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Compellent chips away, increases revenue

Of all the storage companies that have reported their earnings for last quarter, only one has increased revenue from the previous quarter. And that was the smallest of the public storage systems vendors – Compellent.

Compellent’s revenue of $28.1 million in the first quarter of 2009 ticked up from $26.7 million in the last quarter of 2008. That earned Compellent $1 million in income. That and a 4% revenue increase are modest under normal circumstances but not bad during a recession. Compellent added 98 customers in the quarter, with 55% of its revenue coming from existing rather than new customers.

“We grew revenue by hitting a lot of singles,” Compellent CEO Phil Soran said. “We did not have large revenue deals to get us to this revenue growth.”

While it’s unlikely that big storage vendors such as EMC and NetApp are worried about a singles-hitter chipping away at their business, Compellent’s success helps showcase what people are spending their storage budgets on these days.

Compellent tends to sell its modular systems to smaller companies who use its software such as thin provisioning and Automated Tiered Storage to manage data better, and then buy more capacity when needed. These customers aren’t cutting back spending as much as large enterprises who have been overbuying storage for years.

“Selling into the enterprise is a little more challenging than in midsize enterprises, but we’ve made some inroads there,” Soran says, pointing to the addition of Travelers Insurance and the FBI as customers. “Large enterprises buy 30 terabytes every month whether they need it or not. The economy has affected them. In midsize companies, they know when they need it and they buy more storage when they need it. Customers still have to store data but find more efficient ways to do it.”

Compellent started rolling out solid state drives last quarter, and Soran says even midrange customers are using them. Hedge fund Munder Capital Management will appear at Compellent’s C-Drive users’ conference next week to discuss its use of SSDs with Complellent’s Storage Center system.

Automated Tiered Storage is a key piece of Compellent’s SSD strategy. The application is designed to move data intelligently among tiers, a capability industry experts and some of Compellent’s large competitors say will be necessary to make SSDs catch on.

“Automated Tiered Storage is the killer app for solid state devices,” Soran said. “People have to find a way to manage inactive data, and solid state heightens the need for it.”

Compellent also facilitates smaller purchases because it has one platform that customers upgrade by adding cards for different functionality and doing software upgrades instead of forklift upgrades. Soran says support for 8 Gbps FC, 10-Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and better integration with server virtualization is on the roadmap.

But Compellent’s streak of 14 straight quarters of sequential revenue growth is in jeopardy. The company’s guidance of from $27 million and $29 million for this quarter means it would have to get nearer the top than the bottom to increase over last quarter. It was also a little lower than financial analysts expected, although analysts see Compellent continue to stroke singles for the near future.

“In the field, we continue to see Compellent experience solid win rates, increasing deal sizes, and nice recurring revenue streams,” Amit Daryanani of RBC Capital Markets wrote in a note to clients. “Overall, we continue to see Compellent winning deals primarily on feature/function and scale.”

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