F5 picks up pieces of file virtualization player Attune

Sign of the times: Attune's intellectual property went on the auction block in December, and has been absorbed into F5's file virtualization portfolio.

F5 Networks Inc. quietly scooped up the intellectual property of privately held file virtualization rival Attune Networks last month, F5 executives told SearchStorage.com.

Attune put its IP up for sale in December after deciding to close its doors because of lack of funds. Attune had fewer than 100 customers for its Maestro File Manager products that focused on virtualizing Windows NAS systems, according to sources close to the company. Attune's CEO Alan Kessler this week was named president of intrusion detection systems vendor Tipping Point.

F5 purchased more than 20 issued and pending patents for file virtualization technology and source code from Attune, F5 VP of data system architecture Rick Gillett said.

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Three of the Attune patents were awarded from 1999-2001 when the company was known as Z-Force, and focused on scaling performance of multiple file systems joined together as well as mechanisms for intercepting file requests. F5 will purse another 20 pending patents, Gillett said.

F5's ARX file virtualization product line comes from its $210 million acquisition of Acopia in 2007. With the addition of Attune's IP, ARX will eventually be able to query contents within a file system beyond simple metadata such as when data was created, modified and last accessed. "This would let you make decisions based on, 'This file is owned by this person in this group,'" Gillett said.

F5 said in a statement to SearchStorage that it "did not acquire any obligations (or rights) to [Attune] customers or that business; we only bought the IP. Attune ceased operations in early December and notified its customers at that time that they were not offering any further support."

Zak Khalil, IT director of the Lessard Group Inc. architectural firm, said his company was testing Attune when it got word that the vendor was ceasing operations. Because Maestro was not in production in his shop, Khalil said he will reuse the hardware and move on to other projects. "It was a good move [for Attune]," he said. "But I doubt we'll have any interest in a new product. We don't have the time to start a new storage initiative in the next three months."

file system modifications hurt Attune

Gillett attributed Attune's fate to its decision to modify file system directories when moving data. Attune made "a pretty straightforward product decision made early on that we don't think was the best one for competing in this space," he said. "We know from experience it's just so hard to convince a customer [to buy] when you already are trying to convince them to change their thinking with file virtualization in general," he said.

Because of this approach, most of Attune's source code will not be absorbed into the ARX switch, except for reporting capabilities Attune added last October.

F5 did not disclose the price it paid for the Attune IP, except that it was a modest amount not material to F5's business. "In this market, you can imagine a lot of these assets are available at a very good price," Gillett said.

More storage vendors on the block?

Analysts are predicting more consolidation in the storage industry in this down economy, as small players go under or see their valuation lowered and bigger vendors take advantage of the climate to invest. In similar news Thursday, e-discovery vendor Onsite3 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and disclosed plans to be acquired by Integreon Managed Solutions Inc.

As consolidation goes, there are probably going to be bigger ripples to come than these. Steve Duplessie, founder and analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, said "Its no big deal – [F5] basically stole some really good file inspection and discovery IP. It just helps them potentially offer more and better services because by being able to see more, they can do more."

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