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Howard Marks
Howard Marks
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Starboard Storage Shuts Down

Hybrid array company evolved from a NAS system supplier, but never really gained much traction in a competitive market.

Hybrid array vendor Starboard Storage Systems is closing its doors. Is this just an old warhorse with a newish name collapsing in exhaustion, or is Starboard’s demise just the first splash in a wave of consolidation in the array business?

Starboard started out in life as Reldata, making NAS and unified storage systems in beautiful Parsippany, N.J. From about 2005 to 2012, Reldata was a frankly unexciting provider of single controller NAS systems, primarily to the SMB market. I remember seeing the company along with fellow travelers Nimbus Data and ONStor at events like SNW, but it never really found a way to differentiate its systems from bigger players such as Snap Appliance and NetApp or appliances based on Window Storage Server.

Things got more interesting when the company--or, more specifically Kirill Malkin, Reldata’s resident technical genius--decided to move up market with a dual-controller hybrid array. The new system was inspired by Sun’s ZFS--using dedicated SSDs for the write cache, a la ZFS’s ZIL (ZFS Intent Log), and read cache--and ran in a storage bridge bay dual-server cabinet like several other modern systems. I did some testing and user interface consulting for Reldata, as the new system was under development and I thought it had some positive attributes, including a data layout that made efficient use of the SSDs.

Of course, as a small player, Reldata was always a little short of cash and there was a bit of a revolving door on the CEO’s office with Dave Hubbard and Steven F.X. Murphy of Plasmon fame running the company, among others.

This changed when Bill Chambers, founder of LeftHand, was hired just as the new system was ready in early 2012. He brought in Tom Major and some of his other lieutenants from LeftHand, moved the company headquarters closer to his home in Colorado, and renamed the company Starboard. This, of course, is a nautical term for right, or, more specifically, a right-hand tack away from the LeftHand.

Read Howard Marks' analysis of the collapse of cloud storage service provider Nirvanix in "The Nirvanix Failure: Villains, Heroes, and Lessons."]

I don’t know how many partners the new Starboard lined up or how many arrays they managed to sell, but by March of this year, the company had suspended sales and marketing and its executives were trying to sell the company. I was frankly surprised when Starboard showed off the second-generation arrays at Storage Field Day 3 in April, but it apparently hoped broader exposure of its technology would be worth it.

Starboard had interesting tech and may, in the hands of management with a bit more cash, have had a chance to make it in the long run. However, they were competing not just with the EMCs, NetApps, Dells and HPs of the world, but also with a whole class of other hybrid and all-solid-state startups flush with VC money to spend on marketing.

The question is how will Starboard’s classmates--including Tegile, Tintri and Nimble--fare in the long run. NexGen Storage sold out to Fusion-io, but I don’t think there are a lot of buyers for hybrid storage. The big boys all have their hybrids, even though some, like the first generation of VNX hybrids, were/are “mild hybrids” that didn’t take good advantage of flash. EMC’s VNX2, 70% of which go out the door with some flash, is a real hybrid, and the others are getting their acts together, as well.

Each of the remaining players has a unique story, but only time will tell if any becomes the next NetApp.

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Howard Marks
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Howard Marks,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/5/2013 | 7:54:29 PM
re: Starboard Storage Shuts Down
I think Starboard's real problem is that they didn't get a cash infusion when they became a re-startup. The technology was basically a full re-write so they weren't stuck with the kind of backwards compatibility vs. better performance/SSD life issues the EMCs of the world were.
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Strategist
11/1/2013 | 10:05:37 PM
re: Starboard Storage Shuts Down
Howard, thanks for letting us know about the demise of Starboard. I read another analysis that speculated that perhaps building hybrid storage arrays on top of the old Reldata software may not have been as effective as starting from scratch, as some of the new up-and-comers have done. Do you think there is any truth to that?
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