FANs shape the future data center

Posted on April 01, 2007

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By Kevin Komiega

When the analysts at the Taneja Group research/consulting firm coined the acronym file area network (FAN) last year, the firm was attempting to classify an emerging amalgam of various networking, storage, and software technologies that, when used together, offer significant improvements in data access and management across geographically dispersed locations.

WAN optimization, application acceleration, and wide area file services (WAFS) products provide the foundation of the FAN, and recent activity by a variety of vendors in this space may indicate that advances in the WAN optimization and WAFS space are poised to make a huge impact on not just storage, but on IT on the whole.

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“The whole wide area space has undergone a transition in the past year from tertiary technology to being critical to any IT strategy,” says Taneja Group senior analyst and consultant Brad O’Neill.

O’Neill points to several trends fueling the wide area fervor. The first, and perhaps most important, factor in the growth of this market is the trend toward consolidation of the IT infrastructure, especially in large enterprises with multiple data-center locations.

“Once enterprises start to see the ROI benefits of consolidation they start looking for other areas where they can apply the technology,” says O’Neill.

The second driver behind market adoption, according to O’Neill, is the increasing importance of applications that reside at the edge of the network.

There is mounting pressure to achieve LAN-like performance anywhere on the planet, all while keeping costs down and centralizing management.

“We are experiencing a perfect storm for these technologies,” O’Neill says.

Initial end-user adoption of wide area technologies is being driven almost solely by economic implications. Consolidating servers, application delivery, and data protection means less hardware and fewer personnel at remote locations, resulting in instant savings. O’Neill believes that a whole other level of efficiency can be realized once the primary cost savings have been achieved.

“The initial trigger is the dollar,” he says. “But being able to abstract logical and physical resources across the organization and allowing a small team at headquarters to take control of security and data protection for 100 sites mean a huge management gain.”

Innovations in WAN optimization do create challenges. Vendors can tune and tweak their products to eek out faster traffic and better utilize wide area connections, but the next big challenge is security.

“Security issues are going to be the central issue in how IT organizations think about wide area technologies. [The vast majority of users] are on Windows, and they need to know how they can ensure seamless, end-to-end security,” says O’Neill.

And the vendors are on board. As recently as last month, WAN specialists have announced upgrades to their products that not only boost performance, but also support acceleration and optimization of secure traffic.

For example, the latest version of Riverbed Technology’s Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS) features support for secure SSL traffic, as well as enhanced TCP optimization with a new feature called MX-TCP (see “Riverbed accelerates secure traffic,” above).

Similarly, Juniper Networks has released software enhancements to the company’s WX and WXC application acceleration platforms aimed at accelerating and optimizing SSL-encrypted applications over the WAN.

“Customers have been deploying this technology to solve specific pain points such as delivering applications to remote users or meeting recovery point objectives,” says Bobby Guhasarkar, senior manager of product marketing at Juniper. “But what we have seen over the last six months is a lot of larger customers looking at this technology as something that could potentially go into their networks. It is now becoming part of architectural decisions.”

The Taneja Group agrees. A recent report, “Next Generation Data Protection Forecast, 2006-2010,” shows rapid growth for wide area technologies. The firm predicts data-protection requirements and consolidation projects will fuel a 50% CAGR for the wide area technologies market through 2010. (For more information, visit www.tanejagroup.com.)

So why should storage professionals care? With WAN optimization, application acceleration, and support for secure traffic, this class of products is destined to serve as the underpinnings of a new wave of storage management.

“This will touch all pieces of IT going forward,” according to Guhasarkar.

“Anything that runs over IP and TCP is going to be able to take advantage of this technology.”

Vendors such as Brocade and Cisco are building out their wide area offerings through partnerships and acquisitions and layering them with advanced file virtualization and management capabilities.

Cisco recently announced a deal to buy file management software and appliance vendor NeoPath Networks for its namespace virtualization and globalization, non-disruptive file migration, real-time file characterization and analysis, and policy-based file management technologies (see “Cisco to purchase NeoPath,” p. 8).

The acquisition is designed to build on Cisco’s Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) networking software-which enables WAN optimization, application acceleration, and WAFS functionality.

Brocade has traveled down this same path, acquiring NuView and integrating its file-level virtualization and management software into the Brocade Tapestry FAN portfolio.

“WAN optimization is exactly what the name indicates, indiscriminate of the type of data, but it provides very little management and does not look at the data to understand how end users utilize it and how it relates to storage,” says Mike Schmitt, director of FAN product marketing at Brocade.

“WAFS, on the other hand, helps users access, administrate, and manage the data,” adds Schmitt.

Throwing file-level virtualization and management into the mix takes the combined technologies from delivering faster access to data and applications to a significantly new approach toward moving, managing, accessing, and protecting data.

Brocade’s Schmitt says the key component of selling FAN technologies is the allure of eliminating tape backup and the cost of additional storage licenses for remote backup in branch offices. “All of that goes away and brings it into the data center,” claims Schmitt.

