F5 Networks has announced that it will acquire Acopia Networks for $210 million in cash to bolster its application-delivery line.

Acopia, which was founded by industry veteran Cheng Wu in 2002, makes an appliance that virtualises files stored on network-attached storage devices and file servers. Wu had previously founded ArrowPoint Communications, which he sold to Cisco, and Arris Networks, which was acquired by Cascade.

"This acquisition is highly complementary to F5's strategy of optimising the application infrastructure from the core of the datacentre to the edge of the network," John McAdam, president and CEO of F5 Networks, said in a statement.

Acopia's ARX Series appliances create a global namespace over the files on the network that lets IT administrators automate and enforce data-management policies in the network.

Analysts say that although the market in which these companies play has already consolidated quite a bit, more could be on the way.

"In the wide-area file services/acceleration space, that has already pretty much shaken out," says Greg Schulz, senior analyst with Storage IO. "Of the file-virtualisation vendors, Attune has not been acquired and being software-based and Windows-centric, perhaps that could be a play for a Windows-centric vendor. In the data replication and movement space, there are still a few plays left."

Brocade bought file-area network vendor NuView in 2006, and Cisco acquired NeoPath Networks earlier this year. In 2005, EMC gobbled up Rainfinity Networks. Network Appliance provides Brocade's StorageX as the OEM.

IDC says that IT organisations are increasing their deployments of file-based storage by 50 percent to more than 200 percent a year as they consolidate datacentres and roll out new fixed-content applications.

Acopia had raised $85 million in venture funding from Accel Partners, Charles River Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Meritech Capital Partners, Star Ventures and Vesbridge Partners. The company counts among its customers Bear Stearns, Wiley Publishing, Colonial Williamsburg and Merrill Lynch.

Is the Acopia-F5 Networks' deal all black-and-white, or is there more to it? Read Chris Mellor's take on it here.