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Z-force

Under new management, NAS aggregation switch startup narrows focus

NAS aggregation switch startup Z-force Inc. -- after almost three and a half years in development mode -- says it's now shipping its first product beginning this month.

But the company's newly installed management team has scaled back its original ambitions. For Z-force's initial foray into the market, its ZX-1000 switch will support only the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol, which is typically used in Windows environments, and not the Unix-oriented Network File Systems (NFS) protocol. And rather than trying to broadly market the NAS switch, Z-force has decided to focus on a specific industry niche: users with digital media and imaging systems that require large amounts of cheap storage.

Pat Burns, who joined as president and CEO in May 2003, says Z-force's previous strategy -- which would have put it in the line of fire of the two NAS superpowers, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) -- didn't make sense for a small company with limited resources.

"It was clear that the team that was built wasn't the team we needed for this launch," he says. After he came on board, around eight Z-forcers were let go, leaving the startup's headcount at 31.

Burns, whose background is primarily outside the tech industry, has been in various management positions at Bechtel Corp., DHL International, and Ford Motor Co. Z-force's previous CEO, Gary Johnson, quit in April to become the chief of digital entertainment technology company PortalPlayer Inc. (see Z-force CEO Departs).

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