Inline Busts Out of Line

With a new NAS and a 'SAN in a box' coming, this aging startup's aiming at a wide target. Too wide?

August 11, 2001

3 Min Read
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After a quiet existence out of the spotlight, a Virginia company wants a piece of the action.

Seven-year-old Inline Corp. just announced a new series of network attached storage (NAS) gear (see Inline Launches NAS Devices ) and plans to release a high-end storage array with integral switching on Monday.

After several years of selling RAID arrays to corporate, university, and government customers, Inline's now aiming for direct competition with storage networking vendors across the board. An ambitious goal by any measure.

Let's take it from the top. Inline's new low-end to midrange NAS gear -- dubbed the NAS Appliance series -- is aimed squarely at competing with wares from NAS market leader Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP). Shipping now to undisclosed customers, Inline's NA series is scaleable to 17.2 terabytes in a single unit, the company says (Network Appliance supports up to 12 Tbits in one unit).

The new boxes support dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and an option for Fibre Channel. Pricing starts in the "mid-teens." Follow-on interfaces for 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel are slated for release at an unspecified future date. The company plans partnerships with other firms in order to support iSCSI (SCSI over IP) and Infiniband -- although just how that will work out is still unclear.Inline also plans to announce next week the shipment of its SAN Foundation (SF) 1200, a storage array with integral switching. Descriptions of the product indicate it's suitably equipped to compete with the likes of "SAN in a box" products from Cereva Networks Inc., 3PARdata Inc., and Yotta Yotta.

The SF 1200 comes with 52 or 116 ports (supporting Fibre Channel) and features throughput in excess of 1 Gbyte per second, according to Inline. Its maximum capacity is 52 terabytes, 288 drives.

On top of these new announcements, Inline already is peddling the Fibre Channel and Ultra-SCSI RAID arrays with which it opened shop seven years ago.

Not bad for a privately held firm that's never taken any outside funding. But all that may change soon. Inline, which is getting to be a bit long in the tooth for a startup, may indeed start looking for some outside help to compete more aggressively in the increasingly hot storage networking market.

"Our CEO [John R. Tibbitts, ex-Falcon Systems] has been talking to groups of investors," says a spokesperson. "While we've been self-sustaining up to now, we'd like to get some input to help with sales and marketing."Inline has a range of things going for it as it seeks to play in the storage networking big leagues. For one thing, there's its existing customer base, which can be mined as prospective customers for the firm's new wares. The list includes Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), StorageTek (NYSE: STK), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), as well a slew of educational institutions and government agencies.

On the downside, Inline is late to the party. The new NAS gear, it claims, will feature more scaleability and security than boxes from Network Appliance. But that remains to be seen, since Inline can't offer any customer references. What's more, Inline doesn't have dates set for delivering next-generation Fibre Channel, iSCSI, or other emerging standards.

And Inline isn't alone. The NAS market is getting more competitive by the day, as startups aim to take a slice of Network Appliance's pie (see Quantum Buys NAS Startup).

In short, with so much on its plate already, Inline will be challenged to gain on its competition. But the firm's determination and existing market presence could stand it in good stead.

- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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