Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Fusion-io Brings Flash Madness to Workstations and Movies Like “Hugo”

After working mostly in the realm of servers, Fusion-io — the founding member of the AllThingsD Flash Madness Club and last summer’s hot IPO — said today that it is bringing its flash technology to workstations. It is calling the product ioFX.

One early customer is Rob Legato, the visual effects supervisor who won an Academy Award for his work on the Martin Scorsese-directed hit motion picture “Hugo.” Legato will be talking about ioFX with Fusion-io chief scientist and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at a conference in Las Vegas next week.

Fusion does some cool stuff with flash memory. Here’s the part where I roll out the old metaphor that has served me so well: In pretty much any computer, you can think of the processor as a fast-moving, highly efficient, type-A personality, constantly in a hurry, and always waiting impatiently for the rest of the system to give it more work to do. The slowpoke in the deal is the hard drive, which, though it’s already spinning at a super fast rate, just can’t get data to the processor fast enough. So the processor sits around, tapping its foot and looking at its watch, waiting for the other parts of the system that feed it data to work to keep up.

In high-performance computing, where there’s more data to be crunched than in most average computing situations, this is sort of a big deal. You want the processor to be as busy as possible — mainly because the systems are so expensive, and you want to get your money’s worth out of them — but also because jobs get done faster.

So Fusion-io’s stock in trade is a series of insert cards that bring flash memory right up next to the processor. The flash chips grab great big armloads of data and hold on to it, handing it off to the processor in a way that keeps it happy and busy and not impatiently waiting — at least not so much.

We’ve seen the technology brought to bear at places like Credit Suisse, which added Fusion’s flash cards to its trading systems. And its technology is also used in data centers belonging to Facebook and Apple.

On top of that, Fusion has relationships with all the big server vendors: Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell and SuperMicro all sell systems with Fusion-io on board.

Workstations are essentially heavily tricked-out PCs that are used primarily in two professions: Animation and special-effects work for movies and TV and computer-assisted design and modeling, used by folks who design buildings and cars and planes and pretty much anything else you can think of. They have the same problem that servers have — agitated processors constantly waiting for the rest of the system to catch up with them.

At this point, none of the workstation vendors are offering the card as an option, but if you’ve got a professional workstation — like, say, an Apple Mac Pro, which has three PCI Express slots — you might add one of these cards and speed up your work. In the meantime, the company is working with workstation vendors to get the ioFX insert cards certified. My guess is there will be more than a few visual artists who won’t bother to wait.

Fusion-io shares are up almost 11 percent — or $2.64 — to $27.30, as of 11 am ET; not so much on this news — workstations are kind of a low-volume market — but on an analyst report from Piper Jaffray suggesting that Cisco Systems may be close to a deal to add Fusion-io’s flash technology to its Unified Computing System platform.

The report goes on to suggest that Cisco could, over the next three or four quarters, become one of Fusion’s bigger customers, along with Facebook and Apple, and could account for more than 10 percent of Fusion’s business — which could, in turn, lead to a doubling of revenue this year. For the record, sales were $197.2 million in Fusion’s fiscal 2011. Do the math.


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik