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Late in June when most of us were thinking about fireworks, barbeques and water sports, Cisco Systems Inc. made an interesting acquisition. The networking giant picked up Actona Technologies Inc. of Los Gatos, CA, a developer of wide area file-transfer software, for approximately $82 million. The storage buzz volume immediately increased, as everyone wanted to understand what Cisco was up to. Did this acquisition mean that Cisco was jumping into storage with both feet?

Not quite. Cisco did this deal because it viewed Actona's technology as a key piece of its Full-Service Branch (FSB) strategy. FSB tightly links a series of branch office products and services back to the enterprise. Actona's ActaStor is distributed file service software that integrates remote file shares with centralized data repositories. The product gives remote and branch office users the performance and feel of local access to file data. In other words, the Cisco/Actona marriage can provide companies with centralized control of remote offices for storage capacity, file transfer and backup services--a pretty compelling package.

Why focus on the branch office? After all, the big bucks are in the data center, right? Yes, data center budgets can be in the multimillion dollar range, but remote office storage is a burgeoning market. Remote offices feature:

  • Many distributed locations. While data centers need a lot of storage

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  • in a central location, remote offices need relatively little storage in many locations. It's not the least bit unusual for large companies to have dozens of remote offices to service.
  • Limited skills. Data centers have brainiac storage guys who are up on the latest technologies, vendors and methodologies. Large remote offices may have a few IT generalists responsible for telecommunications, storage and desktop support, but smaller remote offices may not have any IT expertise at all. At those offices, storage tasks may end up in the job description of an IT-challenged business administrator.
  • Lack of processes. Data center operations tend to be pretty organized and diligent. Remote office IT processes are often the exact opposite. Unskilled workers hack their way through storage administration, which is often the lowest priority on their to-do lists.

For years, these problems were recognized, but mostly ignored. With other high-priority storage issues at hand, companies invested in the data center while remote offices were nearly ignored.

This was first published in October 2004

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