RIO Hops SATA Train

Byte and Switch

February 2, 2004


There’s still room aboard the serial ATA (SATA) bandwagon, but space is filling up fast

With that in mind, startup ARIO Data Networks jumped aboard today, announcing a family of SATA controller boards with chips and software emulation built in.

ARIO, based on San Jose, Calif., is trying for an early jump on controller chip companies such as Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT - message board), Promise Technology Inc., RaidCore Inc., 3ware Inc., and VIA Technologies Inc. Its claim to fame is that its controller chip is built right into its board, which comes in versions for Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and Ultra 320 SCSI connectivity (see SATA Suppliers Ready for Onslaught).

“They seem to be a little ahead of the game,” says Enterprise Management Associates senior analyst Mike Karp. “It’s a matter of time until others catch up, but time to market is everything here.”

ARIO’s chance of success depends on whether OEMs embrace its technology. One thing in its favor is that all of Ario's boards contain the same ASICs, firmware, and layout; only chips supporting various interfaces, such as iSCSI and Fibre Channel, are changed. That makes its easier for OEMs to qualify the boards and keeps down production costs.

Karp says the timing and OEM features are key, but nothing's guaranteed. “They’ve come into the marketplace at the right time and probably with the right product. They’re going towards OEMs rather than direct. With a startup, the question OEMs ask is whether the company will be around in a couple of years.”

ARIO's working on that. This is the company's first product. It has raised $17.3 million in two rounds of funding from Clearstone Venture Partners, Partech International, Triton Network Systems Inc., and Evercore Ventures. ARIO has partnership deals with chip makers LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI - message board), QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC - message board), and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL - message board); and hard drive vendors Western Digital Corp. (NYSE: WDC - message board) and Maxtor Corp. (NYSE: MXO - message board). It claims to have OEM deals with major subsystems vendors but isn’t ready to announce them.

ARIO spokespeople say the company is contemplating a third funding round. Most of its 59 employees are in research and development, and it plans to keep pace with the market by offering SATA II and SAS support later this year.

Bottom line? ARIO's got a couple of things going for it, including the fact that it's entering the SATA market for lower-cost disks just as it heats up. It's also got a well-planned strategy based on a clear differentiator pitched at OEMs. On the downside, ARIO's likely to run into gangs of competition, some of which could put it out of the game -- or, then again, keep it alive through acquisition.

“The SATA market is really starting to take off,” acknowledges Eric Herzog, ARIO’s VP of business development. “This is a huge market and there’s going to be a lot of players.” But he's optimistic, he says, because ARIO's starting out "on top of the pricing and feature curve."

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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