A storage startup claims it can deliver the power of a storage-area network (SAN) at a fraction of the power and cost with its silicon-based product, ioDrive, that fits into a PCIe slot.

Initially available in sizes ranging from 80GB to 320GB, Fusion-io says the PCIe card delivers 100,000 IOPS (input/output operations per second). A single disk drive typically delivers about 100 IOPS, so one ioDrive card delivers speed that's equivalent to 1,000 disk drives aggregated in a SAN, Fusion-io officials say.

"It's an interesting approach," says analyst Deni Connor of Storage Strategies NOW, and author of Network World's Storage newsletter. "I don't necessarily believe they're going to replace SANs. It's a good approach for giving new life to servers for running transaction-intensive operations."

Fusion-io's technology is analogous to EMC's recently introduced flash-based solid state disk product dubbed "tier zero," Connor says. The Fusion-io PCIe card would be useful for SQL Server or Oracle databases, and also allows customers to extend use of direct-attached storage in servers, she says.

While Fusion-io says it is targeting enterprises, Connor says that SAN will remain the technology of choice for very large transaction-intensive environments such as CRM applications and customer-facing web applications. Enterprises may choose to use both Fusion-io technology and disk drives, she said.

Fusion-io, founded in 2006 and based in Salt Lake City, raised $19 million in a funding round led by New Enterprise Associates, the company announced Monday. Fusion-io was founded by CEO Don Basile, CTO David Flynn, and chief marketing officer Rick White.

Fusion-io has more than 60 paying customers already, mainly large Internet properties and financial institutions, according to Basile, who previously held positions with several cable and Internet startups, and worked in venture capital.

A typical customer will buy at least two ioDrives; two drives could be enough to store the entire transaction history of the Nasdaq, says Flynn, who previously built supercomputers as chief architect at Linux Networx.

The ioDrive's current maximum of 320GB will be doubled to 640GB by the end of this year and surpass 1TB by next year, Flynn said.

The 80GB version costs $2,400, while the 160Gb and 320Gb go for $4,800 and $8,900, respectively.