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NetApp buys small, large storage specialist

Buys up Bycast

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NetApp is buying Bycast, a relative unknown. But there's more to this privately-held object storage developer than meets the eye.

Headquartered in British Columbia, Canada, Bycast makes the StorageGRID product for very large object-based, fixed-content archive vaults that can encompass petabytes of data. The software verifies the integrity of the archive contents and is claimed to optimise the storage infrastructure. It's sold through two OEMs - HP and IBM - and Bycast says it has a global customer base.

IBM offers StorageGRID in its Grid Medical Archive product and has done so since 2005. HP has a similar Medical Archive product. Both will now become NetApp OEMs.

The product can be used by archival service providers as a cloud service - Peer 1 thought about using it but chose EMC's Atmos instead - and works across geographical and heterogeneous hardware environments. The idea with object storage is to store semi-structured and unstructured data as a combination of data and metadata in a flat object address space. The concept was brought into mainstream storage by EMC with its Centera product. Dell has recently announced that it's developing its own DX product to provide object storage, basing it on Caringo technology.

We know NetApp wants to add an object interface to its Data ONTAP O/S. This looks to be the technology infusion needed. Will NetApp integrate StorageGRID into Data ONTAP, as it did with the clustering technology from Spinnaker, which ended up taking years to accomplish? Or will it develop a separate product, with Data ONTAP connecting to it?

Manish Goel, NetApp's EVP for Product Operations, said: "The [acquisition] enables NetApp to offer our enterprise customers and service provider partners a complementary solution that enables them to efficiently build and manage a very large-scale global repository of data central to many IT-as-a-service offerings." That sounds like a separate product.

Bycast's Vancouver headquarters will become a technology centre for NetApp and will be responsible for existing Bycast products and future product development. Bycast's CEO Moe Kermani said: "We are excited and look forward to joining the NetApp team." It all sounds very friendly. Let's hope no EMC swoops in and steals Bycast away as happened with NetApp's attempted purchase of Data Domain.

NetApp states that the acquisition "broadens its capabilities in serving key verticals such as digital media, Web 2.0, healthcare, and cloud services providers."

Why is Bycast selling itself to NetApp? With HP and IBM being its OEMs one would think either or both of them would be interested in buying the company. Did they look and say "No thanks" or was there a bidding contest?

NetApp is buying Bycast for cash - no shares will change hands - and neither firm revealed the amount. The acquisition should complete in May subject to the usual closing conditions. Bycast was started up in 1999 by David Slik, currently its chief technology officer, and others. Its first product was a reliable internet audio/video streaming service, and this technology was then apparently applied to medical imaging systems.

It has had a total of $13.9m revealed funding, the most recent and substantial one a B-Round in 2004 for $10m. It is backed by venture capital firms and angel investors, all of whom should get a nice exit package from a purchase price, we guess at being between $20m and $50m, possibly more. ®

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