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NetApp to OEM data classification software

NetApp will next week announce data classification software based on an OEM agreement with Kazeon.

Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) will next week announce plans to OEM data classification software from Mountain View, Calif., startup Kazeon Systems Inc., adding an important piece of ILM technology to its portfolio.

Data classification software indexes information and executes a range of precise actions on that content. Based on policies, it can determine access rights to a file, as well as its residency, movement and final home within the storage infrastructure. That's the theory at least.

"Data classification is where the rubber meets the road, it's the core starting point of an ILM system … You can't make decisions about your data until it's classified," said W. Curtis Preston, vice president of service development at storage consultancy Glasshouse Technologies Inc.

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Kazeon's software, expected to ship soon, is "content-aware," meaning that it classifies data based on the content in the files, not just the meta data. The latter provides data about the data, such as when it was created and how big the file is. But by classifying files based on the information inside them, Kazeon claims it can provide faster file retrieval, particularly useful when compliance regulators are knocking at the door.

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., added that Kazeon's software is notable for its ability to work with legacy data as well as new files, which differentiates it from other data classifications products on the market. Arkivio Inc., Seven Ten Storage Software Inc., Abrevity Inc. and StoredIQ Corp. also sell data classification products.

"Finding data, ranking it, moving it and protecting it is a huge challenge," Preston said. "As a result, it's the biggest barrier to implementing ILM … It's an incredibly painful process today because it is so manual."

NetApp and Kazeon declined to comment on the deal before its official announcement next week, but sources close to both companies said it will be some time before the fully functioning product is available. For example, Kazeon is talking about a migration capability, but this is still a ways off on its road map.

Users requiring a data migration tool today can check out NetApp's only other OEM partner, NuView Inc., which sells a product called File Lifecycle Manager that will migrate data between primary and secondary storage.

"Content and meta data-based classification are important for users ... One is used for compliance and the other is used for lifecycle management, thereby saving primary storage and backup costs," said Rahul Mehta, founder and CEO of NuView.

Another consideration when classifying data is how much of it might be wrongly classified and what happens if a user tries to implement encryption alongside data classification, as the two are handled separately.

NetApp's deal with Kazeon is the second announcement in a matter of months that stretches the company beyond its traditional NAS roots into a new market. NetApp acquired storage security appliance maker Decru Inc. for $272 million in June.

The company's acquisition and partnering strategy appears to be around bleeding-edge technology that's a long way off from mainstream adoption. "It's an interesting strategy, given the company missed its numbers last quarter," said Dan Renouard, analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co.

Moreover, NetApp still hasn't fixed the problem of scaling its filers, which was supposed to be solved with the $300 million acquisition of Spinnaker Networks Inc. in November 2003.

"That's a hard problem to solve. They have the right road map, but yes, it's taking a while," Duplessie said.

From a competitive standpoint, EMC Corp. is also gobbling up startups, recently acquiring file migration player Rainfinity Inc. and SAN switch provider Maranti Networks Inc. It's clear that both companies are buying innovative products long before they are building them.

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