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Barrall spins out Drobo, keeps Connected Data

Drobo is under new ownership again.

Founder Geoff Barrall is spinning low-end NAS vendor Drobo out of Connected Data, marking the third major management shift in Drobo’s 10-year-history. A group headed by former BlueFin Technologies CEO Mihir Shah will buy Drobo, two years after Barrall bought back the company he started in 2005 and left in 2009.

After leaving Drobo following a dispute with investors about the startup’s strategy, Barrall and other Drobo executives started file sharing vendor Connected Data in late 2011. Barrall then acquired Drobo in 2013, merging it with Connected Data.

Barall remains CEO of Connected Data.

Shah had been CEO of IT service provider and consultant BlueFin since last August. He previous served as managing director of corporate development and strategy at Fibre Channel switch vendor Brocade from 2010 to 2014. His background is in finances and mergers/acquisitions. He also worked in corporate development at IBM, sat on the board of InMage Systems and worked for several venture capitalist firms.

Barrall said he thought Connected Data and Drobo could fit under one roof when he re-acquired Drobo, but he discovered they are best run separately. He will remain on Drobo’s board.

“It became apparent they really are two different companies,” he said. “They have two different manifest destinies, two different brands and two different markets. So we’re splitting into two companies.”

Barrall said he concentrated on cutting costs at Drobo while adding product such as the B1200i hybrid storage array. He said Drobo has become profitable, while Connected Data still operates at a loss but is off to a good start with its Transporter enterprise replication product.

“Expenses were very high when we acquired Drobo,” he said. “We got the operating costs of the business in line.”

He said Connected Data has about 40 employees and Drobo has 24, with few working across both. New Drobo CEO Shah said he expects to add to its head count, especially in marketing.

Shah said he is impressed that Drobo’s storage can be used by non-technical people, and plans to add cloud integration and expand into use cases such as military operations, video surveillance and restaurant franchises.

“Our goal is to grow it into the number one or number two market position,” Shah said. “We think we can double the business in the next two-and-a-half years.”

Shah is the second former Brocade executive to become Drobo CEO. Tom Buiocchi, who replaced Barrall at Drobo in 2009, had been Brocade’s VP of marketing.