Friday, January 14, 2011

InPhase and Holographic Storage still Fighting for Survival.

At the recent Storage Visions Conference I listened to a presentation that declared InPhase Technologies and hence holographic storage was dead. However being the ever optimist and having a past history of advocacy for InPhase I decided to meet with the new CEO and EVP Engineering to get a better understanding of the companies status.

Bottom line: While the press coverage declaring their demise might be a bit premature, are they healthy and vibrant, no, but are they dead, not quite.

In February of 2010 the press reported that InPhase had closed its doors and its assets were being sold for back taxes. However in March of 2010, InPhase was dragged back from the fiscal precipice when the Signal Lake injected cash into a restructured and much reduced InPhase. The charter of the revamped organization was to focus the development effort on proving the commercially viability of their technology by building on a successful holographic storage prototype and delivering a sellable product to the market

Unfortunately this was a challenge that proved beyond the restructured team and InPhase once again ran out of resource runway. Today the company and its key talent are in a holding pattern as the new executive team and Bart Stuck of Signal Lake work to secure a new round of financing.

While there is still work to be done to make the technology commercially viable the InPhase does not believe that there is any new invention required. I did not sense any attempt to minimize the magnitude of the effort remaining but there was confidence that the technical challenges to productize what is a proven, working, holographic storage prototype are understood and well defined.

Walking through the eerily silent facility I saw a media production line sitting in crates waiting to be activated, a laboratory equipped and ready to complete work with an overseas partner on a consumer variant of the technology, the completed second phase of a three phase federal project and the basis of a production line capable of turning out drives. However, what is not there is funding.

So if they are successful in their funding efforts and succeed in delivering a commercially viable product the question is “What and how big is the market? “ InPhase tags the TAM for their Holographic technology at $10B, not massive but very healthy. They describe their sweet spot as long term, deep archive environments characterized by historically valuable, fixed content, persistent data. The verticals targeted include digital preservation where the vast stores of analogue film/video are being migrated to digital format and the rich data environments of digital downloads from satellites and surveillance drones.

So who will actually buy the blasted thing? Well, they have an impressive prospect list that reads like the who’s who of the media and entertainment industry, they have completed two phases of a three phase federal project, they have generated hardware revenue, admittedly with only one customer and they have 20+ media customers.

In my discussion with the InPhase team there was confidence but there were no Pollyanna like attitudes, the magnitude of the challenges appears to be well understood. So with $100M already invested, will they find eager investors with the appetite to take on this bleeding edge technology and bring it over the finish line? I sure hope so!

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