Troika Takes Aim

Shapeshifting startup is getting new funding to push its network virtualization appliance

May 7, 2004

3 Min Read
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Can an aging startup with an identity crisis find happiness in storage virtualization?

Troika Networks Inc. is about to find out. If new funding, customers, and partnerships are any sign of success, it's off to a good start -- though sizeable challenges remain.

Troika has obtained an undisclosed sum from its existing backers, Byte and Switch has learned, a list that includes Anthem Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Dynafund Ventures, Hamilton Apex Technology Ventures, and Windward Ventures. Troika's now widening the round to include external investors.

Sometime this year, the six-year-old company will announce the funding, which management hopes will roughly match the $13 million it got last year, an amount that raised Troika's total to $67 million (see Can Troika Triumph on Take Two?). Management expects the new funding to bring Troika safely through 2005.

The company also claims to have sold its Accelera box, billed as a kind of storage super-appliance, to about 12 customers, including the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science and Invision, an application service provider. Troika expects to have Accelera generally available by midyear. And an exclusive alliance with Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A) ensures Troika will have the means to make its own ASICs and possibly create new chips for OEM use (see Agere, Trokia Develop SAN Products).Not bad for a company that plowed under its original past in an effort to retill the soil of the SAN market. Troika's first product was an HBA that sold to exactly one customer, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). Troika offloaded both product and customer support to JNI Corp., which has since been absorbed by Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC).

Has Troika found its niche at last? Since last year, it's been intent on virtualization. Its product is a so-called network storage services (NSS) box, which acts as an adjunct to Fibre Channel fabric switches. "We have a purpose-built platform that's like an appliance in personality but more like a switch in function," says Troika CEO Bill Terrell.

Troika's Linux-based, 8- or 16-port Accelera NSS sits in the data path of the SAN and takes in traffic just like a switch, but instead of routing data to specific locations, the box adds application capabilities and sends traffic back over the SAN fabric, to be routed by the switch. Custom ASICs ensure performance, the vendor says. Indeed, it claims to more than triple the I/O capabilities of today's midrange storage arrays.

The box's application capabilities, including data management and backup, come through alliances with software vendors. Troika's so far got just one of these in place, with StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd., though others are planned (see Troika, StoreAge Offer Software).

Troika plans to sell Accelera in a number of ways besides the NSS box. There are thoughts of making it as a board for big storage OEMs such as EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), and perhaps even a blade for Fibre Channel switch vendors. Of course, Troika faces a marketing muddle that could force it to make friends of enemies as it enters each market segment.The problem is the industry's as well as Troika's. SAN users and their suppliers are still hashing out where applications based on virtualization best belong in the SAN. "There are as many opinions out there as people you can ask," Terrell says. Things aren't helped, he notes, by tension between storage and switch vendors chary of reselling each other's virtualization wares and shooting themselves in the foot.

Troika's betting on its own insights, along with a general sort-out in the SAN space, to keep things moving. At any rate, the vendor seems prepared this time to take whatever approach works. Hopefully, it won't get snarled or divided in its attempts to keep pace.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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