Coraid – A Storage Company Without an Exit Strategy

For most storage startups, it is all about the “exit strategy” – also known as the liquidity event. That is the moment where years and sometimes decades of non-profitability is made up for by either being bought or going public. Going public doesn’t always help. How many profitable public-held storage companies are there? Here is a new concept, what if a company focused on being profitable while taking care of its customers and continuing to innovate? Can that happen anymore? That’s exactly what the new Coraid is setting out to do.

The problem with the exit strategy mentality is that for every one company that pulls it off there are ten that fail, and fail miserably. One false step (i.e. a bad quarter or two) and the doors are shuttered and good technology is sold off; buried deep within the bowels of the buying organization never to be seen of again. Such was the case, or so it looked, for Coraid. But through the leadership of the company’s original founder Brantley Coile, who bought the company back, Coraid is ready for business with a new focus on profitability and long term stability.

What Went Wrong?

The company that invented ATA over Ethernet, had soared from a niche Linux storage solution in 2007 to a major storage player by 2012. It had that exit strategy mentality. But then a poor technology decision lead to some bad quarters which lead to the wheels coming off very quickly. By 2015 the company was for all intents and purposed shuttered. Then two years later, Coile had a chance to regain control of the Coraid brand and the technology. In June of 2017, the new Coraid started shipping an updated version of its EtherDrive SRX (version 8.1). In July 2017, Coile announced the company will be resurrecting their VSX storage virtualization solution.

What’s Different?

A fair question is how will this time be different? How will Coile keep Coraid history from repeating itself. The answer is simple: LEADERSHIP. Coile has purposely taken the company off of the Silicon Valley fast track to riches, which often leaves companies in ruins. Instead, Coraid is focusing on profitability, customer support and technology innovation.

As a reminder, profitability is a situation where a company makes money so it can pay its employees, support its customers and invest in its products without having to borrow tons of cash. It is actually a good thing. While the pace at the new Coraid can’t be described as slow, it is more intentional. “My new company is here to stay,” Coile explains. “We accepted no venture funds, won’t IPO, and aren’t for sale.”

Coraid Refresher

Coraid is a elegant solution to creating a high performance shared storage architecture. Like other IP storage technologies, it uses Ethernet cabling and switches to connect servers to storage arrays but that is where the similarities end. The company’s core technology, ATA over Ethernet (AoE), does exactly that: Communicates a pure ATA protocol over Ethernet cabling.

There is no IP overhead or SCSI translation that needs to occur with AoE. Customers buy Ethernet boards designed for AoE from Coraid and install them into their servers. Coraid also provides the storage system as well but without actual drives. The customer is free to purchase their own drives at their best price, eliminating the middleman. Customers wanting more of a turnkey experience can work with a Coraid reseller. The servers and storage system then connect into a standard Ethernet switch. Most customers will create a VLAN for the storage traffic and then they are ready to go.

The storage system is the EtherDrive SRX, which is a relatively basic storage array. Essentially it provides LUN masking and that’s about it. The customer can choose to use the storage management and data services that come with their operating system, hypervisor or application.

For customers wanting a more robust data services capability, Coraid offers its VSX, which is a storage virtualization engine that manages multiple SRX storage arrays. The VSX comes with the full complement of data services that IT professionals will expect, like snapshots and replication.

StorageSwiss Take

The big question is, do you consider Coraid in your future storage plans? For current Coraid customers, whose systems just kept working, the answer is yes. They can now have confidence that Coraid will deliver updates to the current solution with new capabilities on the way.

For data centers looking for a new storage solution Coraid provides a solution that offers excellent performance and very competitive pricing. Dealing with a company that is not on a rapid growth path may not be as exciting, but dealing with one that is profitable and intends to stay that way is very compelling.

There is risk anytime an organization purchases technology, and the storage landscape is littered with companies that were successful, purchased and the solutions don’t exist anymore. Maybe it’s time to take a chance on a company that doesn’t have an exit strategy, but just wants to make great technology and take care of its customers.

Storage Switzerland is at Flash Memory Summit 2017. Click here to see all our FMS2017 posts.

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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