By Heidi Biggar
Acopia, a two-year-old start-up in Lowell, MA, is among a growing list of vendors that have come to market with network-based products designed to address common problems with file server and NAS environments (e.g., difficult management, poor utilization, and scalability).
Acopia recently shipped its first two Adaptive Resource (ARX) switches and announced customer installations at Merrill Lynch and Warner Music Group. The ARX switches leverage TCP/IP Ethernet networks to deliver and manage file services (i.e., unstructured data types) throughout the enterprise.
"Over the past two years, several companies have been quietly working toward the goal of creating an infrastructure-wide, truly network-resident approach to managing file services," says Brad O'Neill, a senior analyst at the Taneja Group consulting firm, which refers to this new category of products as network file management (NFM).
In addition to Acopia, companies in this space include NuView, Rainfinity, zForce, and several other yet-to-be-announced players, according to O'Neill.
Acopia officials say the company also directly competes with Microsoft's Distributed File System (DFS) for Windows Storage Server 2003, NuView's StorageX, and clustered file systems from vendors such as BlueArc and Network Appliance (which acquired Spinnaker).
NuView's StorageX software runs on top of the DFS environment. (StorageX is resold by Network Appliance under the NetApp brand Virtual File Manager.)
"The big difference between our approach and that of Microsoft/NuView is scale," contends Brendon Howe, vice president of marketing and business development at Acopia. "We're able to scale up to hundreds of servers with up to 10Gbps of aggregate throughput without any performance degradation."
Howe claims that the difference in scalability is typical of network-based custom-built products versus software/server-based products (e.g., DFS/NuView).
As for clustered file systems such as BlueArc's and NetApp/Spinnaker's, Acopia says that while those products are designed to pool storage and provide a single point of access into that storage pool they also require an up-front investment in new technology. In contrast, Acopia's switches allow users to use/consolidate existing hardware.
Acopia's Adaptive Resource Switches leverage TCP/IP Ethernet networks and provide a single point for delivering client presentation, storage management, and data distribution services.
"Our product would go into a shop that already has a lot EMC and NetApp gear, as opposed to replacing them," says Howe.
Warner Music, for example, is using two Acopia ARX1000 switches to pool its EMC Celerra NAS servers. "Our initial problem stemmed from trying to funnel all data through a single Sun E4500 file server with a single gigabit interface," says Mike Streb, vice president of IT services at Warner Music.
"We knew that our file server wasn't enough and that we needed to spread things out [onto multiple NAS devices] to absorb more of the load," says Streb. "But we also knew that by installing four new Celerra devices we'd be creating a capacity pooling problem."
By installing two Acopia ARX1000 switches (the switches are installed in pairs for redundancy), Warner Music was able to virtualize its Celerra environment and create a single global namespace for the four devices, which, among other things, meant that Warner Music could continue to run all applications without modifications.
Warner Music also looked at Microsoft's DFS and the Andrew File System but opted for Acopia's approach for a variety of reasons, including its ability to pool data, provide basic information life-cycle management (i.e., move data among tiers of storage devices), and distribute data globally, which allows the company to manage data locally at remote offices but still share the data globally.
Acopia currently does not integrate with any tape library products. According to Streb, tape support is expected within the next year.
Acopia's Howe claims that Warner Music's implementation is typical of most users at this point. He says that potential users are generally most interested in being able to pool back-end file servers or NAS devices or consolidate multiple mount points into a single namespace so that file servers can be added without any modifications to the infrastructure.
Acopia's 2U ARX1000 switch lists for $45,000; the six-slot, 13U modular ARX6000 switch costs about $150,000 for an average configuration (see "at a glance," p. 10).
At a glance…
Adaptive Resource Switches
- 13U modular chassis
- 24 x 100/1000Mbps Ethernet
- NFSv2, v3, CIFS
- $150,000 (list) average configuration
Performance and scale
- Capacity: 500M* files (*tested limit)
- Throughput: 100Gbps read/write
- Sessions: 20,000 simultaneous
- Policy placement: 60M files/hr
- 2U fixed configuration
- 6 x 100/1000Mbps Ethernet
- NFSv2, v3, CIFS
- $45,000 (list)
Performance and scale
- Capacity: 100M* files (*tested limit)
- Throughput: 3Gbps read/write
- Sessions: 5,000 simultaneous
- Policy placement: 10M files/hr