original purchase and $125,000 each for two incremental upgrades.

The overall cost differential is less extreme for a customer that buys a 26 TB WFA-24 and does the upgrade to 35 TB at a final list price of $420,000 -- $25,000 more than the list price for the WFA-32.

"It is basically a lease or rental," Crump said. "If the strategy does not work, it will be because of the pricing."

Herzog said the pay-as-you-grow model might pay off for a smaller company or a department of a larger company that, for example, starts with 17.5 TB and doesn't need to go to 26 TB for two years.

"If you upgrade quickly, then clearly it would pay to buy a bigger box," Herzog said. "But, if you don't know and you're not going to upgrade for a year or two, we've paid for all the hardware. We've bought it. We've paid our vendors. We built the thing. And we're only charging you $250,000 list when you really have 35 TB sitting there on your physical premises."

Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting in Beaverton, Oregon, said Violin's storage strategy represents a shift of risk from the customer to the vendor. "If you buy a fully loaded, maximum capacity system, you're betting you're going to use all the capacity. That's where the risk is. With any risk, when you shift it, it costs more when you decide to exercise it. It's a form of insurance."

Camberley Bates, managing director at Evaluator Group Inc. in Boulder, Colorado, predicted that more capacity pricing options will spring up as financial pressures mount. She offered the following advice to end users: "Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. If you want something like this from a vendor, go and ask them. They may not announce it as a program, but you may see that they come up with some creative financing options for you."

The utility pricing does not apply to the WFA-32 and WFA-64. Those models can only be upgraded though additional hardware purchases.

The maximum configuration for Violin's Windows Flash Array is four WFA-64s with eight nodes of Windows Storage Server and 280 TB of raw flash capacity. All WFA models are two-node clusters with each running a copy of Windows Storage Server R2 in an active-active Windows failover clustered configuration.

Violin also added more connectivity choices over what the company originally made available with the release of the WFA-64. The WFA products have expanded beyond the Windows-centric Server Message Block (SMB) 3.0 to support Network File System (NFS) 3.0 and 4.1 for application servers running on operating systems such as Linux and Unix.

Violin also added support for 56 Gbps FDR InfiniBand to go with the existing 10 Gbps Ethernet. Herzog said the 56 Gbps InfiniBand became available in May.

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