Sun Microsystems inked a deal this week with Diligent Technologies, a storage management software vendor specializing in data deduplication. The partnership gives Diligent, launched in 2002, a potentially much larger profile in both the high-end and midrange markets, and gives Sun and its resellers access to a technology that can significantly enhance customers’ data protection and disaster recovery capabilities.

Diligent, which in August secured another $10.5 million in funding, launched as a company in 2002. Paul Morin, former director of operations for EMC’s media solutions group, is an investor and vice president of operations at the company.

ProtecTIER, the company’s data deduplication suite, was first released to market in late 2005; it boasts a 400M-bps processing speed for in-line data deduplication, more than double that of the advertised rates of some deduplication appliances.

“We’re the only company to prove that dedup is viable at the very high end,” said Diligent CEO Doron Kempel. And thus far, the company’s customers have been mostly very high end as well, backing up 10TB or more per night. “In that part of the market, we have seen no competition whatsoever.”

But the company has to move more toward the midmarket to grow, and as a small company, Diligent relies exclusively on resellers to get its product to customers. “Our main distribution channel has been Hitachi Data Systems,” Kempel said. “We also have about 40 other value-added resellers [worldwide].”

Now Sun has entered into a nonexclusive partnership similar to the one Diligent has with HDS. Sun can now resell Diligent’s ProtecTIER enterprise and midrange suites through both its direct sales force and Sun resellers, bundled with Sun’s high-end and midrange Sun Fire servers. The Linux-based software has been certified to run on Sun Fire x4200, 4600 and 4500 (“Thumper”) AMD-based servers, according to Kempel.

“We are very pleased,” Kempel said, “because Sun is a very strong player with a lot of dedicated customers, and now those customers have access to our product.”

The deal certainly does help Diligent reach a wider potential audience. While Diligent currently shares customers (and some resellers) with Sun, bundling the software with Sun’s midrange servers makes it potentially attractive to another whole class of customers beyond the ultra-high-end customers who were early adopters of the technology.

“For Diligent, it’s a good move,” said Paul Myerson, the senior channel analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group. For a smaller company like Diligent to grow, he said, “you can either chip away at the channel or find someone with inroads into the channel.” Sun gives Diligent the inroads. “And it’s a win for the reseller community because it gives them access to a new technology.”

And certainly, the channel will be critical for getting access to where Diligent is most likely to get a growth boost. “If you look at next-generation backup as a whole, data dedup is part of that,” said Myerson. “Typically, the smaller companies are more open to it because they’re more open to change.”

But just how well Diligent reaches that growth market is to some degree at the mercy of Sun. Sun has had a rocky relationship with its resellers, and just how much weight it will put behind a product based on Red Hat Linux remains to be seen. “That’s the big question mark,” said Myerson. “Is Sun going to focus on it and put the resources and incentives in place to make it work? Diligent is hanging in the wind a little bit here. Sun doesn’t have the best angle in the channel.”