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Intel Capital Invests in Mac-focused Active Storage

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Is it possible that the Mac is making inroads with Enterprise IT? Intel Capital announced at CEO Summit that it is leading a Series A investment round in Active Storage of Torrance, CA, which builds high-performance storage solutions for the Mac platform. Other investors in this round include Mission Ventures and Valhalla Partners. Intel Capital invests in companies that drive demand for Intel (s intc) products, but it also looks to make money and apparently it sees money in enterprise-class solutions for the Mac.

Active Storage was born out of Apple’s decision to discontinue the Xserve RAID. Alex Grossman, CEO of Active Storage, and the other founders were previously executives in the Servers and Storage products group at Apple, Inc. They left to form their own company that would produce storage solutions of the same quality. While Apple has been pitching the Promise VTrack RAID as a replacement solution, Active Storage has developed its XRAID product line to be a lot more Mac-like with brilliant Mac-native management software. This is high-end gear for serious business — fibre-channel, redundant controllers, redundant power supplies, redundant cooling, etc — with an emphasis on performance. The XRAID comes in two flavors, the original XRAID with 16TB capacity expandable to 32TB and the XRAID ES with 4TB, expandable to 16TB.

All of this power is wrapped in a sexy package that feels very Apple like. The folks at Active Storage have put a lot of care into building enclosures with no sharp edges, tapered screws that sit flush with the chassis, thick gauge aluminum, and slick handles on the drive sleds that pop out with a light touch. I had a chance to take a look at the XRAID at Macworld Expo in January and the build quality on these units is astounding. Having been in a data center or two in my life, finding a polished product where attention has been given to every detail to make it simple to access from both the front and the back of the rack is a real joy. One of the coolest pieces is an iPhone monitoring app that gives you all the details you could want on how the XRAID is performing even when you are not near the data center. This is definitely a storage solution fit for a Mac.

The extreme ease of use in a Mac environment has made Active Storage popular in the entertainment crowd. When asked to explain further, Mr. Grossman explained that, “You may not know this because you aren’t in working with these systems every day, but feature-length movie production requires 50 to 100TB of storage. And that need doesn’t go away when the movie is finished either. There is a need for long-term archival storage as well. And it doesn’t always make sense to use tape backup, so disk-to-disk archiving is growing.”

Final Cut has made the Mac platform a common choice for film editing with some feature films like King Kong being composited and edited entirely on Macs. With the advent of HD, the storage needs for films are growing astronomically. Active Storage appears to be positioned to take advantage of that trend. It makes a great hardware solution in conjunction with Apple products like the Xserve, Final Cut Server, and Xsan 2.

The company currently has about 25 employees, but about 50 open positions on its web site. It is obviously looking to grow substantially in 2010, especially with this capital available to fund hiring and product development.

It is great news to see a well-respected investment fund like Intel Capital place bets on the Mac market, especially in a company that is focused on enterprise-class solutions for the Mac.

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