NAS Goes Virtual

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Nov 15, 2006


File virtualization addresses a key end-user problem — the proliferation of NAS boxes and file servers. Some organizations have tens (or even hundreds) of file servers, and virtualization promises to organize those into a coherent whole and allow a greater level of flexibility for storage managers.

The proliferation of NAS boxes and file servers is leading to storage sprawl -- and an interest in virtualization.

"NAS footprints have tripled over the last 18 months, going from an average of 50 terabytes to close to 150 terabytes, creating a management issue that file virtualization helps simplify," says Robert Stevenson managing director of New York City-based TheInfoPro (TIP) storage practice. "File virtualization is evolving from nice-to-have to a permanent spot in the file-handling toolbox."

Vendors operating in this field include Rainfinity (now EMC), Spinnaker (now NetApp), NuView (Brocade), and NeoPath (supported but not owned by Cisco). A couple of independents remain. Attune Systems of Santa Clara, Calif., for example, calls NAS Virtualization by the term Network File Management (NFM).

Attune's Maestro File Manager FM5500 is an appliance that is designed to reduce the complexity and cost of managing file server and NAS resources. It has a list price of $44,995. The Maestro File Manager virtualizes both files and shares across a wide range of vendors and protocols.

Read more about storage or virtualization

"IT administrators are continuously looking for ways to manage their file servers while adding capacity and migrating data," says Alan Kessler, CEO of Attune Systems. "The Maestro File Manager virtualizes both files and shares across heterogeneous vendors and protocols."

Maestro File Manager creates an abstraction layer between where the files and directories are stored and where they are viewed by clients. This allows the storage infrastructure to change as needed without disturbing clients and the applications that use files. It also centralizes monitoring, alerting, and preventative maintenance actions so that instead of logging into hundreds of machines, administrators can manage their file servers from one pane of glass.

"NAS footprints have tripled over the last 18 months, going from an average of 50 terabytes to close to 150 terabytes, creating a management issue that file virtualization helps simplify." - Robert Stevenson, managing director, TheInfoPro (TIP) storage practice
"These features reduce the time it takes to manage large collections of file servers and the daily tasks of adding capacity, migrating content, and performing maintenance," says Daniel Liddle, vice president of marketing at Attune. "The ROI of existing file servers is also improved by consolidating unused capacity and rebalancing the load."

Maestro's NFM capabilities include Maestro Policy IQ, Dual Path Access, Adaptable Striping & Mirroring, Volume Sets, Dynamic Volume Expansion, Small File Acceleration, and Remote Scripting Engine. It allows system administrators to virtualize the NAS infrastructure by supporting three concurrent operational stages: out-of-band discovery, native mode and extended mode.

Maestro Policy IQ provides the intelligence. It manages, executes and enforces tiering and ILM-like policies for file data. This enables optimum resource utilization, a reduction in management costs, and performance balancing and resiliency. It also automates reporting, alerts, and preventative measures.

Other aspects of the system include: Maestro Dual Path Access allows clients to simultaneously access files in their native formats whether directly to the file server or via Maestro; Maestro Adaptable Striping and Mirroring provides configurable combinations of stripes and mirrors using policies on a per-file basis; Maestro Volume Sets combines multiple physical volumes into one or more virtual volume sets for improved capacity utilization and load balancing; Maestro Dynamic Volume Expansion automatically adds capacity to a Maestro Volume Set without disrupting users; Maestro Small File Acceleration is a configurable feature that provides maximum possible performance for environments with a large number of small files; Maestro Remote Scripting Engine enables enterprises to build custom data, handling policies using standard scripting languages combined with Maestro commands and XML-based reporting.

"Instead of logging into hundreds of machines, administrators can manage their file servers from one pane of glass," says Liddle.

Awareness vs. Purchasing

He reports that general market awareness of NAS virtualization has expanded significantly over the past year. Nearly every storage-oriented tradeshow, for example, has specific break out sessions on the topic. This is supported by analyst firms such as TIP.

Others note, however, that while file virtualization may be hot in terms of product offerings, it has yet to heat up as far as buyers are concerned.

"NAS virtualization is one of the key developing market segments right now with lots of competing products and a great deal of innovation," says Stephen Foskett, director of strategy services at GlassHouse Technologies. "It ranks with CDP, archiving, and iSCSI as the key new product areas in storage in 2006. However, end users are just starting to get the message and I expect it won't be until 2007 that we see purchases coming on strong."

This article was orignially published on Enterprise IT Planet.

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