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Compellent Makes A Strong Case In Midrange Storage

Compellent Technologies is a player in the midrange storage market that does not get the recognition that it deserves. The reason for that is simple: When customer attention turns to storage, their first focus is on the large players, such as EMC, HP, IBM and NetApp, whose market presence and mind share, wide product diversity and strategic visions tend to dominate (and rightfully so) any discussions of how the storage market is being shaped. Next come startups and emerging companies that focus on a hot new technology in the hopes that they may be the next Data Domain (data deduplication) or Riverbed (WAN acceleration), or the surprise player in emerging SSD and cloud computing markets.

While this state of affairs is understandable, storage companies that have been successful, but are neither very large nor have the shine from participating in what is considered to be the hot topic du jour do not always receive their due attention. That is unfair, since their success means they have developed/delivered appealing products that have corralled a large number of customers.

Despite being ignored or dismissed, these companies can also fundamentally shape the market:

  • By introducing new functions or features that the larger players are slow to adopt, such as thin provisioning (3Par) or automated storage tiering (Compellent).
  • By partnering with some larger players (such as on an OEM basis) to offer products, functions and features that the larger players would not otherwise have access to, such as FalconStor.
  • By offering products or services that fill a void or niche that larger players do not or no longer devote a lot of attention to, such as GlassHouse Technologies in services and Spectra Logic in the highest end of tape libraries (where Oracle-Sun StorageTek used to be very strong).
  • By taking a different tack to a market (Zmanda and cloud backup storage).
  • By refusing to assume that a well-defined market segment dominated by large players cannot be a competitive (and profitable) market for them, as well, such as backup and restore software (Acronis, Arkeia, and CommVault, among others) and midrange storage (Compellent, among others)

The latest financial results for Compellent (from Q3 FY 2009, ending September 30, 2009) showed revenues of $89 million for the first nine months, up 39 percent over the comparable period for the preceding year, and the company was profitable. Given the economic climate for 2009, those results would be remarkable for any company anywhere. What makes them even more remarkable is that they succeeded in the highly competitive midrange storage market, although Compellent claims enterprise-class functions and features, such as scalability and availability, for its products.

Compellent sells through channel partners exclusively and faces direct competition from EMC and NetApp, both of whom have very capable and large sales forces. In addition, numerous other strong competitors exist, including Dell (EqualLogic), HP, IBM, NEC, Promise and Xiotech. However, Compellent must be doing something right as it claims an installed base of over 1600 customers. What is it about the company that is so compelling (sorry, but the one thing that I can't resist is pun temptation!) to its customers?

Compellent sells one product: Storage Center, which stands both for the product itself and the operating system. Compellent has just announced Storage Center 5, the fifth iteration of its flagship product, which is a Storage Area Network (SAN) that encompasses all the necessary components of a SAN, including third-party switches, disk controllers and disk enclosures.

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