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SanDisk won't commit to Fusion-io's ioControl hybrid array

SanDisk has not disclosed its plans for ioControl, but concedes the hybrid SAN array 'falls outside' vision of accelerating storage with flash.

SanDisk Corp. fattened its flash portfolio this year by acquiring PCIe card pioneer Fusion-io. One of the products it picked up, the ioControl hybrid SAN array, doesn't seem to fit with SanDisk's strategy of accelerating storage at the application level.

Industry sources say Fusion-io wants to spin out the ioControl product line, perhaps selling it back to the NexGen Storage team that developed it. Fusion-io gained the ioControl product when it acquired NexGen in 2013.

SanDisk has not publicly disclosed its plans for ioControl, which includes hard disk drives combined with Fusion-io PCIe flash drives and quality-of-service software. But John Scaramuzzo, a senior vice president and general manager at SanDisk Enterprise Storage Solutions Group, hinted the array may not have a future in the SanDisk portfolio.

"The Fusion-io deal brought us tremendous experience in interfacing storage to the host software layer, and the capability for optimizing hardware and software together. Our vision isn't to just create flash devices, but to enable customers to get more out of their flash investments," Scaramuzzo said. "I think ioControl falls a little bit outside that vision."

Analysts: ioControl should be redesigned or spun out

Flash and hybrid storage arrays are hot these days, but they fall outside of SanDisk's product portfolio. The ioControl array would also compete with SanDisk OEM partners that sell SSD-based array systems.

Still, industry analysts don't rule out SanDisk getting into the array business - -they just don't expect them to do it with ioControl.

Ben Woo, a managing director at analyst firm Neuralytix Inc., said ioControl arrays would require further development to measure up to SanDisk's existing branding criteria. He does think SanDisk could enter the all-flash array market through partner channels, however.

"I do believe SanDisk will move into the array business, because it just makes sense. If SanDisk got rid of the ioControl product, it wouldn't be a great loss. Doing so would enable them to develop a product that is more finely tuned, better optimized and more elegant. If I were an adviser to SanDisk, that would be the route I would recommend," Woo said.

"That's not to say they should leave existing customers in the lurch, but Fusion-io took a route to bring ioControl to market rapidly," Woo added. The platform doesn't have the same level of granularity as [all-flash arrays from] Pure Storage or XtremIO, and I think SanDisk would rather see a solution in that space that is much more thought-out and much more deliberate."

Jim Handy, a research analyst with Objective Analysis, said SanDisk needs an array that fits better with its long-range flash strategy.

"SanDisk tries to make all its products have flash as a prominent cost component so they have control over their profitability. With ioControl, that's not necessarily the case because it uses hard disk storage," Handy said.

SanDisk to converge flash cache software

SanDisk plans to merge Fusion-io's ioTurbine caching software with FlashSoft, a caching tool it acquired by buying FlashSoft Technologies in 2012. Scaramuzzo said the roadmap calls for the products to be fully integrated under the FlashSoft brand, to coincide with VMware's expected 2015 release of version 6 of vSphere.

Handy said integrating the Fusion-io portfolio enables SanDisk to phase out lower-performing PCIe SSDs it got from its 2011 buy of Pliant Technology. The Pliant PCIe devices at the time were viewed as SanDisk's way of competing with Fusion-io cards.

Handy added that SanDisk likely will keep the Fusion-io brand due to its market leadership and name recognition. "It's hugely important that SanDisk convert the Fusion-io products over to SanDisk memory chips. That way, they'll be able to capture a lot more of the profits, rather than share profits with the flash vendor."

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