The 845 million active monthly users of Facebook, reading the posts of their friends, seeing their photos, likes and comments at near instant speed — that’s made possible in great part by a Utah company.
Fusion-io Inc. didn’t exactly burst on the computer storage scene back in 2005, but turns out its founders had the right idea, the right technology and the right execution, so much so that today its products are sold by the likes of computer server makers IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, and used by companies such as Apple, Facebook and Salesforce.com.
How Fusion-io stacks up
The largest market capitalization among publicly traded companies based in Utah*:
1. Zions Bancorp. » $3.96 billion
2. Nu Skin International » $3.66 billion
3. Questar » $3.43 billion
4. Huntsman Chemical » $3.33 billion
5. Extra Space Storage » $2.73 billion
6. Fusion-io » $2.56 billion
* As of March 30.
The Woz comes to Fusion-io
Steve Wozniak, one of the creators of Apple along with Steve Jobs, is chief science officer of Fusion-io. Co-founder Rick White said it was David Bradford, the former Novell executive who served as an interim CEO at Fusion-io, who made the connection between the Utah-based startup and the computing legend.
Bradford met Wozniak at a conference and then arranged a meeting with Fusion-io co-founder David Flynn and White in fall of 2008 in Los Gatos, Calif., where they hoped to convince the computer legend to join their advisory board, according to White.
Wozniak came to the restaurant on a Segway — the two-wheeled electric personal vehicles — and then proceeded to drill them on the technology and their marketing strategy, White said.
“So Steve said at the end of the lunch this is very interesting but I don’t know that I’m interested in your advisory board,” said White. “We said, ‘Well we understand.’ He said, ‘Well, no, I want a more active role.’ ”
After flying back to Salt Lake City and considering what they might do, the Fusion-io founders offered Wozniak the post of chief scientist.
“He said, ‘Done. My first full-time job since Apple,’ ” Smith said.
Fusion-io and its solid-state memory devices are riding fluffy clouds of change in computing in which companies use large banks of servers to deliver data and services at quantities and speeds not possible even a few years ago.
Facebook relies on Fusion-io’s products and could not do what it does without the kind of data storage devices that are replacing the stodgy spinning hard-disk drives, said Fusion-io CEO and Chairman David Flynn, who also is a co-founder. The Utah company buys its chips made on silicon wafers from IM Flash Technologies in Lehi.
"We’re taking that, packaging that up, putting a controller and software in front of it, and that’s what’s running Facebook’s data center," said Flynn.
"When you type up your status updates and you’re exchanging with your friends, and what you want to do that night," he said in an interview, and just then co-founder Rick White interjects, "That’s all in Utah."
Under the radar » That back and forth between the two — they’re like the yin and the yang, White says — might just be one of the other driving forces behind Fusion-io. The company is still a bit under the radar in its home state despite its market capitalization of $2.56 billion, sixth among publicly traded companies with headquarters in Utah.
Fusion-io makes solid-state storage drives for servers, the large-capacity computers that work together in banks called clouds that are powering a growing number of company operations. Solid state means their drives are made with small but high-capacity flash computer chips such as those used in digital cameras, mobile phones, iPods and other such devices.
For 50 years, computer storage has been on hard-disk drives that spin as they store and retrieve data for delivery to a processor.
Disk drives have gotten cheaper and are able to store vast amounts of data, and their cost has been going down and down. But as computing speeds have blown up, the speed at which data can be retrieved from disk drives has not nearly kept pace. Hard-disk drives were a thousand times faster than older tape drives, said Flynn.
"The problem," he added, "is that processors are now a million times faster," meaning they are waiting idle while disk drives retrieve and deliver data, reducing efficiency and speed.
That was the opening through which Fusion-io has moved, one also made possible by the production of smaller, bigger-capacity flash storage chips to meet the demand driven by iPods and other consumer devices.
But really, Fusion-io began with an idea — a bad one as was quickly clear.
Hatching the idea » Flynn and White are disparate personalities whose coming together proved highly successful despite a rocky start.
Flynn grew up in Alabama and became a computer nerd with an early Commodore 64. While still in high school, he went to work at Computer Science Corp., helping build missile guidance systems. Computer graphics drew him to Utah, where attended Brigham Young University and married a Utah girl.
Post-BYU, Flynn worked for Oracle, then a spinoff company and finally Linux Network, where he was chief architect for the company’s supercomputers.
Flynn is the quieter of the two, more reflective and precise. White is loud, funny and gregarious.
The latter’s interest in computers came from an Apple model bought for him at 13 by his father, who was suffering from a terminal illness. White said he loved showing off the machine, and that led him to a career in marketing and sales for technology companies. He also started several of his own.
White grew up in California and came to Utah as part of a sales job.Next Page >
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