10 data storage companies to watch

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

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Company name: Nirvanix

Founded: July 2007

Location: San Diego

What does the company offer? The Storage Delivery Network, a cloud storage platform providing highly scalable storage capacity over the Web, optimized for digital media and large files. The service became available last October.

Why is it worth watching? Along with Amazon's Simple Storage Service, Nirvanix is one of the first players in the emerging cloud storage market. While Amazon's maximum allowed file size is 5GB, Nirvanix lets customers store files as large as 256GB.

How did the company get its start? Founders Patrick Harr and Geoff Tudor, who have experience in storage, networking and media caching, wanted to develop an alternative to content delivery networks.

How did the company get its name? It's a play on words combining Nirvana and media exchange, using the "I" in media and "X" in exchange.

CEO and background: Harr has a background in marketing and previously worked at Enterprise Partners Venture Capital, focusing on investments in content, storage and media services. Funding: $18 million from Intel Capital, Valhalla Partners, Mission Ventures, Windward Ventures and European Founders Fund.

Who's using the product? Content publishing Web sites, businesses looking for data backup and operators of Web 2.0 applications. One customer, FreeDrive, uses Nirvanix to provide an online storage service that is integrated with Facebook and makes it easy for friends to share files.

Company name: Ocarina Networks

Founded: February 2007

Location: San Jose

What does the company offer? Launched in April 2008, Ocarina's first product, the ECOsystem, is an appliance that shrinks the amount of disk space needed for storage with de-duplication. The system is driven by new algorithms that are "content-aware," meaning it knows what type of file it's working with and how best to reorganize data to save space.

Why is it worth watching? De-duplication is common for backup data but not primary storage, says analyst Arun Taneja. Ocarina says it can reduce storage needs by a factor of 10. That's a ratio "any IT shop will kill for" on primary storage, "because it's the most expensive storage," Taneja says.

How did the company get its start? CEO Murli Thirumale and his co-founders polled senior IT executives about their top concerns, and all of the respondents said they were worried about rapidly growing storage needs.

How did the company get its name? "It just sounded good," Ocarina officials say in an e-mail. "And ... there are hardly any good start-up names left." An ocarina is an egg-shaped wind instrument.

CEO and background: Thirumale was CEO and co-founder of Net6, a maker of SSL-VPN and VoIP technology. He became an executive at Citrix when Net6 was acquired by the company in 2004.

Funding: $11 million from Kleiner Perkins and Highland Capital.

Who's using the product? The first customers are online photo-sharing sites, including Photobox and XYZ. Unnamed customers include social networking Web sites, e-mail providers and large movie studios.

Company name: Parascale

Founded: July 2004

Location: Cupertino, Calif.

What does the company offer? Parascale says it is developing cloud storage software that "aggregates disk storage on multiple standard Linux servers to present one highly scalable self-managing storage cloud, with massive capacity and parallel throughput." A release date hasn't been announced yet, but it will be generally available within months as a software download, the company says.

Why is it worth watching? Parascale's low-cost approach to building cloud storage has some fans at Google. The Parascale advisory board includes Sepandar David Kamvar, the technical lead of personalized search at Google, and Chuck McManis, a Google senior storage technologist.

How did the company get its start? Cameron Bahar, the founder and CTO, developed the Parascale approach to scaling out storage using commodity hardware after spending years building clustered systems at vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, TeraData and Locus. Bahar also led the design of a 1,000-server distributed Internet storage service offered by the now-defunct Scale8.

How did the company get its name? From "parallel" and "scalability."

CEO and background: Sajai Krishnan was previously general manager of NetApp's StoreVault division, which develops network storage products for small and midsize businesses.

Funding: $11.37 million from Charles River Ventures and Menlo Ventures.

Who's using the product? Early adopter Blue Coat Systems is using Parascale software for online disk-to-disk backup.

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