Startup Sets Sights on Government

Exponential Storage is taking aim at satellites and military surveillance



As users wrestle with spiraling volumes of digital data, mysterious Maryland startup Exponential Storage is building a file-sharing solution targeted at the military and government sectors.

At the moment, though, Exponential remains cloaked in secrecy, and the company's Website provides scant details about the startup and its technology. "We're trying to keep a fairly low profile," explained Wick Keating, Exponential's founder and CEO, when Byte and Switch tracked him down today. The firm's product, he adds, is still at the testing stage and will not be on the market until the second half of this year.

The exec would not reveal the exact nature of the startup's government work, although he confirmed that it is likely to involve the storage of digital images from satellites and reconnaissance aircraft. The Annapolis-based firm, he added, is already involved with the Chesapeake Innovation Center, a government-backed technology incubator with links to the National Security Agency.

The CEO did confirm that Exponential is developing software that will be bundled with off-the-shelf storage hardware and sold to users looking to handle large volumes of digital data. "We have been able to take advantage of 64-bit processors and 10-Gbit/s Ethernet," he says.

The startup's reliance on 10-Gbit/s Ethernet suggests that it will be offering some form of clustered solution, although Keating pointedly refused to comment on this. Other vendors touting products in this space include Ibrix, PolyServe, and BlueArc, which recently signed a partnership deal with HDS. (See Alexa Adopts Ibrix, Ibrix Joins EMC Select, and PolyServe Partners With 3PAR.)

Exponential, though, is not just playing in the shadowy world of national security -- other target markets are the data-intensive media and healthcare sectors. "Hospitals are being pushed towards electronic medical records," says Keating, noting that MRIs are now often shared across multiple locations.

A number of enterprises are also looking for ways to store and share this type of data, according to the exec. "A lot of large firms like Wal-Mart and B.P., instead of waiting for the industry, are building their own repositories for [employee] medical records."

Despite the lack of detail, scale seems to be part of Exponential's story, and Keating claims that the firm will be able to deliver multi-gigabyte video files to thousands of users simultaneously.

The popularity of video on demand and Websites such as YouTube has raised the profile of digital data storage, with a growing number of vendors developing specialist storage systems. (See Omneon Preps for $115M IPO.) Unlike traditional enterprise content, this data typically involves extremely large files that need to be read multiple times and streamed to large numbers of users simultaneously.

The startup, according to Keating, is about to start beta tests with customers in the government, media, and healthcare sectors, although the CEO would not name names.

At least one analyst, though, warns that Exponential will have to be careful not to get too sucked into its government business. "When you're looking at high-performance computing applications, whether it's the Department of Defense or the NSA, their requirements are so specific," says John Rotchford, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services International (SASI). This, he adds, can make it difficult to adapt the technology to the enterprise sector.

Top-secret government projects can also bring a unique set of challenges, according to the analyst. "The government may not relinquish the source code that you have developed for the application," he warns. "Companies need to be extremely careful about who owns the intellectual property and the software that they have developed."

A good example of this occurred last year when a U.S. government review board scuppered Check Point's attempt to acquire security software specialist Sourcefire, which has close links with the DoD. (See US Checks Check Point, Check Point Snaps Up Sourcefire, Check Point Buys Sourcefire, and Check Point, Sourcefire Team.)

The next big challenge for Exponential, though, is a financial one. "We're still raising our second round of investment," says Keating, who, along with some partners, made the initial investment in the firm. The exec refused to reveal how much this was, or the identities of his partners.

Similarly, Keating would not reveal the size of his workforce, although a recent article in the local Maryland press said that Exponential has five employees.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • BlueArc Corp.
  • Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP)
  • Exponential Storage
  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)
  • Ibrix Inc.
  • PolyServe Inc.
  • Sourcefire Inc. (Nasdaq: FIRE)

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