Last week I was invited to the IT Press Tour and one of the meeting we had was with Violin Memory and its Executives team. My personal feeling about this two hour brief was very strange. Theoretically I could write great things about Violin but, in practice, Don Basilio (CEO) left a bitter taste in my mouth.

About the Ferrari

Violin Memory is a startup based in the Silicon Valley that produces Flash based storage arrays. It’s very well financed and they are targeting an IPO for the end of the year. Actually, they are the most important flash storage startup in terms of number of employees, back end investors and partners but no one knows how many systems they have sold and how many customers they have! (indeed, they remind me of Pillar data system… do you remember pillar at its best? Also the colors are the same!)

Violin could be considered the Ferrari of the storage industry: beautiful internal architecture, many custom performance components, and also mechanisms which grant perfect stability in every condition and for every driver. Basically, the car that everyone would like to drive (at least once). Yes, you shouldn’t ask for the price… You know, if you ask for it, you can’t afford it! (indeed I tried but I haven’t received a direct answer)
The only number that I have (and I think the only one that they publish, apart some unuseful TPC) about the hardware capabilities is 1 Million IOPS (4K blocks, 100% random) with an astonishing latency always under 1 mS.
Theoretically it’s a Ferrari… but Ferrari is only good on motorways, tracks, and like Montecarlo streets. what about the rest of the world? I meet customers every day and the problem is that they drive in real streets, sometimes on curvy bumpy roads, with traffic lights, construction work and so on! We can call them real workloads, if you want. No one at Violin talks about real workloads… please do!
Last, but not least, the features! Sometimes Ferraris are very pure performance sport cars (take a look at Enzo, practically a F1 car with a street car exterior): It’s obvious that Air Conditioning, GPS or a Radio aren’t in the list of features… but there are, more or less, 100 Enzos all around the world. Don’t you think that a 2012 storage system, especially a next generation one, should have ALL the next generation features?
Actually, Violin hired some former VMware people to work on it (compression, dedupe, VMware integration, etc.) but I haven’t received a list of the features or any information on how they are (will be) implemented.

About Miami Vice

Do you remember Miami Vice? Do you remember Don johnson driving “his” Ferrari on streets of Miami? Ok, so you can imagine Don Basile (Violin Memory’s CEO) driving Violin!
Don Basile arrived at the meeting and spoke for an hour and a half about how Violin is the best, how others are doing the wrong things. He said how their product (backed by toshiba) is the best in the world, and blah, blah, blah… He reminded me of the salesman who try to sell refrigerators to eskimos.
He left only 30 minutes to his colleagues to talk about the technical side of Violin and we spent the all time on two slides (one about how Violin is good for everything ranging from BigData to Virtualization, and the other on an exploded view of the product).
At the end of the meeting, he left us in an weird situation where it was impossible to ask real questions to go deeper into understanding product and strategy.
I came into the meeting with very high expectation but by the end I was left with the impression that Don Basile was trying to play me like Don Johnson trying to cover up his real intentions.

Bottom line

Probably, Violin Memory arrays are Ferraris but they are trying to sell them as refrigerators… the weird thing is that there aren’t a lot of Eskimos around!
I would like to suggest any potential Violin customer to ask for a demo system and test all of it.
On the other hand I’m not so sure that Don Basile is really interested in end users anyway, he is probably more focused in luring VCs and other investors, grabbing the money bag (the IPO)… Actually, it would be a good story for a Miami Vice remake!

Disclaimer: I was invited at this meeting by Condor Consulting Group and they paid for travel and accommodation, I have not been compensated for my time and am not obliged to blog. Furthermore, the content is not reviewed, approved or published by any other person than the Juku’s team.