February 21st, 2014 by Brian Beeler
Violin Memory To Lay Off Over 100 Employees, Exit PCIe Business
Violin Memory has announced plans to lay off over 100 employees as they continue along the path of restructuring. Violin has recently swapped out much of their executive leadership team to try to turn the ship around after a series of failures since going public last year. The latest announcement of trimming staff comes as the company tries to focus their product line offerings on what made them successful in the beginning. To this end it looks like their flash solutions for in-host systems may be coming to an end.
In a press release the Violin said:
The Company also announced that its Board of Directors has authorized a review of strategic alternatives for its PCIe flash memory card business in order to focus on markets where Violin has proven technology leadership and significant growth opportunities.
Violin may find strategic alternatives thin for their Velocity PCIe flash memory business. Violin launched Velocity with Toshiba's support in March of 2013, which the company claimed was a third generation PCIe card. That claim is debatable as it's difficult to show lengthy history of the company shipping PCIe storage for in-host uses prior, but what's really interesting about Velocity though is how few claims Violin made about the product at all. Their launch press release had so few details the card sounded barely real in the first place, though a single set of product photos "proved" otherwise. The industry at large, who incidentally were and continue to ship PCIe storage, had a hard time understanding how Violin could ship an 11TB PCIe card that "offer the lowest prices to the highest capacities on a per card basis." The fact is much of the Velocity PCIe business was bravado at best, a fabrication at worst.
A year later Violin still hasn't made many updates to the Velocity product page and instead of any hard and fast data points for buyers to consider, they proffer marketing speak like, "Unprecedented performance for NoSQL scale-out databases, virtual servers, and big data" and arguably untrue statements like, "Delivered by the only provider that offers flash memory cards and arrays." While Violin via press release pounded their chest, Fusion-io, Virident (HGST), Micron, Huawei, Intel and OCZ (Toshiba) shipped PCIe storage in a variety of form factors and use cases to the enterprise. Those other companies were also open to independent evaluation, where Violin either via complacency or because the cards were not available or didn't perform well, refused to allow such scrutiny.
This entire rise and fall of the Velocity card also highlights another industry problem and that's the deluge of "analyst experts" that get paid to comment on an industry that they read about, study and evaluate but typically have little to no hands on experience with. This underreported fact is highlighted no better than in the case of Velocity as the research director for solid state storage and enabling technologies at IDC proclaimed in the launch release:
Violin should be positioned to bring additional value to the solid state storage market based on the company’s system portfolio, the strategic alliance with Toshiba, and the new family of server-based PCIe cards.
To be fair IDC doesn't claim the card is good, which of course they can't because they had never used one and likely never saw one. But vague claims of this nature do nothing to create value in the enterprise IT space. Unfortunately this is common practice as storage vendors try to tune the message to their liking via analysts, paid "validation" reports that validate nothing but vendor claims in the first place. At the end of the day, storage buyers have to trust the numbers, not the claims, and the only way to get to trustworthy numbers is via testing within the buying organization if possible or independent testing by those capable of such things.
Violin is wisely trimming excess (people and products) and they attempt to figure out the best path to success. Their high-performance flash arrays built the business and should continue to be of interest to the enterprise whose IO-starved applications crave the performance Violin has historically delivered. Of course this business is being eroded by other all flash array (AFA) vendors who have their sights set on both big storage brands and 1%-ers like Violin who address the most premium of the enterprise storage market. Violin thus must react swiftly to protect their business from these insurgents and continue to innovate on their hardware and software platforms their customers depend on.