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In a move intended to provide a combined SAN and file networking infrastructure to enterprises using Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 platform, Brocade Communications has purchased a minority ownership share in privately held Tacit Networks.

The purchase will allow Brocade Communications Systems Inc. to add Tacit Networks Inc.’s WAFS (wide-area file services) solution built on Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 to Brocade’s product line, enhancing the San Jose, Calif. company’s overall product offerings in the storage networking space. Tacit Networks’ WAFS solution extends network storage services over the WAN.

Prompting the deal, at least in part, was feedback from customers about their need for file technology for the enterprise and the need to better manage data in remote branch environments, said Jay Kidd, Brocade’s chief technology officer.

“We sought out a solution for wide-area file management and decided that Tacit was the best fit,” he said.

The Tacit technology is truly unique and the involvement of Brocade will make it more accessible to many organizations that might not have considered it without Brocade’s involvement, said Alex Gorbansky, a senior analyst at Taneja Group of Hopkinton, Mass.

“You put a little appliance in your remote office, which ties into a central server. You could have 50 appliances, one in each office, and a central Tacit server that serves as a proxy cache, which enables you to access files from your central NAS [network-attached storage]. It gives you the ability to access files from a remote office at LAN speed,” he said.

“Even things like opening a big Windows file, which generally takes 30-40 seconds, would take about one second with the Tacit appliance. And imagine the benefits for large CAD files that are megabytes of information where you have different designers accessing a centralized share from many different locations. The performance difference is significant,” Gorbansky said.

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The goal of combining Tacit’s technology with Brocade, said Greg Grodhaus, CEO of South Plainfield, N.J.-based Tacit Networks, is to create an end-to-end storage networking infrastructure in which branch office locations can now access centralized resources and use all of the availability characteristics via Brocade’s SAN (storage area network) infrastructure.

“There has been a real difference between WAN optimization and WAN-type operations that are typically in the networking environment, and storage operations. When companies talk about utilizing mission-critical data in their storage operations, they typically don’t consider the WAN because it’s notoriously unreliable and can have severe performance issues,” Grodhaus said.

“The customer with distributed file operations [probably] has a very mature and established SAN infrastructure, and they now have the opportunity to solve their end-to-end storage platform issues with one combined SAN and file networking infrastructure,” Grodhaus said.

Read more here about a possible new Microsoft server for midsized businesses.

The move positions Brocade extremely well competitively, Gorbansky said.

“Brocade traditionally has been selling SAN technology, but they are increasingly realizing that they are really all about providing consolidated access to storage in general, whether it’s SAN or, potentially, NAS. This starts getting Brocade into that NAS space,” he said.

The move also positions Brocade very favorably against Cisco Systems Inc., which purchased Actona Technologies Inc., a developer of wide-area file transfer software, last year.

“Now they have a comparative story to tell to Cisco and some compelling technology,” Gorbansky said.

Over the next several weeks, Tacit products will emerge as Brocade-branded versions, Kidd said. At the same time, Brocade will work with its OEMs to begin moving the products through large storage OEM channels. The two companies will partner for customer support and product development programs.