Seattle-based F5 networks announced today their plan to acquire Massachusetts-based Acopia Networks. I think it is an interesting tie-up.

Is storage just another network service?
A trick question. Of course storage is, and of course, is isn’t.

Networks specialize in the transient. Storage specializes in the persistent. To the extent that networks enable storage, storage is a network service. To the extent that storage persists it is its own unique domain.

And please, don’t get started on the “network as giant delay line” argument.

Acopia sells a file server that front ends other NAS boxes
By virtualizing across multiple file servers, they are able to automate processes, such as tiering, that enable higher utilization of capacity. Which fits with F5’s focus on optimizing Ethernet networks for application delivery. How many applications rely on storage?

The financials
Acopia got over $80 million in funding, and F5 is paying $210 million in cash. It isn’t the 10-bagger of VC dreams, but 2.6x means everyone gets to play another day.

The StorageMojo take
A bunch of folks tried to build file virtualization boxes and most of them failed. F5 will get a nice boost by starting to tap the 45% of data center hardware spend that is storage.

The problem is that virtualizing NAS servers gets a lot less interesting in an NFS 4.1 world. Clustered NAS with scalable parallel data access eliminates many of the problems that Acopia set out to solve.

Widespread adoption of 4.1 is a couple of years off. In the meantime I expect F5 to do quite well with their new acquisition.

Comments welcome, as always.