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BlueArc gets extra greenbacks

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BlueArc, the hardware-accelerated NAS array supplier startup, has pocketed another $20m in a seventh funding round, taking total funding to around $225m.

The company was started up in 1998 and, 12 years later, still isn't able to stand on its own feet and make profits. Its use of FPGA hardware to accelerate NAS (network-attached storage) file access puts it in the premium performance-centric part of the market, competing against NetApp in the mainstream filer market, and Isilon and Panasas in the scale-out, media NAS market.

It has its high-end clusterable Titan product plus a less powerful Mercury range, with both supporting iSCSI block data access, and a low-end product is expected, one still using FPGA hardware.

Fresh competition has come its way with Avere, using a 4-way tiered front-end accelerator, the FXT 2700, which sits in front of ordinary NAS filers and accelerates them. A rejuvenated Isilon has also started using flash to store metadata in its S-Series and X-Series products. There us the Solid Access flash-based UNAS product.

Then IBM has its SONAS scale-out NAS product, LSI bought OnStor, and Dell is buying Exanet, another scale-out NAS company, which turned $70m of funding into a $12m purchase price; a horror story for the investors. HP has its own X9000 scale-out NAS technology as well. It sure is a crowded field out there.

Hitachi Data Systems and SGI both OEM BlueArc's products, with Hitachi having made an investment into BlueArc, but, despite a 2-tier product line, two OEMS, and a dozen years of development, BlueArc is still not profitable. The company's plans must have been impressive to persuade a new lead investor plus the 16 existing investors to stump up $20m. One might imagine they featured the low-end product, with flash acceleration on it and the Mercury and Titan products, plus a cluster node count extension beyond the current limit of eight.

They will probably also feature terrific integration with VMware and Hyper-V and could also include compression and deduplication to increase storage efficiency. Possibly Permabit could have something to say about that. Naturally there will be a cloud aspect to it as well.

The company has to do so well with its presumably enhanced product range that it outpaces the competition, meaning IBM, Isilon, NetApp, HP, Avere and others, blows it away, and makes serious profits or a damned impressive increase in sales, enough to justify n IPO.

IGC, the new investor is convinced about the opportunity. Jose Suarez, IGC MD, said: “After extensive research and diligence with BlueArc, their customers and industry experts, it’s clear that BlueArc has a significant growth opportunity and the demonstrated ability to grow faster than its market.”

Mike Gustafson, BlueArc's CEO, said: “Since returning to growth a year ago, we’ve shown a tremendous increase in new customers, improved profitability outlook, and expanded product and solution offerings. This funding will help us to further ramp development and allow us to increase headcount and strategic investment in all areas, including engineering and customer-facing sales and marketing.”

This is probably the last chance funding saloon for BlueArc. If it came to the venture capital well for another round of cash then the investors might well so no and look for an exit to get at least some proportion of their cash back.

It may be that potential acquirers, and Hitachi has been speculated about in that regard, will feel that hanging on and picking up a distressed sale company would be much less expensive than paying the $500m or more that the investors would want to get a halfway decent return. ®

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