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The network-centric file management appliance: overcoming the challenges of enterprise file services.

Regardless of the size or sophistication of NAS installations, the challenges of enterprise file services are well known to the majority of storage managers in the industry. From departmental CIFS or NFS file servers to enterprise NAS deployments, a common set of well documented issues arise--including file management, scalability and utilization rates--and enterprise end users now increasingly understand the rocky road involved with managing independent NAS devices as discrete "one-off" resources.

While NAS continues to satisfy the universal need to share and provide network file access, these independent NAS devices exist as "silos," isolated islands of file serving resources that impact enterprise applications. Management is complex, scaling is difficult, and clients are statically mapped to file resources so that changes to file servers directly impact users. But in a few months, this will change. The innovations that are soon to be released will redefine the ways enterprise users address NAS infrastructures, and next generation approaches promise to give existing NAS infrastructures the scalability and manageability that enterprise storage administrators have been longing for.

Cornering the Elusive Target

As we create an over-arching solution to address file management, we must explore capabilities that businesses require to manage the enterprise in a manner that delivers maximum return on investment (ROI). These capabilities include:

Infrastructure-wide file views: As NAS file serving complexity increases, users seek to have a centralized representation of their files and assets at the enterprise and departmental level. And as business-critical needs increase, the ability for unified namespace becomes crucial to simplify management.

Infrastructure-wide file controls: Storage administrators need a centralized means to migrate, distribute and protect files, regardless of location in the enterprise. This ability to address a heterogeneous mix of storage architectures, including the range of all storage in the enterprise (including filers and Unix/Linux/Windows-based systems) is imperative to reduce operational and administrative cost.

Live management: Administrators require the ability to interact with file servers in a highly flexible and transparent fashion, seamlessly allowing on-demand capacity and performance scaling of existing servers, the easy addition of new file servers and capacity, and the migration of data between primary and secondary tier storage.

Integration with business-critical systems: Business-critical functionality, such as disaster recovery, business continuity, archiving and regulatory compliance, is vital for file-level data sets and needs to be included in the solution.

To deliver these capabilities, we are required to move beyond a device-centric NAS approach; frankly, these management activities simply can't be executed by intelligence at a device-centric level. What is needed to deliver these higher-level management objectives for file services is to move intelligence into the network, and this solution, while intuitive, has been an elusive target. That is, until now.

Intelligent, Network-Centric File Management

With the goal of creating an infrastructure-wide approach to NAS management, one needs to realize that device-centric approaches manage files statically linked to a user, while a network-centric approach manages files as dynamically accessible information, regardless of physical location or business purpose.

The key to gaining control and managing the growth of unstructured data lies in developing a network-centric solution that allows intelligent policies to be driven by file attributes, so that files can be placed on the most appropriate storage based on characteristics such as performance, cost, location, security and availability. This solution needs to deliver a unified view across all heterogeneous file servers, creating a virtual resource that can be dynamically modified without impacting users. And, if that weren't enough, the management solution must be compatible with legacy investments; be based on open-systems architectures; support heterogeneous client and server platforms; require no proprietary changes or agents; and, above all, be transparent to the user community.

Our work has shown that inserting an intelligent management appliance (in this case, a file director solution) directly into the network can deliver a transparent and highly effective solution to address the existing challenges of enterprise NAS. In this scenario, the file director appliance serves as a "virtual file server," allowing administrators to decouple the physical location of a file from the file name, delivering exceptionally compelling operational customer benefits. These include:

* On-demand capacity and performance scaling, with increased utilization of existing file servers, transparent migration to tiered storage, and the easy addition of new file servers and capacity.

* Simplified data management, with unified namespace, intelligent policies and automated reporting.

* Transparent deployment for heterogeneous environments, with no agents or client changes needed, using existing file servers and native file systems.

* High data availability, delivering real-time replication and failover across heterogeneous servers and file replication for disaster recovery.

Using a file director appliance approach to achieve an overarching Network File Management (NFM) solution can allow administrators to implement enterprise file services with substantial ROI benefits. Based on market demand and our own recent customer interviews, there are several areas where NFM solutions can allow businesses to gain a highly competitive edge. These include:

Storage consolidation: Using a network-centric appliance solution allows an easy and seamless way of consolidating capacities of small, departmental file servers with larger filers in the data center. Using the heterogeneous unified namespace capabilities of the appliance, along with file migration capabilities inherent in the design, users can consolidate resources with no disruption to their production data environments.

Cost-effective, highly flexible archiving: To address archiving needs, it is expected that many users will implement NFM appliance technology in conjunction with low-cost tiered storage systems to address corporate archiving requirements. Using an appliance approach, administrators can easily define and implement the policies needed to protect critical corporate data.

Non-disruptive file migration: Appliance-driven NFM solutions can provide, once and for all, the answer for what has been seen as the bane of NAS administrators everywhere: file migration. Using a file director approach, the appliance establishes a unified namespace for the entire file-serving infrastructure that is insulated from physical location, allowing an easy and non-disruptive migration between NAS devices on an infrastructure-wide basis.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity uses: Appliance-driven NFM approaches can establish an infrastructure-wide management framework between two or more locations, replicating data sets, creating multiple access paths and ensuring file availability to create comprehensive disaster recovery and business continuity solutions.

A New Era for NAS Management

The advent of network-centric appliances to address the management of NAS installations will bring about a new and powerful tool for storage managers to extend enterprise file services to their users. This new era promises to tie together disparate islands of NAS storage, linking departmental CIFS and NFS file servers into enterprise NAS deployments to create easily manageable, highly scalable infrastructures for a wide range of business uses. Much like the evolution of SANs, where infrastructure-wide views and infrastructure-wide management have become two of the industry drivers to increased enterprise adoption, the ability to view and manage heterogeneous NAS enterprise infrastructures in a transparent, non-disruptive fashion will be the key to larger, robust enterprise NAS installations and their efficient utilization.

Simply put, this new breed of network-centric NFM solutions will redefine the way storage managers look at file management, bringing administrators the tools to create exceedingly compelling infrastructures for enterprise applications. Using an intelligent appliance approach, NAS managers will be able to view the enterprise as a "virtual file server," to which any share or directory can be mapped, capacity can be added on the fly and data can be transparently placed on any physical file serving resource, without impacting performance or availability. It is this transparency of access combined with intelligent policy rules that act on file attributes (brought about by advanced, network-centric appliances) that can provide unified views across heterogeneous file servers regardless of location, and it is this new breed of network-centric NFM solutions that can unlock the power of NAS for the enterprise.

Rajeev Chawla is founder, president and CEO of NeoPath Networks (Santa Clara, CA)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Storage Management
Author:Chawla, Rajeev
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Previous Article:Archiving stakes its claim to lower TCO.
Next Article:Managing and scaling IP SAN.

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