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BlueArc CTO steps back

Geoff Barrall, founder and CTO of high-end NAS vendor BlueArc, is taking time out to join other boards, raising eyebrows among industry analysts over the company's future.

San Jose, Calif.-based BlueArc Corp. confirmed that its founder and chief technology officer Dr. Geoff Barrall is "scaling back" his role at the company to take a more active position on the advisory boards of other startups.

Barrall will remain in the CTO role at BlueArc, but will no longer be involved in the day-to-day running or selling of the company's high-end NAS server, Titan.

"BlueArc's challenge is to continue its growth as an established player, but as a product strategist I need time to look at other things," Barrall told He has taken positions on the boards of Data Domain Inc., Tacit Networks Inc. and OctigaBay Systems Corp., which was recently sold to Cray Inc., and he's checking out other prospects.

In the meantime, BlueArc hired Mike Gustafson, formally vice president of marketing at McData Corp., as president in June. He will take over all the daily sales and marketing operations at the company, relieving Barrall of this responsibility.

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Contrary to rumors, BlueArc is not retrenching to focus on key verticals that it has already had success in, namely high-performance computing and entertainment. Rather, it has hired a firm in Silicon Valley called Theory & Practice Inc. to help it pick out new markets to enter. This company will survey up to 200 prospective customers to see if BlueArc's technology is something they would be interested in. BlueArc expects to get the preliminary results from this survey back at the end of October.

These days it's easy to see why BlueArc might need help expanding its market. Randy Kerns, analyst at the Evaluator Group, points out that the systems vendors, notably Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM and Hewlett Packard Co., all now have NAS products, which makes it that much harder for BlueArc to get a look in. "It wasn't that way when BlueArc launched six years ago," Kerns said. "All this competition will also drive down pricing, which makes it harder for the smaller players."

BlueArc's biggest users include: Lawrence Livermore Labs, JP Morgan Chase, Nationwide, Massachusetts General Hospital, Roche, Sanborn, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Imagery and mapping Agency (NIMA) and Rice University. It claims to have over a 100 paying customers.

The one thing BlueArc doesn't have to worry about right now is funding. The company received $47 million last summer from three new investors. However, it has raised a total of $157 million from a host of different venture capitalists who will be breathing down its neck for a return on their investment. At the time of its last round, BlueArc executives said that it hoped to be profitable this year. But there's no word of it reaching this goal yet and with 165 employees, its overhead remains steep. "They are definitely not out of the woods yet," said Arun Taneja, founder and analyst of the Taneja Group.

Barrall was reluctant to give out roadmap details, but he said the company will continue its commitment to enhance the performance of the Titan system. "We offer 5 GB blades today, but the plan is to get to 20 GB on the blade," he said. That far outstrips anything on the market today.

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