10 data storage companies to watch

Innovative start-ups target flash drives, cloud storage, disaster recovery

From de-duplication and disaster recovery to flash drives and cloud storage, there's a ton of innovation in the storage market. After looking at companies in stealth mode and those that released their first products within the past year, we identified 10 storage start-ups worth watching. (Compare storage products.)

Here's a look at each vendor:

Company name: Atrato

Founded: April 2004

Location: Westminster, Colo.

What does the company offer? A mix of hardware and software called the V1000 that helps alleviate the I/O bottleneck between storage and servers to improve access to data. Atrato, which exited stealth mode in February, says its technology delivers up to 10,000 input/output operations per second while reducing the rack space and cooling requirements of a typical data center.

Why is it worth watching? Offers fast, high-density storage that should prove useful for high-performance computing and delivery of digital entertainment.

How did the company get its start? Co-founders Dan McCormick and Jonathan Hall, both veterans of XIOtech, decided they could improve the performance, cost-effectiveness and security of data delivered at high speeds for customers dealing with streaming content, high-performance computing and enterprise technology.

How did the company get its name? Atrato is named after the Rio Atrato in Colombia, the fastest-flowing river on Earth.

CEO and background: McCormick spent almost six years at XIOtech, including a role as vice president of marketing.

Funding: $18 million from storage industry veterans such as Jesse Aweida, founder and former CEO of StorageTek, and Tom Porter, a former IBM storage executive who was also CTO at Seagate.

Who's using the product? Dozens of customers, including MusicGiants and SRC Computers.

Company name: 4Blox

Founded: April 2005

Location: San Jose, Calif.

What does the company offer? 4Mezzo, software that improves performance of iSCSI-based storage-area networks by optimizing communication between iSCSI and TCP protocols. 4Blox's tagline asks IT shops "are your iSCSI solutions ready for 10GbE?"

Why is it worth watching? 4Mezzo's technology that reduces the CPU processing power demanded by the iSCSI protocol, which is becoming much more popular. "4Blox has developed a unique software-based approach to performance that sets it apart from current hardware-based iSCSI offload and acceleration products," Scott Caruso of Flywheel Ventures said after investing in 4Blox.

How did the company get its start? Founders Sai Narasimhamurthy and Joseph Hui developed the technology at Arizona State University, where Narasimhamurthy was a doctoral student and Hui was his professor. ASU still owns the company's intellectual property.

How did the company get its name? The founders saw the number 4 everywhere: Their technology has four core components, the first component has four building blocks, and iSCSI is a Layer 4 transport protocol. ISCSI itself enables block-level storage, explaining the "blox" portion of the name.

CEO and background: Dan Munro began his career as a software engineer but more recently became a consultant working with early-stage software companies to accelerate their growth or help them be acquired.

Funding: An undisclosed amount from angel investors and the venture capital firm Flywheel Ventures.

Who's using the product? 4Blox technology is still in beta with OEM customers, including several "large marquee storage vendors," the company says.

Company name: Fusion-io

Founded: June 2006

Location: Salt Lake City

What does the company offer? The ioDrive, a PCIe flash storage card that's inserted directly into servers. Fusion-io launched the product at Network World's DEMO event last fall.

Why is it worth watching? Rivals like EMC say that attaching storage directly to servers can limit flexibility, but Fusion-io promises a great price/performance ratio, with the PCIe card delivering 100,000 IOPS (input/output operations per second). A 160GB card and the 320GB card go for $4,800 and $8,900, respectively. Analyst Deni Connor calls it "a good approach for giving new life to servers ... running transaction-intensive operations."

How did the company get its start? CTO David Flynn and marketing vice president Rick White were having discussions about embedded devices and decided that there was a market for embedded storage that takes advantage of the speed of flash memory.

How did the company get its name? The name contains "fusion" because the ioDrive fuses CPU and RAM into a single silicon-based device, and "io" because of its speed.

CEO and background: Donald Basile has worked in the data networking, cable, telecommunications, computing and semiconductor industries. Most recently, he spent four years as vice president and managing director of investment firm Raza Foundries.

Funding: $19 million in a funding round led by New Enterprise Associates.

Who's using the product? 44% of Fortune 100 companies use the ioDrive, the vendor says.

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