Cisco buys NeoPath Networks to enter virtualisation arena

The networking giant is throwing its hat into the file virtualisation ring acquiring a startup it invested in last year.

Cisco Systems is to acquire privately held file virtualisation partner, NeoPath Networks. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

NeoPath's File Director product is an in-band appliance that creates a virtualisation layer between a user's clients and file servers, decoupling the file name paths from their physical locations. This turns large numbers of file systems into a single logical pool of storage making the environment simpler to manage. NeoPath markets two appliances: the rack-mounted File Director 220 and the blade-based File Director 7200.

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Cisco made a strategic investment in NeoPath last April, one month after networking competitor Brocade Communications Systems snapped up file virtualisation startup NuView Systems Inc.

"That Cisco would be looking to move deeper into this space is not surprising," said Steve Duplessie, founder and analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. "It's still a nascent market, but file virtualisation is very interesting."

Since its acquisition of NuView, Brocade has been aggressively marketing products based on the intellectual property acquired with the startup and promoting the term file area network (FAN). Meanwhile, Cisco has been relatively quiet with NeoPath and has also touted its relationship with EMC Corp.'s Rainfinity subsidiary for file virtualisation.

However, according to Duplessie, the network-based writing was on the wall for Cisco. "Inevitably all layers of infrastructure in the data center have to be abstracted in order to mitigate the effect of changes on the environment," he said. "Cisco is obviously a big believer in services, like file virtualisation in the network."

Brocade might be taking a deep breath as Cisco barges into a market space, virtualisation,  it had been leading thus far, but Duplessie said the implications of Cisco's entry into this market go beyond its storage networking competitors.

"Cisco's lineage is IP, and IP is inherently more conducive to network attached storage (NAS) operations than Fibre Channel," Duplessie said. "This has an impact not only on Brocade but potentially on everyone who makes an Ethernet switch as well."

Other companies in this space include Network Appliance (NetApp), Acopia Networks and Attune Systems.

Acopia CEO Chris Lynch dismissed the deal as a "toe in the water" for Cisco, claiming NeoPath's technology is "limited in scope." He said Cisco had talked with Acopia but wasn't willing to stump up enough money. "We think Acopia is a $1 billion company on its way to a successful IPO."

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