DAFS Debuts

DAFS, a new storage networking protocol, is being demo'd for the first time in Orlando this week

June 20, 2001

2 Min Read
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The DAFS Collaborative is not a political group. Nor is it a hip-hop trio of cloned comic-strip ducks. Rather, it's a group of storage vendors pushing a new storage networking protocol. But the DAFS Collaborative is doing a song and dance of sorts, showing off the first implementation of DAFS at a developers conference in Orlando, this week.

DAFS stands for Direct Access File System and is a new standards-based next-generation file access protocol designed to resolve latency issues associated with NAS (network attached storage) systems. It's also designed to smooth over interoperability concerns with NAS, caused by variations in file system structure among different operating systems.

Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), a leading NAS vendor, and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)are the two major players behind the DAFS Collaborative and have the most to gain from its success.

For NAS players, it’s a life or death move,” says William Hurley, storage analyst at the The Yankee Group. “NAS simply does not allow users to extract and view data as well as block-based storage.” Block-based protocols, such as Fibre Channel, transfer data in blocks, irrespective of the boundaries of individual data files, resulting in faster network transfers. In contrast, file-oriented protocols generally require more time to locate, and deal with, the boundaries of individual files.

“In an ever more competitive space, NAS vendors must find a way to expand the pie," Hurley adds. "DAFS offers them the chance to differentiate and, maybe, take points in market share from block-based platforms.”The DAFS protocol works by taking advantage of standard memory-to-memory interconnect technologies such as VI (the Virtual Interface architecture) and InfiniBand in clustered data center environments. DAFS is the language the applications use to access network interface hardware without operating system intervention, and to carry out bulk data transfers directly to or from application buffers with minimal CPU overhead.

The goal, so the DAFS folk say, is a significant increase in application server CPU cycles available for application processing -- coupled with low-latency, shared file access among application servers and storage systems connected by Fibre Channel, gigabit Ethernet, or InfiniBand networks.

Troika Networks is the most active startup supporting VI (see Top Ten Private
Storage Networking Companies). Companies demonstrating DAFS technology at the conference include Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Emulex Corp. (Nasdaq: EMLX), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Network Appliance, and Troika.

Version 1.0 of the DAFS spec is slated for release at the end of July, although applications that support it are not expected until the end of the year. The big question is whether DAFS will get enough traction within the industry -- from vendors and IT users alike -- to stay afloat.

- Jo Maitland, senior editor, Byte and Switch

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