They may not be household names over here, but CNT's recent acquisition of Inrange has created a big new player in the world of storage networking.

"As a combined company we have more revenue than McData and are close to Brocade," says CNT chief executive officer Tom Hudson, the prime mover behind the acquisition. He admits that the two companies were not well known as individuals but says the acquisition, which was made in cash, will change that.

"We do have patchy presence and visibility but that doesn't recognise the strong level of trust we enjoy with our customers. Inrange had a good reputation but not a strong brand, so one of my objectives is to increase our profiles. My second objective is to increase our world-wide throughput - combined we're twice as strong."

CNT's speciality is interconnecting SANs over WANs, while Inrange develops Fibre Channel directors - enterprise-class high capacity switches - in competition with companies such as McData. Hudson's plan is to integrate the two product lines into one under the CNT banner. Within weeks of the take-over the new company had announced its first product - a 256-port Fibre Channel director with built-in WAN connectivity.

CNT needed to acquire new capabilities and sales channels, says Hudson: "I've thought about Inrange for three years - I've talked to three different CEOs there. I don't know if I could have afforded McData. I also looked at start-ups, but I liked Inrange's technology and it had the added benefit of an existing revenue stream. Plus, we have different strengths so it's a good fit.

"I liked the investment Inrange was making in high-end switches and management. The market was for smaller switches but is heading to higher densities now and we're ready for that. They were the only ones onto their third generation of Fibre Channel switches. They were late with their second generation, but the third brings more power and intelligence and a whole new architecture."

He insists that the acquisition will be 'accretive', meaning that the combined company will be profitable in its first year. "That's very hard to do in the technology space," he says. "We both lost money last year, we lost a little and they lost a lot, but we're both cashflow-positive. The real gleam in my eye is the cross-selling opportunities.

"I've studied the hell out of it and it will take out around 200 out of 1500 people, mainly by consolidating sales and service offices. We'll have one call centre by July. We will keep two development sites but each with a mission and a way to talk to each other.

"Only a few of those layoffs will be in Europe. It's expensive and it's distasteful - I like to build things up, not tear them down - but those are one-time costs. Machiavelli was right when he said whatever cuts you do, do them fast and then throw a party." (I really must read Hudson's translation of The Prince - it sounds a pretty interesting one - Ed)

Both companies did the bulk of their business in North America – 70 percent for CNT and 60 percent for Inrange. The combined organisation claims 3000 customers and 4000 installations world-wide. They will now look to grow those, selling directors into CNT customers and storage WANs into Inrange sites.

Hudson acknowledges there will be lost business along the way, in particular McData used to resell CNT equipment but says that CNT's strategy of combining direct and channel sales will continue.

"IBM is our biggest customer. 65 percent of IBM storage goes through indirect channels and they'd like it to be 80 percent. And it's not just small and medium businesses, it's large accounts too. What IBM has learned is how to deal with the channel and a direct salesforce. I've learned that too.

Direct market operation
"Very few companies have made it as an OEM alone, Intel may be the big exception. So I put my money on being a direct-to- market operation, with a direct salesforce to drive our partners and a world-wide service arm. Customers want larger scale integration and more manageability. All of ours have a heterogeneous environment and are dealing with old, current and new stuff, and we can help them with that." On the theme of SAN integration, he argues that today's standards leave too much room for manufacturers to do their own thing. "There has to be more standardisation," he says. "Open systems is a standard but it's so wide it's no standard any more. There's a difference between exclusive features and basic certification.

"Right now there's too much not working together and it takes too long to certify your hardware with the storage vendors - that's just FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt]. Let's agree on standards."

For CNT, that standard will be the FCIP (Fibre Channel over IP) protocol, rather than rivals such as iFCP (espoused by Nishan) or iSCSI. "I think the world is unsure about iFCP," Hudson says. "We have enabled our products for iSCSI but that market has not developed - iSCSI is more for local use today. But if iFCP does take off, CNT has more experience than anyone at doing multiple protocols."

And he believes this is exactly the right time to bring all this together: "The migration to SANs also means a need for MANs and WANs. We have only just begun. WAN storage is in its infancy."