Has the FAN Failed?

A few years ago it appeared that the File Area Network would make managing all this data easier

Howard Marks

February 20, 2009

3 Min Read
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1:00 PM -- It should be painfully obvious to all but the most casual observer that we're drowning in unstructured data. The reasons are obvious: greater use of electronic records and communications; larger file sizes driven in no small part by greater graphical content in even simple documents (after all, 15 years ago we bought a letterhead and ran it through an NEC Spinwriter to print a letter, while today the letterhead, complete with four-color logo, is part of the Word doc); and longer retention dictated by regulation, legal department mandates, and/or sloth. Files are filling more and more space in organizations large and small.

Two short years ago it appeared that the FAN (File Area Network), a virtualized array of file repositories complete with global name spaces that let users and applications access data through logical rather than physical locations, and ILMish-tiered storage and intelligent file placement, would make managing all this data easier.

Having worked too many late nights on file server and NAS migrations and consolidations, I must admit I found the whole idea attractive. Adding a virtualization appliance and then being able to add and remove filers/servers in the middle of the day while users were still playing their MP3s from the server seemed like a good idea to me. So did migrating terminated employees' home folders to locations that won't have full backups every weekend, for long-term retention -- without breaking the links in the Excel spreadsheet the accounting guys really close the month with, which may or may not link to another spreadsheet in old Ernie's (the guy that wrote it) home folder.

I remember the first time I saw the Z-Force switch demo where they had a dozen low-end Snap servers "RAIDed" to deliver performance that made a NetApp filer of the day look slow. Boy, that was neat. Never worked well enough for prime time, and Z-Force morphed into Attune.

But the market never seemed to cotton to the idea. Neopath was bought up by Cisco and promptly killed off -- with no Cisco products in this area since. Attune closed its doors in December, and F5, which absorbed Acopia (it probably had the most sophisticated solution), picked up its intellectual property for a song.Now we have EMC's Rainfinity, which is mostly used as part of an EMC professional services engagement to migrate data to a shiny new Celerra, F5, Brocade's File Management Engine, or newcomer AutoVirt, whose affordable software addresses some of the issues. But since it's out of band, it can only work at the folder level, leaving the dream of every file in the most appropriate place just that -- a dream.

So will we start managing files intelligently, or am I just dreaming?

Howard Marks is chief scientist at Networks Are Our Lives Inc., a Hoboken, N.J.-based consultancy where he's been beating storage network systems into submission and writing about it in computer magazines since 1987. He currently writes for InformationWeek, which is published by the same company as Byte and Switch.

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at: http://www.deepstorage.net/NEW/GBoS

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