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Network-attached storage file virtualization appliances

Network-attached storage (NAS) file virtualization appliances can help customers reduce NAS server sprawl while providing insight into customers network file structure.

"More files, more file servers."

This is often the approach your customers adopt in meeting internal storage demands to house growing file stores. However, this method of file management leaves them with multiple network-attached storage (NAS) heads, creating islands of stranded storage capacity, unmanaged files and difficult file migrations.

New file virtualization appliances address this litany of file server management problems and, in so doing, have created a sort of network-attached storage renaissance, bringing the focus back to storage systems in need of attention. By cataloging files and file systems residing on corporate file servers, these appliances act as a central, virtual mount point through which all clients can access files and break the one-to-one relationship between server clients and NAS file servers.

This new NAS architecture impacts your customers in multiple ways.

First, customers are always thinking about how they can get the most out of their current storage assets. When one file server is at capacity and another one has capacity to spare, a file virtualization appliance, such as Attune Systems Maestro File Manager, can consolidate the storage space on the two different NAS heads and present all storage capacity as one logical file system to the server. Policies on the Maestro can then be set to place newly created user files on the NAS file server with the extra storage capacity.

Another key benefit provided by these appliances is that they don't require you to alter a network configuration to introduce them into a customer environment. For instance, Neopath Networks File Director requires no change to a client's network infrastructure at all. Once attached to the network, it catalogs files on existing file servers and analyzes file traffic on the network without requiring any changes to the network infrastructure. Once it completes its initial analysis of file usage and network traffic patterns, administrators can review the reports and selectively virtualize files and file systems with a reasonable level of confidence that end users will experience no impact.

One of the biggest benefits file virtualization appliances bring to the table is the ability to transparently migrate files. EMC's director of virtualization marketing, Jack Norris, describes users as having a "visceral reaction" as they discover that they can migrate files, maintaining all of the file's security and domain information, even as users and applications operate in real time.

Organizations can also take advantage of file virtualization appliances to optimize file placement. This especially comes to bear during technology refreshes, periods of application performance or when users simply cannot figure out where they put files they created in the past.

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File virtualization allows administrators to rethink how they lay out files on back-end NAS servers. Since file virtualization presents users with a common mount point, some administrators may stripe files across multiple, lower-performing NAS heads to create a high-performance configuration. Others, to keep administration simpler, use the file virtualization appliance to consolidate files on one high-performing NAS server and then take the file virtualization appliance out of the mix.

Even performance and high availability should not be considered a barrier to entry. For vendors that support customers on the high end, Acopia Networks ARX6000 has clearly distinguished itself from other players in the file virtualization space. With purpose-built processors, a split-path architecture and Active-Active controllers for both the data and control path, organizations should have little reason to worry about availability and performance in any environments but the most extreme.

Yet the real value for file virtualization appliances may show up in the future. File virtualization appliances give your customers new insight into their network file infrastructure, providing ongoing information on file usage, network traffic and file growth patterns across the enterprise NAS servers. It also provides companies with a logical way to optimize tiered storage and introduce technologies like data classification to satisfy new legal discovery requirements.

File virtualization appliances open new doors for customers to optimize NAS servers they already own while easing the migration path to new ones that they plan to bring into their environments. You customers will initially realize benefits that include recapturing stranded capacity, simplifying data migrations and minimizing application outages during technology refreshes, but file virtualization appliances will over time become an integral part to managing and controlling the files in a NAS infrastructure.

About the author: Jerome Wendt is an independent writer and analyst specializing in the field of open systems storage and storage area networks. He has managed storage for small and large organizations in this capacity.

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