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12/2/2004

Fast Times

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s massive Haystack Mountain Observatory, eyes on the sky keep watch on everything from space weather to solar astronomy to something called active galactic nuclei.

The observatory’s antennas and satellite dishes generate a massive amount of information, and it’s a Longmont company that allows it to be accessed as it’s being recorded.

MIT is one of many clients for Conduant Corp., founded in Boulder in 1996 as Boulder Instruments. The company designs and develops very high-speed disk-based recording/playback systems.

“Business is very good. The company has grown every year of its existence,” said Randy Burgess, Conduant’s director of marketing and communications, adding that the company expects to close out the fourth quarter of this year in stronger-than-usual fashion. “We’re forecasting, as part of our planning, another larger, record year next year, as far as year-over-year growth.”

Privately held Conduant had 2003 revenues of $2.7 million, according to Inc. magazine. The company also placed 172nd on the Inc. 500 list this year, and has been recognized for its growth by Deloitte & Touche and the Denver Business Journal.

“Our recorders currently record at 200 megabytes per second, which is really fast,” said Burgess, adding that even at that speed, there is “no degradation, no dropout.”

“In early 2005, we’re going to bump that data recording up to 400 megabytes per second.”

Burgess is referring to the company’s flagship product, its StreamStor architecture.

Among its unique characteristics are the speed at which it operates without losing any data and the fact that the recording can continue at that rate for hours, according to Tom Skrobacz, Conduant’s vice president of business development.

On top of that, he said, StreamStor uses multiple hard drives to record the data and eliminates the typical bottlenecks that occur when data quantities of this size are being recorded.

“We use them all in parallel, which guarantees that even if one or more drives are misbehaving in an array, the system will dynamically route the data (to the properly functioning drives),” Skrobacz said.

The U.S. Army and Navy, Lockheed-Martin and NASA are also among Conduant’s clients.

Earlier this month the company announced a strategic partnership with Longmont’s Mountain Optech Inc. to put Conduant’s products into Mountain Optech’s “ruggedized” hard drives.

“One of our big markets is the whole homeland security and defense market, and specifically the (unmanned aerial vehicle) market,” said Mark Poling, Mountain Optech’s CEO.

Mountain Optech takes standard hard drives and “ruggedizes” them so they can function in harsh conditions, such as deep underwater, at extremely high altitudes and at a vast range of temperatures.

“They push the specs of a standard disk drive to a higher level,” Skrobacz said.

Conduant’s technology is in use in a lot of different environments, but a landlocked antenna station is much different from a UAV flying low and fast over a Middle Eastern desert. Mountain Optech’s drives can provide a safe environment for the Conduant technology.

Poling is a big admirer of Conduant and said it made perfect sense for his company to partner with it. What makes Conduant unique, he said, is that in the past, storing large amounts of data at high speeds was like “pouring 10 gallons of water down a 5-gallon pipe.”

“They’ve built a 10-gallon pipe,” Poling said.

Currently Conduant employs 11 full-time people at its Longmont headquarters, where it builds both StreamStor and its Big River model recorders. The company is expanding its sales force both nationally and internationally, and plans are in the works for an office on the East Coast.

At this point, the company has few competitors. Large storage companies don’t do the type of high-speed, high-performance storage that Conduant does, according to Skrobacz. But that’s not to say one of those large companies might not want to buy out or partner with Conduant someday.

“We’re certainly looked at by a number of people in the industry from time to time,” said Skrobacz. “We’ve certainly beat the odds in terms of sustainability. Most hardware companies fold in the first two- to three-year’s time frame.”

One key to the company’s growth, he said, is that Conduant continues to outpace the sensory technology that’s actually used to gather data.

“Our technology has always recorded at a faster rate than the application environment has required,” he said. “We’ve always been ahead of the curve.”

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