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Copan assets scooped up by SGI

SGI refuge for battered MAID

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The battered MAID that is Copan has found a refuge inside SGI.

For the amazingly low sum of $2m SGI gets most of the assets and assumes a few of Copan's liabilities. It will keep Copan's Longmont, Colorado, office and hire some of Copan's staff but will not pay off any of Copan's debts.

SGI will use Copan's Massive Array of Idle Disks (MAID) technology to produce its own line of persistent storage products to hold customers' long-term reference data in an array of mostly spun-down disk drives. SGI says this product line will be massively scalable and reckons the market for such technology is growing.

Copan's secured creditors get the $2m. The other Copan creditors get zilch, meaning the ten or so investors who pumped slightly more than $110m into Copan's leaking ship have lost the lot.

SGI itself is the result of a rescue. Rackable Systems bought the then-failing SGI in April last year and renamed itself SGI shortly afterwards. It's now on a bit of a roll.

Copan's MAID technology was put into its Revolution storage arrays that ran a heck of a lot cooler than other arrays because three quarters of the drives were spun down at any one time. That meant Copan could pack many more drives into an enclosure and offer a product with the highest storage density in the industry as well as a very low electricity draw, perfect for the green times we're in.

However, it took time to get data off a spun-down disk and the arrays were very heavy; several UK deals were lost because the data center floor couldn't bear the weight of the product. Also Copan had a focus on direct sales and didn't leverage the channel as much as it could.

Competitors like Nexsan offered varying levels or tiers of spin-down, meaning you could get data back faster than from a Copan box, and disk drive manufacturers also offered spin-down natively in their drives, spreading the idea more widely and helping to nullify Copan's advantage.

When green push came to cost shove, customers bought too few of Copan's arrays and spending far outstripped revenue. It was a gory story with the last CEO, Mark Ward, trying to get the company sprinting towards higher revenues by building out the international sales infrastructure and spending heavily on engineering and development. This spending splurge meant the recession and revenues just could not keep up.

The investing venture capitalists woke up to the fact that they were putting money into what looked like a bottomless pit; Ward was let go and the firm contracted as its management sought to reinvent it as an OEM supplier. That was not to be.

Today Copan is no more. Co-founders Chris Santilli (chief technical officer) and Will Layton (Federal division president) may move to SGI. David Dew, the engineering VP may do so as well. Nothing was said specifically about this so it's possible that they will go elsewhere.

Two million dollars is a snip, a steal. SGI has bought the best spindown technology going in terms of packing density and will no doubt invest in it, possibly adding graduated tiers of spin-down to answer the Nexsan competitive challenge.

It will also think about deduplication to increase data storage density further and may think about focusing sales on cloud storage service providers. The massive scalability idea could be a hint about clustered MAID arrays which would fit cloud storage suppliers' needs for potentially extreme capacity growth. ®

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