String Bean Software

Skinny startup thinks its chances are better than slim

March 3, 2005

3 Min Read
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String Bean Software Inc., which makes software that turns a Windows server into an iSCSI SAN, wants to hold its own as the fat cats rush into the low-end IP SAN game.

The challenge is on for the small company named for its skinny founder. String Beans WinTarget software uses the Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) iSCSI initiator to turn any Windows server with local disk into an iSCSI target (see String Bean Updates SAN and String Bean Software Introduces WinTarget). It’s aimed at SMBs and until now has competed mainly with software from DataCore Software Corp. and FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC), and with Adaptec Inc.’s (Nasdaq: ADPT) Snap iSCSI systems.

As with all iSCSI startups, String Bean is waiting to see how the entry of Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) in the SMB IP SAN space will affect the market (see EMC Mounts iSCSI Blitz and IBM Slips iSCSI Into SAN).

So far, String Bean has been thin on funding as well. It has shuffled along since June 2003 without venture capitalists, surviving on private funding, OEM deals with Fujitsu Siemens Computers and smaller companies, and direct sales off its Website. The Montgomery Village, Md.-based startup consists of founder and CTO Thieu Le, sales VP Marcus Thompson, marketing VP Dave Barnes, and a handful of developers.

“We burn what we make,” Le says of his company's fiscal strategy. Le, for whom String Bean was named, wants to fatten up his company’s coffers, if not his own frame. String Bean’s role models are companies we highlighted last summer that have been successful without VC money (see They Don't Need No Stinkin' VCs).“We’re a ‘we don't need no stinking VCs' company,” says Thompson, who admits he’s far too robust to be mistaken for a string bean. “We empathize with those companies. But we would love the investment.”

Le says String Bean has more than 100 paying customers since it launched its software last May. Not all the customers are SMBs. He says String Bean has found interest among larger companies looking to complement Fibre Channel SANs. But perhaps the best thing String Bean has going for it is a strong working relationship with Microsoft. Microsoft is a customer, and the Redmond, Wash. gang no doubt likes the idea of software that turns Windows servers into IP SANs.

StringBean’s software lets Windows users share local disk resources over an Ethernet network, and it supports SAN features such as snapshot and volume management. The software costs $250 per server.

String Bean is working on its second-generation product, which will support 64-bit servers and is tentatively scheduled for release in July. That would make it a better fit for higher end customers. Le says he’s also working on building up a solid sales channel by then.

EMC and Dell are also pushing their Clarion AX100 IP SAN at SMBs through the channel. The String Bean guys are hoping that helps their cause, rather than hurts it.“The market’s going to be formed by people like EMC,” Thompson says. “They’ll do marketing for us and raise the profile of iSCSI.”

No matter how high iSCSI’s profile gets, Le says String Bean is more likely to become part of a large software company than grow fat on its own. He says he has several software suitors in mind, though it’s too early to know if any of them have eyes for String Bean.

“We don’t see anything happening now because the market’s far too fragmented. But there will be a consolidation, and our most likely exit scenario is an acquisition,” Le says.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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