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Brocade Invests Big in WAFS

UPDATED: Brocade Communications Systems believes in wide area file services (WAFS), a storage technology that helps companies exchange content between data centers and branch offices with little latency.

The switch maker agreed to invest $7.5 million in WAFS specialist Tacit Networks for a minority ownership and will offer the startup's WAFS technology to its customers. Brocade has also agreed to market Tacit's system worldwide and assist in product development, lending its engineering, field and technical teams to the cause.

Tacit's WAFS system, which includes a server, operating system and remote office appliances, helps enterprises easily access files and applications from the data center. Tacit's OS runs Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003 platform.

According to research firm Enterprise Strategy Group, nearly 75 percent of an enterprise's data resides outside the data center, putting it at greater risk for loss or a hack attack. WAFS technology alleviates the risks by limiting the attack points at remote offices.

Tacit President Chuck Foley said the deal indicates WAFS is an accepted solution to the real problem of managing and sharing files among several branch offices of a company. Tacit's business is growing, he added.

"We have literally dozens of Fortune 500/Global 2000 customers; it's validation that like that make the bigger vendors like Brocade sit up, take notice and invest," Foley said in an e-mail exchange. "And, that investment will drive deployments to even higher levels."

Yankee Group analyst Stephanie Balaouras said companies promoting so-called emerging technologies need to buddy up with a more established partner to penetrate the mature storage market. It just so happens enterprise clients have been looking for solutions to deal with remote office management, she said.

"It's interesting to see different vendors attack the same problem, and wide area file services is one way to address the problem of remote management," Balaouras said in an interview.

The analyst also said the deal is indicative of a growing trend where storage networking vendors like Brocade are becoming networking vendors.

"Storage itself is critical, but it's now important to customers that you can address issues beyond storage."

To that end Tacit enjoys healthy competition from the granddaddy of networking companies, Cisco Systems . The company jumped into the WAFS market last year, acquiring Actona Technologies last June.

Tacit also competes with smaller vendors Riverbed Technology and FineGround Networks, which entered the nascent market last month. FineGround hopes to differentiate itself by offering customers only one appliance to centrally manage an entire enterprise's files.

Brocade's endorsement bodes well for Tacit. Startups often rely on help from or partnerships with larger vendors that find their particular brand of technology useful.

Should a larger company seek to acquire Tacit, it would have to answer to Brocade, a leading provider of switches that route data over storage area networks .