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Exanet exit-bound despite Dell's efforts

$70m risks going down the plughole

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Exanet, a clustered NAS systems vendor, appears to be heading for the off-ramp after a Dell-led rescue deal foundered.

The Isreali paper reports that the firm is set to liquidate itself, barring a last minute capital injection.

Dr. Giora Yaron told Globes the firm and Dell were unable to agree on the finer points of a rescue deal, leaving 80 jobs on the line.

Clustered network-attached storage (NAS) systems aggregate NAS filers in a cluster with a single global file system to provide fast access to a highly-scalable file store. There are many competitors to Exanet in this space including NAS access accelerator Avere, HW-accelerated BlueArc, DataDirect, Isilon, HP with its ExDS9100 line, NetApp with ONTAP 8, StorSpeed, and Symantec with its new FileStor product.

These guys are either well-established and profitable suppliers like NetApp and Symantec, well-enough-funded suppliers like Data Direct and Isilon, and energetic hot startups like Avere. Exanet was founded in 2000 and shipped its first ExaNet software-only product in 2003, adding IBM and Xyratex-sourced hardware in 2007.

It never became profitable, although gaining more than 100 customers, including NASA, for its well-featured and fast products. Indeed it led the SPEC Sfs2008NFS benchmark rankings for a while until Symantec's FileStore blew it off the top rank with Symantec-Huawei hardware earlier this year.

The 2007 addition of a hardware line was accompanied by a funding round and a CEO change from Rami Schwartz to Arnon Gat. He was replaced by Mark Weiner, who had sold SAN virtualisation software supplier StoreAge to LSI Logic, in November last year. At that point total funding was around $70m, fed in through four rounds.

There was a story that Fujitsu Siemens Computers was interested in buying Exanet in May last year but it came to nothing, and FSC itself became Fujitsu Technology Services when Siemens sold its half of that joint-venture.

Globes reports that Weiner and the Exanet board were hopeful of a Dell-led funding insertion of another $20m that would have involved Dell selling the Exanet product, possibly via an OEM deal. However, one or more of Exanet's investors did not want their holdings in Exanet diluted and vetoed the deal, preferring, it was said, to see what could be raised by selling off Exanet's intellectual property (IP). This sounds, given the competitive landscape above, barmy, unless the investor(s) in question have a special interest in the IP.

Exanet tried hard, working to sell its NAS head running on top of other suppliers' storage such as 3PAR, and trying to get file-using software endorsements, such as Atempo, but failed to make enough overall headway. The Symantec FileStor benchmark was significantly better than Exanet's score and the entry of additional suppliers into the clustered NAS space gave Exanet a big headache.

This showed that scale-out NAS capability was becoming mainstream, but ageing and unprofitable niche suppliers like Exanet have nowhere to go unless they can get funding to develop a sustainable performance or cost-performance lead, by using solid state drives (SSDs) for example.

If it can't do that, and so see off Avere, BueArc, with an HDS investment, Symantec and the others, then the only options are a sale of the company or its assets. ®

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