“That influences the growth of Tier-1 storage and puts that data on more-reliable storage resources in a more-reliable backup environment.”

But the Taneja Group’s O’Neill has higher hopes for the future than simplifying the backup process.

“There is a dawning realization among traditional Tier-1 storage vendors that what is starting to happen around wide area technologies is a long-term trend of dis-aggregation of resources outside of the data center,” according to O’Neill.

“But it’s going to take them a couple of years to get their arms around the idea,” he continues. “This is a disruptive event coming along. Imagine a world with really different approaches to how you think about application and storage management-one where there is a large amount of data at a number of sites and users are not freaked out by that because the architecture is coherent, safe, and secure. WAN optimization is the first step in getting there.”


Packeteer speeds storage apps over WANs

By Kevin Komiega
Packeteer has announced a software upgrade for its SkyX Accelerator 750 WAN appliance that is intended to make better use of WAN links in support of high-capacity backup and disaster-recovery operations. The company is also applying its TCP acceleration technology to mobile and remote user applications with the debut of a new data-access product.

Bulk data transfers often run into TCP protocol constraints over WAN links, resulting in wasted bandwidth. Packeteer’s technology overcomes TCP lag to make full use of the pipes. Mark Urban, director of product marketing, claims the SkyX Accelerator 750 can increase data-transfer speeds over large WAN links by up to 200x depending on WAN latency levels.

“Large enterprises have multiple data centers for disaster-recovery purposes, and they often synchronize all of their information between locations with mirroring, replication, and backup technologies. The problem is that these processes are constrained by TCP protocols,” says Urban. “We provide acceleration at higher capacities to overcome these problems.”

According to Urban, the SkyX Accelerator 750 speeds backup and disaster-recovery processes up to 622Mbps over OC-12/STM-4 WAN links.

In addition to the SkyX upgrade, Packeteer has integrated its Mobiliti and SkyX technologies to deliver a product for file and TCP-based application acceleration and automated desktop backup for mobile and remote workers. The company’s Mobiliti 7.0 software provides offline access to centralized file servers by automatically caching recently used file shares so remote users have access to data even without a network connection.

“The challenge that Mobiliti 7.0 addresses is that a substantial number of mobile and home office users face hurdles when they’re trying to keep data backed up and protected, and accessing enterprise file shares,” says Urban. “We’re adding application acceleration to address latency issues that affect any application that uses TCP.”

Mobiliti 7.0 gives remote users real-time access to centralized e-mail, Web, and file sharing applications. The software features a choice of backup target locations that includes FTP and WebDAV servers, in addition to traditional file server locations. Mobiliti 7.0 also automates the configuration and backup of local desktop directories and files.

The SkyX Accelerator 750 is available in both 311Mbps and 622Mbps versions, which are priced from $52,000 and $60,000, respectively.


Riverbed accelerates secure traffic

By Kevin Komiega
Riverbed Technology has upgraded its WAN optimization product line with the release of the 4.0 version of its Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS).

With RiOS 4.0, Riverbed is extending its WAN optimization technology to accommodate secure SSL traffic, as well as enhancing its TCP optimization technology with a new feature called MX-TCP.

According to Alan Saldich, vice president of product marketing at Riverbed, enterprises have historically been forced to trade security for performance because SSL-encrypted traffic normally defeats application acceleration techniques. He says Riverbed can now accelerate SSL across the WAN without compromising the security trust model and can eliminate distributed key management problems.

Riverbed also added enhancements for Web-based applications. Most SSL traffic on the network is HTTPS. RiOS 4.0 can now accelerate HTTPS, the underlying protocols that support Web-based applications such as SAP, Siebel, PeopleSoft, IBM WebSphere, and MS SharePoint, among others.

RiOS 4.0 also improves Riverbed’s existing high-speed TCP optimization technology with MX-TCP, or Max-Speed TCP. MX-TCP uses the quality of service (QoS) enforcement capabilities of RiOS 4.0 to alter and control the sending rate of traffic to ensure 100% utilization of the allowable bandwidth dedicated by an administrator.

MX-TCP can optimize any site-to-site transfer or replication. It is designed to work over high-bandwidth, high-latency connections, or over any connection that might experience heavy packet loss such as a satellite connection.

“With MX-TCP, we’re making WAN-based backup, replication, and even transfers faster, letting companies take full advantage of the bandwidth they already have,” says Saldich.

Additional RiOS 4.0 features include enhanced auto discovery to improve performance and simplify deployments for large environments. The software’s auto-discovery feature automatically finds and optimizes WAN traffic between Riverbed’s Steelhead WDS appliances, eliminating the need for manual peering in multi-hop environments.

Also, active-active sync enhancements let users create hot fail-over environments. With this feature, two Steelhead appliances constantly synchronize data and simultaneously optimize connections.

RiOS 4.0 is available as a free upgrade for current Riverbed licensees. Riverbed also announced a software license upgrade on its 1U 520 and 1020 models. The new software license key will enable customers to increase the number of optimized TCP connections in use from 300 to 1,000 for additional bandwidth or throughput on the same device.


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