F5 Enhances File Virtualization Storage, Management

New data management software, hardware switch are aimed at unstructured storage

October 7, 2008

4 Min Read
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F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV) expanded its file storage and management portfolio with new software to give storage managers greater insight into file usage patterns and trends, and expanded its ARX hardware line with a product that offers support for 10-Gigabit Ethernet.

Known mainly as a networking and WAN optimization vendor, F5 jumped into the storage market last year when it bought storage hardware company Acopia and its ARX platform for $210 million. Acopia's high-end ARX 6000, a switch that competes with NuView from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) and Rainfinity from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), among others, in the file virtualization market, can handle more than 2 billion files and up to 24-Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The new ARX4000, introduced today, is a smaller and less expensive unit that can handle around 2 billion files and be provisioned with 12-Gigabit Ethernet ports or 2 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports. The company said it is the first system to support 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Prices start around $185,000. It offers more capacity than the company's smaller, entry-level ARX500 and mid-market ARX1000 products.

To help companies handle the growing amounts of unstructured data they're storing, the company introduced Data Manager software that looks closely into storage environments and analyzes usage patterns and trends and then uses "intelligent file virtualization" technology to automate tiering, simplify backup processes, and aid in capacity planning. The software is designed to help storage managers understand what types of data the company has, how much capacity it's consuming, who is using it, and the age of the files.

"The joke among storage managers is that they love their first NAS box but they aren't as fond of their 20th NAS box," said Renny Shen, product marketing manager for F5. "Data Manager software installs on a Windows PC and monitors file storage from various vendors and shows it on a single pane of glass so storage managers can craft better file management policies. It is a very cheap and lightweight tool for the people who manage the SAN or NAS and provides the tools to forecast capacity growth and monitor usage."Base price for the Data Manager software is around $1,500. Adding the company File System Inventory Module raises the price to around $10,000.

IDC's vice president of storage systems research Richard Villars noted in a statement that the growth in unstructured data is having a "dramatic impact" on storage environments and that many IT executives are beginning to realize that "managing such file-based, unstructured data will become the primary task for many storage administrators in their data centers." He said file virtualization products like F5's ARX4000 can "provide an effective way to tackle the issues of managing large heterogeneous file storage environments while minimizing disruptions in existing environments."

Just last week, ONStor Inc. launched its Pantera integrated gateway and storage systems, a low-end line of turnkey appliances using ONStor's NAS gateway and SATABoy RAID storage from Nexsan Technologies Inc. The Pantera 3100 and 3110-HA file virtualization products are designed to be simple to install and manage, and promise enterprise-level high availability at a relatively low cost.

ONStor said the Pantera products are aimed at small and mid-sized companies and enterprise workgroups, and can easily be expanded to offer more capacity or performance. Each one includes RAID 5 and RAID 6 capabilities, up to four virtual servers, snapshots, a scalable file system and clustering capabilities. They also offer up to 8 Gbytes of memory and four Fibre Channel ports that connect up to 42 Tbytes of SATA drives.

"We have containers in a two-node cluster that provide 32 distinct IP addresses, which means users can consolidate file servers into a virtual file server entity that lets each department or division still have its own unique IP address within that cluster," Tom Gallivan, senior vice president for worldwide sales, told Byte and Switch. "It just looks like a set of dedicated file servers."File virtualization is growing in importance as businesses look for ways to control and manage the explosive growth in files being storage while they move toward the virtual data center, said George Crump, founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. "There is a lot of vendor activity and users still need to be educated about it. File virtualization is one of the most important technologies to get right as it matures... and becomes one of the best ways to move data back and forth between tiers."

A key question for the future is whether file virtualization will remain as a standalone product or become a feature in broader, more comprehensive storage products. "We're already seeing a movement toward featurization of the product, with ONStor adding adding it to its NAS. It will be interesting to see how the standalone guys react and adapt," Crump told Byte and Switch.

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