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11/25/2004

Copan supersizes

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — It has been a bountiful year for Longmont-based Copan Systems.

In August, the data storage company announced it had received $25 million in second-round venture capital funding — the biggest injection of VC funding for any company in the state so far this year.

Then last week, Copan announced that Time Warner Cable had tapped the company and its flagship product, the Revolution 200T, to provide storage for archival footage generated by the media giants’ local television stations in 27 states.

TWC joins Yahoo! and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as prominent Copan customers.

For companies that require massive amounts of data storage, the question always has been: tape or disk?

Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but Copan’s system allows for long-term storage that blends the reliability of disk at the pricing, scaleability and manageability of tape, according to Dave Davenport, the company’s president and CEO and a 22-year veteran of the storage industry.

“As information ages, it drops in value, so you can’t justify the cost of keeping it on primary storage anymore, but you don’t want to get rid of it — you want to keep it,” Davenport said. “In many cases, with government regulations and so forth, you have to keep it.

“In the past your only (economical) option had been tape, but with the Copan system you now have the option of disk at the price point of tape.”

Copan’s architecture is called MAID or Massive Array of Inactive Discs. A term first coined at the University of Colorado at Boulder, MAID, which Copan hopes to patent, is a spinoff of RAID, or Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Discs. These are storage systems that employ two or more drives at a time.

The 200T stores data on disk but the system is configured in such a way that the drives don’t have to run constantly, extending the life of the drives and cutting back on operating expenses.

“The way that works is we manage the duty cycle of the drives, so one drive doesn’t sit idle too long, one doesn’t run continually too long,” Davenport said.

Referring to the Time Warner purchase, he said, “The size of the system they have is 56 terabytes. They think that they’ll grow this system up to 168 terabytes in the next three to six months.”

One terabyte is equal to about 1 trillion bytes of data.

To extend the life of the drives and keep the system functional, Copan uses what it calls “disk aerobics,” another term the company is patenting.

One of the main selling points of the 200T is that storage space can be added as necessary, while the ability to access the data when needed remains nearly instantaneous.

Dirk Grunwald is an associate professor in the computer science department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Director of the Colorado Center for Information Storage and a member of Copan’s board of advisers.

Grunwald said that the 200T can be used not only by companies that want to save data for reference — a credit card company, for instance, that needs to save customer data — but also by government agencies such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Another example would be the National Snow and Ice Data Center, where they categorize all the data they get from studying the ice in Antarctica. With a Copan system, Grunwald said, you could “save it forever.”

“That’s actually a growing thing in the sciences — to have these permanent storage repositories. They need a lot of places to put stuff — a lot of data space.”

Employing about 65 people, privately held Copan was founded in Austin, Texas, in 1992 and moved here the following year. Davenport said this area made a lot of sense for the company, particularly because of the work being done at CU regarding MAID.

“We found that the talent pool we were finding, the kind of resources we found available, we found Longmont was kind of the geographic center of that,” Davenport said.

With this area known as a mecca — as Davenport put it — Grunwald was asked what he thought Copan’s prospects were in making a name for itself in a competitive field.

“Yeah — a lot of (storage companies) are going bankrupt,” Grunwald said. “The thing that was interesting about Copan was they are taking a product to market and it’s a very compelling market. There are customers that you could see buying an awful lot of this stuff.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.