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WAFS & CDP let organizations move beyond acceleration attempts, delivers WAN file access performance and continuous backup consolidation.

Two problems challenge virtually every distributed enterprise of any size:

* How can I enable teams at every location to share data effectively?

* How can I ensure business continuity, including backup and redundancy, for all operational locations?

Anyone who's ever worked at a branch office location knows the delay times resulting from consolidation efforts. For example, attorneys who bill by the minute can't wait 5-10 minutes for client's case file to open on a WAN just because the original file lives on a server 1000 miles away.

At the same time, few offices with operational teams exist without a server--unless offices are one or two-person sales outposts that need occasional access to data at headquarters. If a server exists in the office, IT is concerned about not only performance, but backup and continuity planning as well.

WAN Optimization and Acceleration--Pluses and Minuses

Popular approaches to branch office IT support today include WAN optimization and acceleration. Depending on vendor positioning, they offer varying degrees of local caching, protocol optimization, chattiness reduction, and compression to speed the packets of data going back and forth from branch to data center.

Analysts today believe WAN optimization and acceleration addresses only part of the market--including those settings where branch offices access database-driven apps hosted at the data center. However, the market for accelerating access to files needed at the remote sites--in particular, shared files used by multiple team members at other branches simultaneously--remains largely unaddressed.

The technology gap is in the basic network-focused design of the accelerators. WAN optimization/acceleration approaches attempt to solve file issues and rely on local caching. With caching, partial copies of files are stored locally in the WAN optimization/acceleration device's disk at EACH office whenever files are accessed. Yet whenever that file is modified at a different remote office, the local cache everywhere else is obsolete. The local appliance must now attempt to reload the cache--something that cannot be done quickly.

As a result, many enterprises develop ad-hoc methods for copying data between the multiple locations. This solves the performance bottleneck, however, this "solution" introduces several new problems:

* Real-time collaboration is not possible. While a LAN environment promotes concurrent work on same documents because of locks built into files, these locks cannot prevent two people in two different locations from modifying the same document.

* Synchronization tools typically run on a nightly schedule, and involves transmitting very large volumes of information.

* Since each location has a somewhat different copy of the datasets, and changes are done in each location each location must devise a local backup methodology.

Many industry experts see Wide Area File Services (WAFS) and Continuous Data Protection (CDP) technologies that can handle distance as key to the future of remote office IT architectures. The market at present views WAFS and CDP as separate, bandwidth-reduction and backup technologies addressing distinct needs. Yet leading industry analysts and our company's own experience suggest that many IT managers buying CDP are also in need of file-sharing WAFS. Furthermore, when combined, the two solution sets together offer tremendous business continuity impact.

Example: When Fire Strikes

Fulcrum Pharma is a worldwide drug development firm with offices outside Raleigh NC, in Japan, Scotland and France--and headquarters in Hemel Hempstead, UK. In its work to help pharmaceutical firms develop new medicines, Fulcrum creates virtual teams with members in offices throughout the world. Teams need to efficiently iterate on large numbers of shared files such as spreadsheets, Microsoft Project and Office files which store critical data. In addition Fulcrum also must demonstrate to its clients that its IT infrastructure meets demanding standards for disaster recovery.

Fulcrum users complained to IT about how slow it was to work on Office files across a WAN. In late summer 2005 Fulcrum deployed WAFS software primarily to allow local staffs across the oceans to work with optimized file sharing access and continuous consolidated data protection backup. The real value of WAFS with instant failover/failback became readily apparent, however, when the largest peacetime blaze in Europe at the Buncefield oil depot in December 2005 destroyed Fulcrum's new office space and closed its data center for over 48 hours.

As IT staff watched the flames and smoke encircle their buildings on TV, Fulcrum's servers continued to make all files fully available to all staffers worldwide. The Hemel Hempstead servers simply failed over the users to the US and London servers. Despite uncertainty for the next four weeks, Fulcrum IT staff kept normal computing operations worldwide without missing a beat. Within four weeks of the fire, Fulcrum's global WAFS network returned to the architecture it had followed before. Since that time, Fulcrum has additionally deployed only CDP software--not WAFS--at its Japan and France offices where shared files are not required, yet swift, cost-effective backup consolidation to the UK headquarters is imperative.

Resolution Law: Instant Business Continuity

In the practice of law, cross-site legal teams are the norm, and the integrity of client records is paramount. Resolution Law Group PC., with offices across the US including northern and southern California, Washington DC and Indianapolis, focuses on environmental risk, insurance, and securities arbitration. The firm's deployment of WAFS provided an inexpensive solution to cross-office performance and guaranteed integrity to electronic client records.

Since staffers in different offices collaborate on the same client's case, keeping remote silos of files in each office wasn't an option. As demands for access to the hundreds of thousands of files on its network increased, so did delays in opening files across its T1-based VPN, and concerns for making sure all files were kept up to date.

Resolution Law deployed a WAFS product in mid-2005, then rolled out additional offices by the summer's end. Instead of experiencing 5 to 10 minute delays as files opened across the firm's VPN, the WAFS product allowed Resolution Law Group attorneys in all of its offices to work in real time on the same shared files. Users all access identical files at local LAN speed, but cannot overwrite each other while sharing the same file, thereby potentially damaging privileged information.

File-Centric View of Remote Office Needs

Both Fulcrum Pharma and Resolution Law typify a different approach to the remote office problem is emerging on the market today--a file-centric approach that addresses the file system and how it can be streamlined in its entirety, as opposed to just trying to move packets faster on a WAN. This approach represents a whole new paradigm that combines WAFS and CDP technology that works in real-time. It provides coherent, distributed true mirror copies of all files- as opposed to limited cached copies. For most remote office settings, this likely makes far more sense, both for the access acceleration needs, AND for business continuity.

Why? A real time coherent mirror approach solves the problem of keeping n copies of the data in n different locations, synchronized at all times, in real-time. Any change to any file in any of the locations is mirrored onto all the other n-1 locations, with full coherency between the locations (not possible to get an old version). More importantly, the file and data locks can also be faithfully projected between the locations in real time (not possible to have a user conflict).

In addition to faithfully mirroring the data and the locks in real time, such distributed mirror approaches can easily maintain a central vault, which can be located anywhere in the enterprise. The central vault keeps the latest version of all the files, and in addition it keeps unlimited past versions included deleted files. Thus users are able, for example, to retrieve (using a simple web interface to the vault) any version of a selected file. The vault is also capable of performing any instant in time rollback of databases. Thus the remote office IT staff can address two unmet remote office needs--for optimized file access as well as backup--with one deployment.

Is WAFS + CDP Pivotal for your Branch Office?

If your organization has any of the following kinds of remote offices environments, then using a WAFS and CDP combined approach likely will be the right choice.

* More than 10 active users in a location

* Modifications are made to the data at multiple sites

* There are many files, or files are large in size,--for example--CAD drawing, medical data, legal documents etc.

* Latency between locations increases beyond a few mS (they are limited to distances of a few hundred miles)

The fast reduction in disk prices is pushing backup toward disk technologies while also making data distribution cost-effective. Together, WAFS + CDP for distributed enterprises provide unprecedented support for all users in both file access performance and peace of mind from continuous consolidated backup and assured business continuity. For most branch offices, the combination is obvious.

Chuck Shavit is CEO of Availl Inc.
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Title Annotation:Storage Networking
Author:Shavi, Chuck
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Previous Article:Planning for resiliency: why regular testing of your business continuity and availability plan is more critical than ever.
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