It is popularly supposed that the file area network or FAN concept was originated by a Taneja Group analyst, Brad O'Neill, and first appeared in a June, 2006, InfoStor article written by him.

That is wrong.

In fact it is a Brocade-created concept. The analyst mentions have effectively endorsed a Brocade-created term and have been co-opted by Brocade as part of its marketing activities. Analysts have to mine deep and follow ore-bearing seams to find gold. This tale shows how closely entwined analysts and suppliers can become, and how a clever supplier can make use of analysts.

FAN genesis

The origination of the FAN concept began for me when I saw the Infostor article by Brad O'Neill. The article states "Earlier in 2006, Taneja Group broadly defined the term “File Area Networking."

Brad O'Neill confirmed this in an e-mail: "I coined the "FAN" term in a May 2006 article that appeared in InfoStor Magazine."

Arun Taneja, head of the Taneja Group, supported him: "Brad is the creator of the concept and Brocade has been the first one to endorse it."

Pre-InfoStor FAN origination

The actual history of the FAN concept predated the Brad O'Neill InfoStor article, and first appeared in public three months or so earlier.

Brocade bought NuView on March 6, 2006. During a March 7, 2006, conference call about the acquisition Brocade officials said they saw NuView "technology addressing an emerging need for "file area network" technology, compared to the company's core block-based SAN technology."

The FAN concept was then publicly repeated in a May 18, 2006, second quarter financial results statement by Brocade: "During Q2 06, Brocade announced the acquisition of NuView, Inc., a Houston-based provider of software solutions for enterprise file data management. NuView's suite of products extends Brocade's expertise and leadership in shared storage into the emerging segment of File Area Network (FAN) solutions."

Clearly the FAN concept was alive and well and kicking inside Brocade three months before the apparently seminal InfoStor Brad O'Neill article.

FAN chronology

Before March 2006 - No public FAN mentions at all, by NuView or anyone else.
March 7th 2006 - Conference call about Brocade buying NuView mentions FAN.
May 18, 2006 - Brocade Q2 fy06 results statement mentions FAN.
March to June 2006 - Taneja Group survey on file management.
June, 2006 - InfoStor FAN article by O'Neill, referencing a Taneja Group survey which must obviously have taken place before then.
July, 2006 - A longer version of the FAN article appeared in the July edition of InfoStor and also in the October 2006 SNS EuropeNews. Both mention a June 2006 Taneja Group study which was a survey of global IT decision makers. Neither say who funded it.
October, 2006 - Brocade profile by Taneja Group's O'Neill 'Brocade and the File Area Network (FAN)'

It seemed plausible to suggest that Brocade invented the FAN term itself while it was considering buying NuView and trying to understand how the NuView products, particularly StorageX, would fit with its existing Tapestry WAFS and SAN products. It is quite logical for Brocade people to build a table comparing SAN attributes and file virtualisation attributes and make the leap to thinking they could have a 'file area network' conceptually equivalent to a storage area network.

Brocade then engaged the Taneja Group to do some research into the concept. One result of that was the June InfoStor article and the consequent snowball build-up of FAN as a general analyst-blessed concept.

Brad O'Neill confirmed this general scenario in a second e-mail:-

"Taneja Group does indeed consult on a range of market and product strategy projects for Brocade (and historically, for NuView), all well pre-dating March, 2006."

"I first began to frame up the idea of a "File Area Network" or "File Network" on a whiteboard during a brainstorming session I had with Brocade senior executives in Q4 of 2005. Taneja Group had been investigating future directions in file services with Brocade and a number of other players in the industry. In any case, my instincts were that a new categorical term was needed to anchor the disparate network-centric file technologies emerging on the market... I was fielding a lot of confused calls from end users about these technologies, as well, and grasping for a new conceptual model to hang them on as an analyst...."

"Yes, I believe Brocade did use the FAN term in some limited NuView-related marketing prior to my getting around to writing the article but AFTER deciding that there was "something there" in the notion. It was not yet defined well at a broad technology level. I think they also lumped it in with "file routing", which is a term that I disliked; I find it confuses end-users conceptualization of various namespace technologies."

"In any event, I stated my belief to Brocade management that the as-of-yet-pristine term "FAN" actually had the opportunity to inform an entire category reframe. I worked as quickly as I could to create a viable reference architecture for the still formative FAN concept, which then became that article that went online in early May, then to print in June, 2006. I took pains to make that article vendor-neutral, open, and inclusive to as many types of vendors and technology approaches as possible. I socialized this concept successfully with senior individuals at several major vendors, including Microsoft and EMC, as well as several emerging vendors who ultimately responded favourably, including Acopia and Njini. The roster has expanded significantly since then."

We see here confirmation that Brocade came up with the FAN term internally and independently. Brad O'Neill saw that the concept had potential and helped Brocade flesh it out.

Brocade's then chief technology officer, Jay Kidd, who is now at NetApp, supports this view: "The FAN term was invented by myself and Dan Crain in Brocade during 2005 or so. We thought of something akin to SAN switching but at the file level. Brad O'Neill came along much later."

Brocade use of Taneja Group's FAN publications

Brocade CEO Michael Klayko mentioned the June, 2006, O'Neill InfoStor article in his Q3 2006 results conference call, with the transcript showing this comment: "In Q3 we continued to make progress on our key growth initiatives, including Tapestry and services. You've been hearing and reading about the emerging File Area Network, or FAN, market opportunity. If you haven't read it already, I would point you to an excellent article from Brad O'Neill of the Taneja Group in the July 19th issue of InfoStor magazine. It clearly outlines the customer need, benefits and market opportunity for what we believe is a very exciting emerging market. We have a link to it on our website if you would like to take a look at it. ... Let me reiterate that we view the FAN market as an outstanding growth opportunity, as customers look for better ways to manage their rapidly growing file-based data and reduce their operating costs."

The Brocade<->Taneja Group connection is clearly a strong one with Brocade taking advantage of the Taneja Group's endorsement of the FAN concept. How independent has the Taneja Group been from Brocade's FAN marketing? In the original InfoStor article O'Neill did not say that FAN was a Brocade-originated term and that he had added analytical substance to the term while working with Brocade executives on an engagement. It was easy to assume that the Taneja Group had independently devised the FAN term and grouped Brocade and others into a set of FAN product suppliers.

This is not meant to undermine the validity of the FAN concept but to illustrate how the term originated and was developed through a close relationship between a supplier and a research group.

FAN activities are continuing. O'Neill said: ""Anyway, as a result of all of this, I am excited to say that there is currently a nascent industry "FAN Initiative" underway to codify FAN and submit file networking standards and best practices to appropriate standards bodies. I believe you should expect public announcements on this front in the near future (Q1, 2007) from a large assortment of industry-leading companies, all embracing a range of different architectural approaches to file area networking."