Storage Soup

Dec 16 2013   10:42AM GMT

Nimble Storage IPO receives warm Wall Street reception

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

Nimble Storage showed that storage vendors can receive a favorable reception on Wall Street when it completed a successful initial public offering Friday. Nimble’s debut comes on the heels of all-flash vendor Violin Memory’s rocky IPO. Violin’s stock price began tanking on the first day and has continued to fall for nearly three months.

Nimble’s price opened at $21 Friday – above its target range of $18 to $20 – and closed the day at $31.10 for a valuation of $1.48 billion. It opened at $34.90 today. In September, Violin priced its IPO at $9, finished its first day at $7.11, and kept dropping after reporting poor results in its first quarter as a public company. Violin opened today at $2.68.

A lot of attention on Nimble’s pre-IPO compared it to Violin and server-based flash vendor Fusion-io, whose stock price has also dropped sharply since its 2011 IPO. But Nimble is in a different situation than those two. First, it doesn’t sell only flash. Its arrays are hybrid, combining a small amount of flash with spinning disk. And Nimble’s competitive situation hasn’t changed over the past year. In contrast, Violin and Fusion-io beat the major vendors to market with their flash products but now face a glut of competition.

Nimble stepped into the market dominated by EMC, NetApp and others in 2010 and has grown significantly with $84 million in revenue over the first nine months of 2013. While the major vendors now all have all-flash arrays to compete with Violin and other startups, they don’t have any new products that counter Nimble’s strengths. Nimble has been successful – although not yet profitable – with an architecture that combines data reduction, ease of management and advanced cloud-based data monitoring and analytics.

And yes, it has taken advantage of flash but doesn’t rely completely on it.

“These days you can’t talk about storage without mentioning flash,” said Radhika Krishnan, Nimble’s vice president of solutions and alliances.

Still, she says storage doesn’t have to be all-flash to pump out significant performance and latency advantages over spinning disk. Nimble improves performance of solid-state drives (SSDs) with data reduction, efficient snapshots and an architecture that minimizes the amount of writes that go to flash.

“If you have a hybrid system with high performance and predictable latency, why would you want to pay all that money for all-flash arrays or flash on servers?” Krishnan said. “We think hybrid arrays are the way to go, not just in 2014 but for a significant time to come. Not all hybrid arrays are created equal. Any hybrid arrays that use tiering where all writes get staged on flash have to pay the price of write endurance. Then you have to protect your flash with RAID and over-provisioning.”

Nimble’s challenge now is to show it can spin that technology into a profitable company if it is to stay around in a flash-dominated storage world.

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