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WAFS vs WAN Optimization: No Contest

Two seemingly distinct approaches to remote site data delivery may be moving closer together. Though suppliers deny it, products that support wide-area file services (WAFS) are starting to have a lot in common with so-called WAN accelerators.

Remote sites raise issues for storage managers. Are users getting data fast enough? Are WAN links too costly? Can recovery be performed within SLA timeframes? Is storage underused or overused? Is the headquarters losing control?

One answer is WAFS, comprising software that delivers files in a LAN-like fashion over WANs, through the use of proprietary programs alongside standard file transfer protocols like CIFS and NFS. WAFS vendors include Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), through its $82 million purchase of Actona last year; DiskSites Inc.; FineGround Networks; Riverbed Technology Inc.; and Tacit Networks Inc. (see Cisco Acts on Actona).

WAN accelerators aren't file-oriented but use network-based compression, caching, and other techniques to eliminate repetitive features of WAN traffic, enabling data to travel faster to remote sites (see WAN Accelerators Speed Up and WANs Shape Up for Storage). Vendors include Network Executive Software Inc. (NetEx), Peribit Networks Inc., and Swan Labs Corp.

In theory, these approaches are architecturally different, and suppliers encourage that perception. Each has its pros and cons, but recent evidence shows they have similar features, too.

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