NetApp Downshifting DAFS?

Teams with Sun to develop RDMA for NFS, into which NetApp plans to merge its DAFS protocol

June 20, 2003

3 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) is teaming up with Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) to develop Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) capabilities for current and future versions of Network File System (NFS).

The two companies' collaborative work on RDMA for NFS promises to deliver low-latency file services to accelerate NAS services over 10-Gbit/s networks. NFS is the standard file access protocol used in Unix envrionments; RDMA is a technology that offloads data copy operations by allowing one computer to directly place data in another's memory with minimal demands on memory bus bandwidth and CPU processing overhead.

Put 'em together, and you have two great tastes in one candy bar!

"NFS is the de facto file sharing protocol -- if you want a wire-speed file-sharing protocol at some point in the future, you need to do RDMA over NFS," says David Dale, Industry Evangelist at NetApp [ed. note: a title that simply reeks of 1997].

Both Sun and NetApp say they will work together through the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to establish the technology as an industry standard.However, this calls into question the future of NetApp's Direct Access File System (DAFS), a file protocol it designed to take advantage of RDMA transports. Essentially, DAFS does exactly the same thing that RDMA for NFS would, but using an industry-standard protocol (see NetApp Preps DAFS Splash and DAFS Debuts).

The way NetApp describes things, it's combining the best of both worlds. "We're trying to take DAFS and NFS and have those threads intersect at some point in the future," says David Dale.

Other observers say NetApp has finally realized that DAFS, a technology it controls, is a nonstarter. "What they experienced through their whole DAFS initiative was none of the other players in the NAS space would play with them," says an industry executive who requested anonymity. "It never took hold as an industry protocol."

The DAFS Collaborative is an ostensibly vendor-neutral consortium with 85 member companies that "submitted" the protocol to the IETF for consideration as an industry standard. But a message on the IETF Website says the DAFS draft the group submitted has since expired. Furthermore, NetApp has always been the prime organizer and promoter of the technology -- and one of the only companies to introduce DAFS-based products.

NetApp insists it isn't abandoning DAFS. "We remain committed to DAFS and our DAFS partners, and look forward to providing compatible high-performance storage solutions well into the future," Steve Kleiman, NetApp's CTO, is quoted as saying in a prepared statement.And analysts say there's still a place for DAFS today. "It looks like NetApp will go with NFS over RDMA in the long run, but DAFS is the here-and-now solution for enterprises that need high-speed file sharing," says Mike Fisch, an analyst with The Clipper Group Inc.

But it does seem that DAFS -- as a contender to be a widely supported standard -- is running out of gas.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights