Microsoft continues move into storage management

Microsoft Corp. advanced its drive into the data storage management market recently with the acquisition of XDegrees Inc., a small developer of software designed to enable secure access to information stored across enterprise systems.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, and Microsoft declined to comment beyond a prepared statement touting the synergy between XDegrees’ focus on distributed information access and Microsoft’s concentration on storage.

Michael Tanne, CEO of Mountain View, Calif.-based XDegrees, said his 2-year-old company’s software permits continuous access to IT resources, regardless of where they are, without having to deliberately address a specific disk or file system.

“Our system allows you to have a name or link to that file system, just like a URL, and when you click on that link, you get the file,” Tanne said. “You didn’t have to know or think in advance where that file is. You reference the file by its link or its name, and the location of the file is abstracted away from the user.”

XDegrees’ technology assets and some members of its 14-employee team will be relocated to Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Wash., effective immediately. Tanne said he won’t be joining Microsoft, but an unspecified number of XDegrees’ engineers plan to do so.

XDegrees was acquired by Microsoft’s core file services group, according to Tanne. But Tanne added that the group obviously has ties to the enterprise storage group that was formed late last year under Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia.

Analysts have been speculating for months about the direction Microsoft will take in the storage market. Since Muglia took the reins of the company’s newly formed enterprise storage division late last year, that group has been quiet with details about its plans.

Muglia’s group is charged with developing “a cohesive product and business strategy for the evolution” of Microsoft file systems, network-attached storage, storage-area networks, backup, continuous availability, near-line storage and storage resource management, according to Microsoft’s Web site.

A spokesman earlier this year said Muglia’s unit would be considering partnerships and technology developments, but beyond that, no business decisions had been made.

Laura Koetzle, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said the XDegrees software should be useful technology for Microsoft, with its ability to insert a “virtual logical file-system layer” between users and their various storage disks, creating a unified view that is searchable as a single resource.

“I’m not sure how terribly strategic it is, but it’ll certainly be an incremental improvement over the existing Microsoft .Net file system technology,” she said.

Bill North, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the XDegrees server software, in addition to easing file access, also “acts as a point of authentication for security purposes, controlling access to the data.”

“It’s like extending DNS beyond domain names into content management. I think this is the attraction for Microsoft,” North said.

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