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Wide area file services increase remote office, branch office efficiency

Wide area file services (WAFS) are changing the way remote office, branch office (ROBO) sites are run. It's important for VARs to be current on the technology and understand how to implement them for customers.

Channel takeaway: Wide area file service (WAFS) reduces the infrastructure required in remote office, branch office (ROBO) settings. This reduction in infrastructure allows VARs to focus on supporting a customer's needs instead of worrying about whether or not a router is working, allowing the reseller to add value and help the business grow.

Pretty much since the birth of computers, remote offices have been a pain in the butt for IT. Before the client/server style of computing became a standard, the mainframes did all the crunching at the data center and presented the results on a terminal. If that terminal happened to be in the HQ, one got a response in a reasonable amount of time. If one happened to be far away, then you got what you got. Yes, all kinds of terminal server software was created to serve the remote users better but, all in all, the performance stunk. At least a few of you out there remember 1,400 bits per second modems. (Yes, you read it right. There is no K in it. One could almost carry the bits to the other side faster on foot with sneakers on.)

Then we went to client/server computing and basically pushed additional computing loads to the client machine. Things got better, granted, but for remote users performance was still miserable. IT did what it needed to in order to maintain some level of peace. They implemented application servers, files servers, NAS, print servers, Web servers and email servers locally in the remote offices, albeit in smaller configurations than in the data centers. Then, to make data sharable they replicated what they needed to between offices. Data spread out and multiple copies existed but at least the job got done and the users didn't revolt.

But since valuable data was not only created in the remote offices but data from HQ was also modified and sent back from time to time, data needed to be protected in the remote offices. Lo and behold, we had to add a media server, backup software and perhaps a tape autoloader to each branch office. The backed-up data then needed to be sent somewhere for protection from disasters.

A number of schemes became popular over the years but the most common ones included shipping of tapes daily to the HQ, replicating backup data electronically to the HQ or to another third-party vault. It is hard to believe, but that is the state-of-the-art today. Most remote offices today look like mini-data centers but with one key ingredient missing: local IT expertise. Little surprise that the remote user is up-in-arms and feels neglected. Good, or bad, that is how we have managed so far.

But not anymore! There are three reasons that the status quo is unacceptable moving forward. One, the amount of data being created is putting a lot of pressure on this methodology. Secondly, in this day and age when even the design and testing of data is outsourced to places like India and China, remote offices are no longer the shadow of the HQ. They are creators of large amounts of extremely valuable data that needs the same care and feeding as the most critical data being generated in the HQ. Thirdly, and probably the most critical, is the fact that the regulatory bodies have basically said, "We don't care where you create or manipulate data, all data must be treated in such a way as to meet the regulation." That means you can't say you lost the SS#s for 10,000 customers because the person in the branch office backed up the data that night, took it home for shipping it to the HQ the next day and lost his briefcase in the bar where the poor guy, after a hard day's work, stopped just for one beer. No, that is not acceptable anymore. Yes, someone can possibly go to jail for losing that data, but it may not be the person who lost it. It may be the CIO… or the CEO.

Read the rest of Arun Taneja's article at

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