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November 23, 2009

By Thinking Small, Data Robotics' Success Looking Big

2008 and 2009 haven't been particularly kind for many companies. Amidst a cacophony of bailouts, bankruptcies, lowered valuations and layoffs, Data Robotics, a direct attached storage manufacturer based in Santa Clara, has delivered growth exceeding 100 percent in each of the last two years - and hopes to be on track for going public via an IPO some time in the next two years. Combined with a popular product line, which was enhanced with a pair of new models today, you can see they have bucked the trend, surprising many people, including me, with their success.

Initially known as Trusted Data, before changing the company's name in 2007 to better reflect the company's automation capabilities without confusing customers into thinking they were a security company, I have known the company and its founder, CEO Geoff Barrall, for several years, having once worked with him as a colleague, and even working for him directly from 2004-05. (Consider that my disclosure)

When he started Data Robotics in 2005, I wasn't all that keen on yet another small storage array entering the market, even if it was aimed at consumers, and came with nifty features, like a meter that showed disk utilization on its facade.

My skepticism, and that of others, didn't deter Barrall, as he and the company found niches for its Drobo desktop storage arrays, including the creative professional community, and most recently, the federal market, which has become the company's primary vertical, I was told. The company has made a name for itself over the last few years with a distinctive product appearance, a proprietary non-RAID architecture that aims to protect data in the event of disk failures, and the potential ability to upgrade forever, simply through swapping out disks for those in a larger size, thanks to evolutions in disk density, that have seen capacities grow from the hundreds of gigabytes not too long ago to multiple terabytes today.

In the most recent year, Data Robotics accrued approximately $30 million in revenue, double that of the previous year, and quadruple the one prior. With the current quarter looking well, Barrall told a group of storage geeks, as part of Gestalt IT's Tech Field Day, a few weeks ago that doubling revenue again was not out of the question. Having seen profitable months already, the company intends to blast through break-even, and test the public markets when both they and Drobo are ready.


Drobo Teased Us With A Preview Earlier This Month

Today, the company added on to their product line with the new Drobo S and a new iSCSI SAN, the Drobo Elite. While some vendors, such as EMC or NetApp, started at the top of the market and are working their way down, Data Robotics started with the consumer and is working its way up into bigger devices, up to a significant 32 terabytes in its latest gear.

In contrast to my "set it and hope to forget it" Apple Time Capsule, which stays a single configuration for ever and ever, until I get rid of it, the Drobo can be upgraded over time, and doesn't blink at seeing disks of different sizes in the same array. Though it requires a second device, called DroboShare, to provide Network Attached Storage (NAS) functionality, it is quite compelling, especially as I start to increase my creation and archival of rich media storage, as most fathers of twins no doubt do.

The new entrants to the product family aren't necessarily for the low-end consumers like me, who might do just fine with a 4-bay desktop storage device, and don't need iSCSI functionality, but they show that the company is filling any gaps in the market that may prevent it from continuing its doubling of growth. At a time when many companies are shuffling the deck and trying to mute bad news, Data Robotics has been quietly growing.

See additional coverage from this morning around the Web: