Brocade has taken its first step outside the SAN switch market by taking on Tacit Network's Wide Area File System. The WAFS product stores files at a data centre and farms them out to appliances at remote sites. The remote site users 'think' they are accessing files on their own file server when, in fact, they are coming over the WAN from the remote data centre.

The benefit is that files are consolidated and under data centre control for backup and access control.

According to research from the Enterprise Strategy Group, up to 75 percent of an enterprise's data resides outside the data centre, where it is supposed to be at greater risk of loss or security breach.

Brocade is buying a minority ownership share of up to $7.5 million in Tacit and gaining a 'strategic alliance' to deliver WAFS on Windows Server 2003 platforms. It will sell this branch office file access product to its customers using its network of channel partners.

Currently customers buy more switches and directors for SAN fabrics from Brocade than from any other vendors, including McData, Cisco and QLogic. However, Brocade is facing strengthening competition: McData has bought CNT which bought InRange, and Cisco is making progress. Brocade changed its CEO from founder Greg Reyes to Michael Klayko a few months ago, and has recently announced surprisingly poor results. It expects its second quarter's revenue to be $16 million down on the previous quarter.

Ian Whiting, Brocade's VP Europe, has said the company will branch out: "Our business is changing. There's only so much growth in storage networking.... We're going to move from a storage networking company to add focus on servers and software ... to manage server farms, to dynamically allocate software between servers." This implies more is yet to come from Brocade as it fills out a new line of products.

Brocade and Tacit will partner in customer support and on product development programmes.

Tacit Networks has worked with Microsoft to integrate its WAFS technology with Windows Server 2003, which is used by many NAS vendors.

According to Stephanie Balaouras, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group: "This is a significant development for both the new WAFS and more mature NAS markets, signaling that this combination of technologies is key in driving the same economies of scale, management, and security for enterprise NAS installation as have become the standard for SAN-type storage.

It means that a data centre Windows NAS box could server files to remote sites over the WAN using the Tacit technology.

It remains to be seen whether Brocade will add its own technology to this product set or remain content to be a Tacit reseller.