Network Appliance is entering the wide area file system (WAFS) market in partnership with Cisco. It means employees in offices will be able to access files at near-LAN speed from a data centre through Cisco WAN boxes, known as File Engine products.

The NetApp and Cisco agreement covers hardware and software support for Cisco’s WAFS products with NetApp fabric-attached storage (FAS) systems, NearStore nearline storage systems, and V-Series virtualisation systems.

The idea is to remove files from remote and branch offices and store them in data centres where backup disciplines can be professionally and reliably applied to protect the data. By speeding up network access - the Cisco File Engine part - remote users get LAN or near-LAN speed access across the wide area network link to the files in the datacentre.

The Cisco File Engine products use protocol-level caching, compression, and network-optimisation techniques to minimise the delay associated with file-server access over the WAN. They support both Windows (CIFS) and Unix (NFS). More information can be found here.

However there is no mention by either supplier of application support, such as Notes/Domino plug-ins, nor of DHCP or print server support. Without these, Expand Networks VP Adam Davison claims there is no realistic possibility of removing the file servers from remote offices when consolidating remote office data to data centres.

Competitors include Expand and DiskSites which recently announced their WAFS product. Others in the market include Brocade with Tacit Networks, Juniper with Peribit, and Riverbed.

Cisco has a similar arrangement to the one with NetApp with EMC for its NAS products. With Cisco having a commanding market presence and having notched up agreements with both EMC and NetApp it looks set to dominate the emerging WAFS market.