IBM's TMS buy signals it's heading for a divorce from Fusion-io

IBM's decision to acquire flash memory hardware specialist Texas Memory Systems belies a fear of growth of flash partner Fusion-io's software portfolio

IBM is to acquire flash hardware company Texas Memory Systems — a move that suggests the partnership bewteen Big Blue and Fusion-io could well end in divorce.

The acquisition will give IBM a portfolio of both standalone and server-side flash products, which the company will work into its storage, server, software and PureSystem appliance products. 

With such a clear strategy of product integration, it strikes me that Fusion-io and IBM are on track for a separation. Right now, Fusion-io's technology is at the heart of IBM's High IOPS SSD range of PCIe-linked flash cards — but TMS has an equivalent product in the form of its RamSan-70 storage and RamSan-80 caching cards.

Why else might IBM give Fusion-io the kiss off? The clue is in the software stack.

It's not so much that Fusion-io has been seeing other people — it has partnerships with Cisco, Dell and HP — it's more that it has been getting awfully loud about its plans to use its hardware products as a beachhead for an expansive 'storage operating system' via technologies like ION and IO Turbine.

IBM's hardware strategy is one of fierce independence, with the company developing its own chips, chassis, networking bits and pieces, mainframes and storage gear. For IBM, buying a company that makes flash-based storage makes sense, and having direct insight into more of its own infrastructure will probably help it deal with customer support better — a lucrative area for the company.

As for the future, I imagine we will see Fusion-io's technology swapped for RamSan. Later on, it's likely IBM will start releasing storage software for server-side flash. At that point EMC, LSI, Micro and Fusion-io will all have cause to worry.

Update: 17:08BST

When I asked Fusion-io what they thought about the deal, chief executive David Flynn said: "All of our OEMs have had multiple sources for customers, so today's announcement from IBM does not change our existing relationship with the company. Fusion-io drives much of the demand from customers, and we believe our solutions win, because they offer industry-leading performance and reliability at a competitive cost point.  Ours is a unique software-defined storage approach that will win out over closed, proprietary boxes. "