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What Is the Best Way to Implement File Virtualization?

Virtualization has been quite the buzzword in the storage industry recently. There are several virtualization mechanisms available to the storage consumer today. These options span not only operational platforms but also storage platforms and storage types.

The first step in implementing file virtualization is to understand exactly what it is and what problems it can solve. File virtualization refers to software or hardware mechanisms that manage file-level access storage, typically referred to as network attached storage (NAS). Within the boundaries of NAS virtualization, the storage administrator has several options for virtualization, which should be assessed and implemented based on standard effective practices.

The most tangible benefits that organizations will derive from file virtualization are better availability and flexibility to end users, along with lower overall cost of storage capacity to the business. The key component of virtualization that enables these benefits is global file virtualization, anchored by a global namespace mechanism. Additionally, the virtualization engine must provide a mechanism for analyzing, identifying, and moving stale or underutilized files to alternative storage.

The key for this data mobility is the ability to leave file pointers, or "stubs" in the original file system to maintain transparency to end users. Further benefits of file virtualization include capacity management, storage consolidation, and data migration or replication.

Once an organization has determined a need for file virtualization, there are several additional concerns that must be addressed:

  • The file virtualization solution must be compatible and tuned to work with current IP network topology
  • Policy-based management criteria should be defined prior to acquiring or implementing a solution
  • Underlying storage must be compatible with global namespace software
  • Tiered storage solutions should be in place to maximize data mobility opportunities
  • Virtualization should be architected with appropriate redundancy and performance to provide appropriate service levels for all data
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