Fusion-io Shares Whacked, but the Flash Madness Club Has a New Member

Published on January 24, 2012
by Arik Hesseldahl

Shares of Fusion-io, the newly public company whose flash memory technology transforms typical servers into super-fast ones that get more work done, are getting hammered in after-hours trading following an earnings report that appears to have freaked investors out.

Shares are down more than $4, or about 13 percent. The freakout appears to be coming from gross margins that shrank to 51 percent from almost 59 percent in the prior quarter, and despite the fact that sales more than doubled sequentially to $84 million from $31 million before.

CEO David Flynn called me up a little while ago to talk about the results, and he reminded me that Fusion launched its new IO Drive 2. It’s a transition to a new product line that’s proving tricky. New products built on new technologies are always a little more costly to build up front, and that’s compounded by the fact that early adopters, when they buy the new stuff, take the lower-end version and not the more expensive and more profitable one.

Also, enterprise customers who buy the new stuff are always conservative and take longer to decide whether they want to buy it or not, he says. Even so, the company has sold 10,000 of the new drives.

But? There’s a new customer of record: is now a Fusion-io customer, and has joined the likes of Apple and Facebook, which is using the flash-based chips in the servers running in its data centers around the world.

And Salesforce isn’t buying it directly from Fusion, but rather through one its OEM partners, which include Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell, though Flynn wouldn’t tell me which one it is.

Salesforce is one of six customers who bought more than a million dollars worth of Fusion’s stuff this quarter and of those, four were repeat customers, Flynn told me.

The Salesforce win is also important, Flynn says, because some have wondered whether Fusion’s technology, while popular with high-end enterprises like banks and Facebook, would make sense for applications that tend to be used in mid-tier businesses, which Salesforce’s mainline CRM application often is. The lower end of the enterprise software market is moving toward cloud-based software, which is often referred to as Software as a Service, or SAAS. “By helping those companies, we are indirectly driving business in the mid-range of the market. Apple and Facebook are in the SAAS business too, it’s just that their customers are consumers.”

One interesting fact that Flynn shared with me: His first job out of college was working for Oracle. His boss at the time? One-time Oracle exec and now Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. A small world it is, indeed.

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