When NexGen Storage was acquired by Fusion-io, industry analysts scratched their heads and tried to figure out why the PCIe flash darling wanted them. But when flash maker SanDisk acquired Fusion-io, most assumed that was the end of ioControl (neÃ© NexGen). Then something odd happened last week: SanDisk announced a spin-out of the surviving, thriving NexGen Storage. John Spiers and company somehow landed on their feet again!
LeftHand to NexGen to Fusion-io to SanDisk
The so-called hybrid storage array market was supposed to be just like the iSCSI array market: A raft of new companies were launched around 2010 to intelligently pair flash and disk. And insiders like me saw lots of the same people at these companies. This was especially true of NexGen Storage, which looked an awful lot like LeftHand Networks. The founders included John Spiers and Kelly Long, both of whom also founded LeftHand. After that company was acquired by HP in 2008, Spiers stuck around but Long had already been gone for a while.
Storage is hard to do, so folks like me assumed that proven storage nerds like Spiers and Long had a solid chance of success. But a funny thing happened along the way. While Nimble Storage, Tintri, and Tegile continue humming along to this day, NexGen Storage was suddenly acquired by PCIe flash darlings, Fusion-io back in 2013.
When the acquisition was announced, Fusion-io founder and CEO David Flynn said he planned to use flash to transform the storage industry. But he recognized that the midrange storage market was larger than the high-end space Fusion-io traditionally played in. So he planned to use NexGen technology to allow Fusion-io to take on the entire storage industry, not just maximum-performance flash.
It seemed like a viable direction for the company except for two big developments: Flynn left the company a month later (founding exciting stealth storage startup Primary Data) and SanDisk scooped up Fusion-io in June 2014. Although I saw some potential for NexGen ioControl as part of SanDisk, their Chief Strategy Officer apparently disagreed: In the spin-out announcement, Sumit Sadana is quoted as saying, “hybrid systems incorporating hard-disk drives are not part of SanDisk’s strategic focus.” Ouch.
The New NexGen Storage: Same As the Old NexGen Storage!
Rather than killing NexGen, SanDisk decided to let it go solo. This is a smart move, since NexGen Storage will likely continue to use SanDisk and Fusion-io products just as they always have. And in a very positive twist, most of the original NexGen team is on board for the re-launch. This includes three guys I really respect: John Spiers as CEO, Kelly Long as CTO, and Chris McCall as SVP of Marketing.
Although the company isn’t spilling the beans on the financial aspects of the spin-out, I hear it’s pretty simple. They have secured private equity funding re-fill the bank account and have been able to take all their technology with them as they exit SanDisk. NexGen will even continue in the same Louisville, CO offices they’ve been in since before all these acquisitions.
I’m thrilled by this not just because the NexGen product showed promise and the folks there are good people. I’m really excited because the storage industry needs a strong rank of midrange, do-everything storage array providers, and NexGen Storage will surely be one. Nimble Storage is great, and Pure Storage is growing like gangbusters. But the “fat middle” requires many options, leaving the door open to Tegile, SolidFire, Tintri, and (yes) NexGen.
Critically, NexGen Storage isn’t a startup anymore. They’ve been “at it” for half a decade and have a proven, shipping product. The team behind it is as solid as they come and they’re aggressively expanding sales channels. This company instantly becomes a respectable entrant in the market.
The re-birth of NexGen Storage is surprising to be sure, but it’s a positive move for the industry. Competition is good, especially when it comes from folks who know how to “do” storage. And the world of midrange storage just got a strong new competitor!
Disclaimer: Just about every company mentioned here, including NexGen, has sponsored Tech Field Day and other paid engagements with me. But this certainly isn’t a paid post. I don’t do that sort of thing.