It’s never a good day at the office when your shares drop by 20% in a single day. However the relentless drive to produce better results quarter-on-quarter is what the US stock markets demand of publicly listed companies such as Fusion-IO. Poor results this week saw their shares punished by a drop from just over $30 to below $25 today.
This isn’t the first reality check of its kind; think about the untouchable STEC in the SSD market who’s shares once traded at almost $45 and are now just under $10. Their demise was competition and the reliance of a single customer, EMC, who decided one day they had enough supply, thanks, as the SSD market wasn’t evolving as quickly as they had planned. It seems the spectre of EMC is about to strike again, as Project Lightning, EMC’s PCIe SSD device draws close to release on 6th February this year.
Is it all bad for Fusion-IO? Probably not, this is nothing more than a correction of an overpriced stock and doesn’t mean the company is in trouble. Fusion-IO continues to innovate as we heard recently with the announcement of their Auto Commit Memory feature, which extends memory onto the PCIe bus using kernel-based code changes. The idea is an interesting one; extend what in the old days would have been termed “real memory” using the next fastest level of storage, PCIe SSD.
Technically, I don’t think this change is that difficult to achieve. Modern operating systems already have interrupt-based memory management, using virtual memory pages that are swapped into real memory as required. Although I’ve not seen the details, Fusion-IO could have either used their PCI-SSD device as very fast cache paging device, rather than disk, or extended the available physical page slots the host can see. It seems that the former rather than the latter is more likely, as the literature released discusses “flushing in-flight data”, something that’s not relevant with volatile physical memory slots.
Back to the competition; EMC may be coming into this market, however their product will be a 1.0 release. Nevertheless, EMC already own the storage array and hypervisor, so it’s not a difficult leap to imagine that the first target for their Lightning technology will be in accelerating VMware ESXi deployments. This means they would already be enhancing the kernel of that platform, giving them a great headstart on others in the marketplace. As we see move towards the majority of server deployments being virtualised, the hypervisor is the place for this technology to sit. Will VMware be willing to provide FusionIO and others the same kernel-level access as EMC must surely be getting? Who is working with Microsoft to deliver this technology into Hyper-V?
In many respects, PCIe SSD devices are only at the very early stages of development. In the coming months and years we are going to see some very interesting times indeed.