Cisco buy to link remote resources

Cisco Systems Inc.’s plans to acquire Actona Technologies Inc. is a move to help users link remote enterprise resources with corporate storage and file serving.

The proposed US$82 million buyout of Actona, announced last week, gives Cisco a remote office storage and caching appliance, which it will later offer as a module on 2600 and 3700 series WAN routers. Cisco says the technology can be used to eliminate remote file servers, storage and back-up devices from branch offices, while boosting performance of centrally hosted Unix-, Linux- and Windows-based applications.

Actona has 48 employees who will become part of Cisco’s Routing Technology Group. The acquisition is expected to close in November. Cisco owned 17 per cent of Actona before the acquisition announcement.

Actona sells a caching appliance that sits in a remote branch office and provides a local instance of files stored on systems in a central data centre. The appliance provides support for Network File System (NFS) and Common Internet File System (CIFS) environments used in Unix, Linux and Windows servers.

These local instances of data and their file systems, along with traffic compression, let files be accessed and saved more quickly between the remote and central sites, Cisco says, because CIFS and NFS messages don’t have to be passed over the WAN link. Plus, only changes to an opened file are sent back to the central site, instead of the entire file. The technology also eliminates the need for remote office backup, which can be slow over low-speed links, Cisco says.

The appliances include local hard disks and can attach to additional storage devices or connect to file servers or network-attached storage systems. They also support print server functions. The products do not support Novell File System.

Actona’s devices, which compete with products from Tacit Networks Inc., Riverbed Technology Inc. and Novell Inc., are priced starting at US$65,000.

“The acquisition does make sense since it could be used to extend Cisco’s intelligent network model further into the storage arena,” says Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst with The Yankee Group.

Cisco plans to sell Linux-based appliances running on Actona’s ActaStore EdgeServer remote office software, as well as its ActaStore CoreServer data centre product. In addition to putting Actona-based blades on routers, Cisco says it plans to put ActaStore CoreServer functions onto a service module for the Catalyst 6500 switch, which is used widely in data centre networks.

Cisco expects to have standalone, Actona-based products by the year-end, and integrated switch/router products next year.

One user with a large Cisco router network says the technology sounds interesting, but his company is taking another route to centralizing applications while decreasing LAN latency.

“The fewer pieces of hardware out there, the better,” says Barry Krell, director of telecommunications for CarrAmerica Realty Corp. , a Washington, D.C., real estate firm with offices across the U.S.

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