File Systems: The state of the art


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New file systems are solving some of the biggest storage system problems, such as scaling and performance.

For most of their relatively brief history, file systems have traveled below the radar, performing yeoman tasks. Nowadays, instead of being the unsung workhorses of the infrastructure, some file systems have achieved a higher profile and are home to some of the most cutting-edge innovation in data storage.

The change comes from a number of startups and established companies using advances in file-system technologies to solve some large, lingering problems such as quick I/O reads and writes, file locking and synchronization, support for geographically dispersed work groups and NAS consolidation. New file systems are the underpinnings of the following storage technologies:

  • High-performance clusters. The challenge of high-performance computing (HPC) has been to assemble hundreds or thousands of small compute nodes into an efficient, parallelized computing resource. At the core of this massive effort are file-system technologies that federate the independent actions of computing and storage nodes into clusters.
  • NAS clustering. The never-ending quest to create fast, modular and scalable NAS has received a significant boost in the past two years from many new vendors that are leveraging file systems to create high speed, reliable NAS computing environments.

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  • Because so many of the historical problems with NAS result from independent file systems being resized and migrated, the benefits of a clustered NAS solution are significant. By uniting file systems across multiple NAS devices, users can create one large NAS computing resource.
  • SAN clustering. The SAN world has rapidly moved to embrace new file-system technologies to solve a range of performance, consolidation and management issues. SANs and storage virtualization enable storage resources to be consolidated and shared across devices, but servers and their file systems still have access only to assigned storage resources--there's no data sharing across all servers. By deploying advanced file-system technologies in front of a SAN to enable data sharing across servers, it's possible to create a computing environment where any server on the SAN can touch any networked storage resource. Using advanced file systems for SAN clustering is at the heart of several hot trends, such as database consolidation and flexible scaling of applications and servers through dynamic data sharing.
  • Namespace management. Enterprises are deploying new file-system offerings to create a unified view of information resources across a number of discrete devices, each of which may still possess and preserve its own file-system images.
  • Wide-area computing. In the past year, the demand for distributed computing technologies has rocketed off the charts; wide-area file services (WAFS) is the key enabling technology. A range of advances in file systems is helping enterprises to create collaborated and consolidated work environments (see "Keep remote offices in sync," Storage magazine, October 2005).

This was first published in November 2005

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