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Sun teams up with NAS maker

A deal with Procom Technology, a maker of network-attached storage systems, could let the server specialist plug a gap in its data storage lineup.

Sun Microsystems has signed a licensing deal with a maker of network-attached storage systems, which could let it plug a gap in its data storage lineup.

Procom Technology said on Tuesday that the agreement gives Sun access to some of its technologies. Procom makes network-attached storage (NAS) devices, which are dedicated computers that typically serve up files to users on a network. Until now, Sun has not had products in this growing category of storage gear.

Procom also said it will provide engineering and support services to Sun.

Sun spokeswoman Samantha Moulton declined to comment on Tuesday about the Procom partnership. But she indicated that Sun will be offering NAS devices before too long. "We will be addressing the NAS market in the near term," Moulton said.

Until now, Sun's focus in networked storage has been on storage area networks, or SANs, which link storage devices to server computers. They traditionally differ from NAS products in that they provide access to data on a more fundamental level. They typically deliver better performance and greater capacity than NAS equipment but can entail cumbersome file sharing.

The line between the two storage technologies is blurring, however, as NAS products pick up in performance and as software is developed to make file-sharing easier with SANs.

Sun has used partnerships to round out its SAN product offerings. The company resells Hitachi Data Systems equipment at the high end of the market, and it resells gear from Dot Hill Systems as its lower-end product line. Sun makes its own midrange disk arrays.

The server specialist, which has been struggling financially, is working to increase its server customer "storage attach rate," a measurement of how many customers buy both servers and storage gear. That rate is now 27 percent, compared with a 50 percent attach rate for software customers, according to the company.

Sun says revenue in its storage division grew last year to more than $1.6 billion in hardware and software sales. But its market share slipped in 2003 in a class of storage gear used in SAN and NAS setups, according to research firm Gartner.

The NAS market is projected to grow at a healthy clip. Gartner has predicted that from 2002 to 2007, NAS revenue worldwide will increase at a compound annual rate of 16.7 percent, to $3 billion. That compares with a rise of 11.3 percent for SAN-attached storage, which Gartner expects will hit $10.3 billion in revenue in 2007.

Still, the NAS market is quite competitive already. Companies such as Network Appliance, EMC and Hewlett-Packard sell NAS boxes. Microsoft, which has been making nice with Sun, has pushed into the NAS arena through partners such as HP and Dell.