StorCentric acquires Retrospect, which will become a separate subsidiary like Drobo and Nexsan

Retrospect, which started out as Dantz and whose products have been around for 30 years, will be paired with Drobo, as both are heavily focused on the sub-150 seat market.

Mihir Shah, StorCentric CEO

StorCentric, a holding company that was formed last year and has included Drobo and Nexsan, has added a third company to the mix, with the acquisition of privately-owned backup software company, Retrospect. Like the other companies in the portfolio, Retrospect will continue to operate as an independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of StorCentric. However, a version of it will be integrated with Drobo, and sold into the SMB/prosumer market where both companies are strongest, although they will both also continue to be available separately to customers who have another preferred storage or backup product.

StorCentric was formed in August 2018 with the acquisition of Drobo and Nexsan, with Drobo’s CEO, Mihir Shah, becoming the StorCentric CEO.

“Our vision is a set of companies and technologies that have a phenomenal customer base, but which which weren’t able to grow beyond a certain point,” Shah said. “The question was how do we best liberate some of these great technologies a lot of companies have not heard about.”

The common thread that unites all three acquired companies is that all three were long-established brands, with a significant and loyal install base, but whose growth to new customers had slowed down as their markets became more competitive. Retrospect was the product brand of Dantz, which was a separate company that goes back to 1989 until its acquisition by EMC in 2004.

“When EMC acquired Dantz they had a higher end backup and were looking for something lower down,” said JG Heithcock, Retrospect’s CEO, who started at Dantz in 1998 as a software engineering manager and has been with the company, through many incarnations, almost continually since. “Dantz fit in well with that initial plan. Dantz also had a strong channel sales organization and they wanted to incorporate more of that in their own DNA at that time. It all sounded great – and then things changed. After we came on board, there were internal business reorganizations that put us in a different business unit. Things kind of went downhill from there, and EMC wound up end-of-lifing the product. Many engineers left to VMware. I went to WildPacket.”

EMC was not yet done with the product, however.

“Months later, after another business reorganization, they questioned the end-of-lifing, and they reached out to me to be in charge of the engineering,” Heithcock said. “They said that ‘the Mac is coming back, so let’s go into Mac. Our task was to come out with a Mac-centric product, and we did that, with a new UI that was separate from the engine, something they were still working on for Windows at the time.”

Then another reorganization at EMC took place.

“We were spun out to Sonic in 2010, and they were acquired by another company in 2011, so we had the opportunity to spin out on our own,” Heithcock said. That happened in late 2011, with Retrospect being chosen as the new company name. Heithcock became VP of Engineering, and later added the CEO title in 2013.

JG Heithcock, Retrospect’s CEO

Heithcock described the new Retrospect as a virtual business, with fewer engineers than at EMC, who use Google Chat for meetings. At the same time, he noted that releases became more consistent and frequent than they had been at EMC. They also focused on the small business market, the kind of company that has two or fewer IT people on staff

“Small business is the easy look for us,” Heithcock said. “The Retrospect engine can easily backup up 200 clients. We do have some with 500. but its about the outer limit. We do have some larger brands as customers, but they tend to be on the franchise model.”

The product line has been built out. While they did not have cloud backup capability at all earlier, they now support 20 different clouds, almost half of which have been added in the last year.

“We have added new things like email protection, for a complete protection solution with servers, storage, endpoints and cloud. We have also ported the dashboard to Web services, so we can be seen in any browser.”

One might think that with such tumult in Retrospect’s history of being acquired that Heithcock would be leery of being acquired again. The difference here is that StorCentric has a solid knowledge of Retrospect’s core market, rather than a plan to use it to build that market out. StorCentric also has a proven commitment to the space.

“This opportunity is one of these deals which makes sense for both sides,” Heithcock said.

Shah also stressed it makes a lot of sense for StorCentric.

“When we look at acquiring businesses, we want to make sure the product delights customers and channel partners,” he said. “Their partners rave about the product. We like to buy products that are easy to work with – not just science products. They also have a lot of customers.” Since their original inception, they have had 500,000 customers over the years.

“When we learned they were in our backyard. Ironically, we first through about a partnership for super-easy SMB backup and storage,” Shah noted. “Then we thought, if we can bundle it, we can integrate it. Our partners said nobody else has an appliance where it is so easy to upgrade.”

The Retrospect brand will remain.

“StorCentric, at the end of the day is a holding company,” Shah said “We will never have a StorCentric branded product. We may use that branding for services, but all the products will have their unique brands. Customers know and are familiar with the branded products.”

The logical fit for Retrospect within the portfolio is with Drobo

“Nexsan is midmarket and enterprise-focused storage, with products like our Assureon archiving solution, which is private blockchain,” said Rod Harrison, CTO of StorCentric. “Drobo on the other hand, fits at the prosumer level, the small business level, and the departmental level in larger companies.”

“Drobo is more at the edge, with customers like insurance company branch offices and  small healthcare facilities that do imaging,” Shah said. “Against HCI at the edge, it comes down to cost. Drobos hold 64 TB of data for a sub-$2000 product which is easy to use.”

Drobo has always emphasized its relative simplicity in the market, and while storage products as a whole have become less complex to use than in Drobo’s early days, Harrison said that it is still a big differentiator for them.

“Even though storage is easier, Drobo still resonates with professionals because we don’t tax them with RAID questions,” he said. “Now, there are now competitors that support mixed drive sizes as we have always done, but we still stand out by being able to automatically rebuild. That’s great for customers like photographers who are often out of the office. This is still a differentiation for us.”

Shah laid out the plans for product integration.

“We will sell Drobo and Retrospect products individually until we have identified an integration point,” he said. “Then we will combine Retrospect within Drobo software to create an easy to use backup appliance that is robust. We will focus on what customers want. But they will still be able to purchase both products separately if they want to do that.”

The partner programs remain separate. The plan is to keep the Retrospect and Drobo programs separate until there is a perceived need to integrate them. The Nexsan and Drobo programs will always remain separate, because their markets are fundamentally different, even through some partners do sell both.

So with Drobo and Retrospect making a logical pairing going forward, is Nexsan fated to be a standalone? Perhaps not.

“We have another acquisition coming down the pipe,” Shah noted.