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Drobo, Nexsan HDD arrays merged in new holding company

If you’re a struggling niche disk array vendor, what’s the next step you take to survive? You combine your HDD arrays with another disk vendor in the same boat.

That’s what low-end NAS vendor Drobo and ruggedized SAN specialist Nexsan have done, merging to form roll-up company StorCentric Inc. The Drobo and Nexsan brands will operate as separate divisions within StorCentric, with integration plans in the works.  Drobo CEO Mihir Shah and Nexsan founder and CTO Gary Watson will keep the same titles at StorCentric.

This is the second time in five years these two vendors have huddled under the same corporate umbrella.  Both  companies were affiliated with holding company Imation Corp., which in 2017 was renamed GlassBridge Technologies as part of its restructuring as an asset management firm.

According to an Aug. 16 securities filing, Drobo bought the assets of Nexsan from publicly traded GlassBridge for net cash of approximately $5.7 million. The sum includes repayments of intercompany debts. The deal was formally announced Tuesday.

Both Drobo and Nexgen rely primarily on disk storage, using a small dose of flash to accelerate hot data. StorCentric plans to market Drobo and Nexsan hybrid HDD arrays as complementary storage, Shah said.

“We see a large total addressable market opportunity by having both businesses together. When we looked at the quality and functionality of Nexsan products, we were missing those features in Drobo. We were not able to participate in a lot of large-deal opportunities and it became very apparent over the last two quarters,” Shah said, who cited support for dual-controller cards and 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports among key customer requests.

Watson said StorCentric plans to expand its portfolio through acquisitions.

“This is a true merger. We’re keeping the brands alive to make sure there is continuity (for) customers and partners. The goal is to add other brands and technologies under this umbrella. We have several acquisitions already piped up to go before too long,” Watson said.

You need a scorecard to trace the two vendors’ interconnected history. Geoff Barrall launched the Drobo direct-attached and NAS HDD arrays in 2005 as the flagship of Data Robotics. Drobo was adopted as the corporate name in 2011, two years after Barrall left the company he founded following a dispute with investors.

Barrall went on to launch file-sharing startup Connected Data Inc., which acquired Drobo in 2013. That short-lived merger ended when Connected Data spun out Drobo in 2015 to a group of investors headed by Shah. That same year, Imation paid $7.5 million to acquire Connected Data for its Transporter sync-and-share technology, which is integrated in Nexsan Unity flagship all-flash and HDD arrays.

Other Nexsan storage products includes Assureon archival and object system, E-Series high-density SATA block storage, and Transporter enterprise sync-and-share appliances inherited from Imation’s Connected Data acquisition.

Watson said Nexsan’s “murky” past ownership stymied its ability to innovate products needed to compete in enterprise storage. He said Drobo and Nexsan will share a combined integration roadmap.

“I think we’ll end up with situations where customers will use Nexsan for petabyte-scale storage in their data center, and use Drobo boxes” for individuals or dedicated work groups.”

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