F5 Networks on Aug. 6 announced its intent to acquire Acopia Networks for $210 million in cash, thus snatching up the last independent file virtualization vendor left standing.
Privately held Acopia will help to propel F5 Networks further into the data center with its product portfolio technology, which allows customers to virtualize heterogeneous file-storage subsystems.
Although the market is still in its infancy, independent file virtualization companies for the most part have been snapped up by larger vendors. Cisco Systems earlier in 2007 acquired competitor NeoPath Networks, EMC bought Rainfinity and Brocade acquired NuView Systems.
"This is interesting: A lot of these new storage technologies have been purchased by storage companies as theyve grown up, but this is one area where the technology has been acquired by networking companies," said Rick Villars, vice president of storage systems research at International Data Corp. "I do think this is a recognition that presence in the data center is becoming more important," he said.
Although IDC has not yet sized the market niche or published a forecast, Villars said he believes it is a growth area within the overall storage market. "Its a small niche, but its growing. Acopia was one of the bigger players. Its the kind of market in the $100 million to $200 million range today, but given the growth were seeing in file-based services, it has the potential to grow faster than the overall storage industry," he said.
F5 sees similarities between what its flagship Big-IP load balancing and application delivery controller product does for servers and what Acopias ARX appliances do for storage devices, according to Andrew Stern, F5 Networks director of corporate development, in Seattle.
"We see a lot of parallels between this and the early days of the load balancing market, with a lot of different approaches, application vendors trying to bundle it on servers, and so on. The way it played out, it is a network problem; you need a network device to do it and more functionality has resided in that [network] point. Its our hope that plays out in the same way in this space as well," Stern said.
Click here to read more about Acopia and its file system virtualization technology.
To date, file virtualization technology has been implemented in servers, in hybrid offerings that include server-based code and devices, and in separate appliances.
Acopia, which has about 100 customers, provides appliances that can virtualize heterogeneous network-attached storage devices and file servers. "Anything that serves files using [Common Internet File System] or [Network File System protocols] can be virtualized using file virtualization technology. We do for file systems and file storage what VMware does for servers: We federate existing infrastructure and create a single pool of resources that can be carved up, shared and moved to make provisioning changes or move data without disrupting users during the day," said Kirby Wadsworth, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Acopia, in Lowell, Mass.
What sets Acopia apart from its competitors is its ability to "apply policies to the data as it flows through the network," Wadsworth said. For example, policies can be established and automatically executed that dictate that any file over 90 days old be moved to less expensive storage in the network. "As files age out we automatically move them over. Or if someone tries to save an MP3 audio file, well automatically put in on less expensive storage, so we free expensive resources for valuable data," he said.
Acopia also brings to the table a unique breadth of interoperability with a range of file storage and server products, Wadsworth said. Acopias FreedomFabric Alliance, formed to advance interoperability testing, qualifications and other activities, includes some 30 companies.
Although Wadsworth maintained that the majority of Acopias customers are larger enterprises in the Fortune 500, the companys ARX appliances can scale to support small to large data center installations.
Once the acquisition is completed in mid-September, Stern said initial integration will likely be done between Acopias technology and F5s WANJet WAN optimization appliances, acquired with Swan Labs.
Its not yet clear how Acopia will be organized within F5, although Stern said F5 intends to maintain Acopias facility in Lowell, Mass. Stern did not disclose what Acopia CEO Christopher Lynch will do post-acquisition.
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