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ProStor makes new money from old data

Removable disk tech lights up the archives

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ProStor sells these appliances through a 2-tier channel, and has pursued software certifications from Arkivio, Bridgend, CommVault, Crossroads, Kazeon, Quest and QStar so that archival data moving applications can use the InfiniVault as a hardware platform.

ProStore's marketing VP, Buzz Walker, goes into company and product booster mode when talking about the appliance: "It's forty times cheaper than regular RAID drive arrays at the 20TB capacity level. It's half the cost of tape." That is, when you take into account drive format migration and other matters.

InfiniVault sales in the first quarter exceeded sales in all of 2008, the company says. Second quarter sales were twice the first quarter number and, in this third quarter, InfiniVault sales are 125 per cent of the second and looking to be three times the first quarter sales level. Naturally, actual unit numbers were not quoted, but ProStor is not yet profitable so they are not that high.

Georgis and Walker talk about potentially larger RDX libraries, ones with hundreds of slots, and suggest that robotics might be needed then, presumably to transfer cartridges from the entry ports into storage slots. They say ProStor would not manufacture such libraries itself, indicating that existing tape library and robotics manufacturers might do it.

Why is ProStor doing comparatively better than Copan? Georgis said: "Copan has a technology looking for a reason to exist. You still have a big disk farm."

That doesn't seem right. It's possibly the case that Copan is selling to enterprises while ProStor is in the SME space. Copan's potential customers haven't found a mission-critical need for its products in sufficient numbers, particularly in the recession. ProStor's small and medium businesses, facing backup sessions taking too long and restoring files the typical tape pain, have taken to RDX and, latterly, InfiniVault.

It is possible that Copan's prospective customers simply went the de-duping storage array route to solve their lengthening backup time problems, leaving Copan high-and-dry. The small and medium enterprise customers served by ProStor do not have that luxury.

ProStor is lucky; there is no other competitive removable hard drive product. It can use commodity 2.5-inch hard drives in a shock-proof case for the cartridges and there are none of the drive format generation problems which bedevil tape, with the need for backward compatibility and expensive drive products. Any capacity 2.5-inch RDX cartridge can fit in any RDX dock. It's simple and straightforward.

Customers are locked into ProStor's products, albeit with competing RDX manufacturers and distributors for the InfiniVault. The thirst for capacity seems unending. Its poor customers are being assaulted with various compliance-type regimes and the need for legal hold facilities on the one hand, and slow tape being unable to backup their hundreds of thousands, even millions and tens of millions of files in the time available. REV doesn't fit the bill, tape is out, optical storage a joke for the majority of them, and de-duping storage arrays offering no offsite cover unless you get a second remote one and replicate.

ProStor with RDX seem to be in the right place at the right time, to have a clear run for the next few years and to have sewn up the system OEM channel. It's building its business on the decay of low-end tape. If HP and Sony don't bring out DAT 320, then that says HP has seen the low-end tape future, and it's removable disk. Tandberg and Imation will both be delighted: Tandberg has a near-wrecked business to rebuild and Imation is seeing optical media revenues not replacing the glory days of tape media revenues at all. Both need a new media success.

All ProStor has to do is not foul up the execution, keep on developing the products, look forward to the IPO and smile sweetly at Plasmon and Copan's venture capitalists, as that day when they start to pocket the profits draws nearer. ®

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