Digital cinema boosts Vancouver tech firm

CRU makes portable devices that securely store data

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 
photoRandy Barber, president of CRU Inc., explains a device designed to safely store digital photo files.

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The movie industry's rapid shift to digital cinema has provided a fresh creative outlet for some filmmakers, cost advantages to distributors and picture-perfect viewings to audiences.

But the impact goes beyond the confines of Hollywood and your local movie theater.

Just ask Vancouver-based CRU Inc.

The 27-year-old company, which makes portable devices for corporations and government agencies looking to safely and securely store their data, has been busy capitalizing on the rise of digital cinema.

The company now holds a significant share of the digital cinema market, with many films distributed to theaters by way of its sturdy storage drives. CRU counts entertainment companies such as Dolby and Technicolor among its customers. And the Liberty Theatre in Camas, using its new digital projector, recently showed the 3D computer-animated comedy "The Croods," a film that arrived on a CRU hard drive.

"We have customers all around the world," Randy Barber, president of the company, said of the burgeoning digital cinema market. "Digital cinema is being rolled out country by country."

Indeed, it's a promising time for a growing business that's seen its share of changes over the years.

Originally founded in California in 1986, CRU went through two acquisitions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it ended up with Logitech International, which has offices in Camas.

Ultimately, Logitech decided to unload CRU. A boutique investment bank out of Portland put together a team, on which Barber served, to snap up the company.

When the deal went through, Barber, who has a background in electrical engineering, took the company's helm.

"It was a business that has a different model," Barber said, recalling the circumstances surrounding CRU's divestment from Logitech. "We're not a consumer company. Our channels to market are considerably different than what Logitech focuses on."

Today, CRU, headquartered along Southeast Tech Center Drive, has offices in California and Kansas. Barber declined to divulge the company's revenues but said CRU is profitable. When Barber took the company's reins some 10 years ago, the staff was in the low 20s. Now, CRU employs about 75 people, the bulk of whom work in Vancouver.

Digital cinema is important to CRU, but it's hardly the only market in which the company moves. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a customer. And agencies that deal in sensitive case files, such as the FBI, expect CRU to provide data-storage devices that allow information to be hidden from would-be thieves.

Moving sensitive data sets around "needs to be done safely and securely," Barber said. "You're not going to move them around the Internet."

Hundreds of thousands of the company's devices, which can sell for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, are in the field around the globe for commercial and government purposes.

The devices are designed and built to withstand the wear and tear of being transported and repeatedly put in and taken out of computer systems.

The company has competitors. They include Guidance Software, Inc., in Pasadena, Calif., and Logicube, headquartered in Los Angeles. Another threat to CRU may be "cloud computing," which, generally speaking, refers to the delivery of software, infrastructure and storage over the Internet.

Chris Kruell, director of marketing for CRU, said there's room for the company to grow no matter how "the cloud" evolves. "At the end of the day," he said, "computers aren't going away."

For now, the company is searching for new customers, including businesses that want an affordable way to preserve data in the event of a natural disaster.

"In that market, we're focusing on small to medium-size businesses," Barber said, "organizations that don't have tens of thousands of dollars to spend to secure their data but who need something that's reliable and secure."

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com