Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/13/copan_bid_for_greatness/

Copan's bid for greatness

Ward's way for relief from data obesity

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 13th June 2008 11:02 GMT

Analysis Copan has an infrastructure suited to thousands of customers when it has just over sixty. What is going on? Building for the long haul and a future as a billion dollar revenue company seems to be the end result of the script being used to drive the company.

The company, led by CEO Mark Ward, has had a driven year. It's recruited heavily in the customer facing-area and now boasts a total of 15 offices world wide. It has its customers spread across five continents and 60 countries, which, you could say, averages out at one customer per country. You don't need 15 offices around the globe to service one customer per country!

Of course that is an artificial way of looking at things just to bring out the present discrepancy between infrastructure capabilities and customer numbers.

The sixty customers was the number at the end of the last financial year. It represented a tripling of sales revenue in the year. There are more now and Copan has some 250 installations, many customers having multiple systems. It expects another revenue tripling in its current financial year.

Copan had 60 staff a year ago: now it has 185. The company is spending $3m on a software engineering facility in Southborough, Mass and a solutions centre joining its existing head quarters in Longmont, Co. Many companies would cram a few extra engineers into HQ and save the cash and management overhead of two centres.

Are SW engineers in such short supply in Longmont? Yes they are, Ward saying there are two US centres of file-based storage programming expertise; California and the Boston area where, for example, EMC's Hopkinton facility is located. Quite handy for recruitment purposes. Software development at Longmont is focused on the MAID platform and management while Southborough will focus on file system work. A deduplicating archive product for files is coming with Copan's own deduplication technology, not the FalconStor technology used in Copan's VTL (virtual Tape Library) version of its array.

You get the feeling that Ward is building out an infrastructure with a ten-year plan in mind. His financial backers must be happy with the way things are going. Granted the revenue tripling which would bring a smile to investors' faces. But they must be smiling indeed to okay such a driven infrastructure development pace.

One reason might be the average customer buy. Chief Sales Officer Gary Veale said it was around $180,000 two years ago and is now more than $500,000. (Let's assume average deal size is $300,000 and then the 60 customers have bought in $18m in revenue. Guesstimate half of that in the last year, $9 million, and triple that in the current financial year, $18 million, and the financial rospects must look very interesting indeed.)

One recent sale returned $3m. There are seven customers in the current sales pipeline with bids of a million dollars or more. A high proportion of customers turn into repeat buyers. Ward said 40-50 per cent of revenues come from the existing customer base, with the second purchase arriving four to six months after the first.

Although there has been a fair amount of business news from Copan there hasn't been much solid product news in the last year. This is probably going to change as Ward looks to his development resources with their increased resources and headcount to deliver the development goods.

Mark Ward

As a CEO Mark Ward is in the Softek/Plasmon Stephen Murphy mould, almost literally since he too is from America's east coast and an Irish Catholic by upbringing. He has that combination of a solid layer of charm and confidence overlaid onto a clear thinking core of intelligence, strength of mind and vision, with a potential for a huge amount of disciplined work, the ability to motivate staff though belief in them and them wanting to avoid failing him, and an apparent facility to be ruthless and very forceful if needed.

He believes that there has been no serious storage innovation for ten years or more, counting EMC's Symmetrix and NetApp's filers as examples of the level of innovation he means. His pitch is that the enterprise storage world is broadly split between active transaction-type data and the rest; the rest being infrequently accessed data that has no business being on transaction-focussed storage arrays.

What about Centera? He reckons this is interesting software layered onto a 10-year old transaction-type array with SATA drives replacing the original Fibre Channel ones. It's not been designed for the purpose it serves from the ground up; it's not truly innovative. Copan's Revolution MAID arrays have been designed from the ground up and pass his innovation test.

He is utterly serious here: for Ward, Copan's MAID technology represents innovation of the same order as NetApp's filers were ten years ago. The clear implication is that he sees a NetApp-size growth opportunity in front of Copan - and there is no serious competition.

Other suppliers' partial spin-down refreshes of their arrays simply doesn't cut it; think HDS, EMC and others. They don't reduce the power draw down to Copan levels and it doesn't do anything for disk packing density at all. He cites Sony in London, England's West End, which faced a capped power supply to its data center. It needed storage for its PlayStation gaming operation and an EMC bid would have meant 16 new storage frames (racks) and more power than was available. Copan did the same job in two frames and a tenth of the power draw.

A partial spindown EMC bid would still need 16 racks and would have needed much more power than Copan's product.

Nexsan is the only true MAID-based competition but it eschews deduplication and targets SME customers through the channel. Copan has a laser-like focus on Global 500-type enterprises, the top of the business pyramid, and has a direct salesforce doing consultative selling with fulfillment and service through skilled channel partners. Sun is a reseller in the UK, selling to BT for the NHS spine in its new IT structure. IBM is the break/fix service partner in the USA.

Copan has single-mindedly built out a foundation infrastructure skeleton for a large and global company. Ward will now drive it to flesh out that skeleton and deliver the sales results with enterprise customers finding that the only real escape from the persistent data flood that is overwhelming their power suppliers' capacities and the space bounds of their data centers is through a revolution in data storage; moving idle data off front line, transaction-type arrays onto Copan's Revolution product and getting instant relief from data obesity.

This is no technology-development company with a five-year venture capitalist horizon to acquisition, funds crystallization and moving on. Ward thinks big and wants to build big. He reckons big business is caught in a data obesity vise and Copan's product is the only way to unlike the jaws of that vise. A data storage revolution is what is needed and Copan's Revolution product is it.

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