CNEX Labs, which makes solid-state drive (SSD) controllers and software for cloud and hyperscale data centers, closed a $23 million Series D round led by Dell Technologies Capital.
Dell Technologies’ venture arm also participated in CNEX’s Series A in 2014.
Other investors in the latest round included Microsoft’s venture fund M12 (which led CNEX’s Series C round), Sierra Ventures, Walden Venture Investments, Brightstone Venture Capital, major semiconductor foundries, and large storage and networking semiconductor companies. CNEX has now raised nearly $90 million in total funding.
CNEX CEO and co-founder Alan Armstrong says the company will use the Series D funding to develop its next-generation SSD controller that it will launch next year.
“That milestone of raising close to $90 million is significant, and so is the fact that Dell Technologies led the round, which we feel is pretty strong validation of the approach and the parts we are developing,” Armstrong said.
What Is SSD
SSD uses flash memory to store data on chips. It’s much faster than hard disk drive (HDD) storage and provides better performance and reliability. It also provides low latency and scalability needed for software-defined storage (SDS). This makes SSD better suited than HDD for cloud providers and large enterprises with workloads that require high-performance, scalable storage.
CNEX’s SSD controller architecture allows customers to customize SSDs based on their own needs. The company’s technology includes a programmable interface to NAND flash memory, allowing the same controller to work with multiple types of NAND; flexible Flash Translation Layer (FTL) control, either drive- or host-based; and proprietary hardware.
“We saw the potential for CNEX’s technology early on,” said Gregg Adkin, managing director at Dell Technologies Capital, in a statement. “In an era of explosive data growth, CNEX’s technology allows hyperscalers and enterprise storage and server providers to use SSDs as a strategic differentiator, purpose-building hardware to suit their needs, while achieving significant cost savings.”
Hyperscale Data Centers
Founded in 2013, the San Jose, California-based company initially went after the enterprise market. “We were providing a controller solution that gave enterprise customers the flexibility they wanted, and also the horsepower and performance they wanted,” Armstrong said.
But the startup quickly discovered that large cloud providers — not enterprises — were the ones aggressively adopting those features. “So we pivoted to addressing the cloud and hyperscalers who had very similar problems they were trying to solve, and they were able to really realize the benefit of not only the performance and power we bring but also the business model flexibility,” Armstrong said.
Most of CNEX customers aren’t public, but Armstrong says “in general we are focused on the larger data center hyperscaler. Our target customers are Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Alibaba, Tencent — and we are engaged with some of those. And then the traditional enterprise OEMs: your Dells, NetApp, PureStorage.” Its customers also include SSD manufacturers like LIGHT-ON Storage.
Working With Microsoft
The company is also working with Microsoft on Project Denali, which Microsoft announced at the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit in March. Its purpose is to create a new standard for SSD storage specifically targeted for cloud-based workloads. Denali is based on a modular architecture, disaggregating two layers of flash storage.
CNEX’s latest product, the CNX-2670 “Granby” controller, is a cloud data center chip. “We’re hoping to have as many as four or five customers in production with Granby next year,” Armstrong said. It’s also developing its next-generation controller that will be available next year. “Chip development cycles take time, and we need to not only have what people need today, but we also need to show that we can address what they need tomorrow.”