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|At a Glance: Acopia Networks ARX switches|
In other words, the ARX switches serve as in-band Unix/Linux NFS and Microsoft Common Internet File System (CIFS) proxies. These facilitate the exchange of files between client computers and multivendor NAS storage devices, which are presented to the client as a single storage pool with a global namespace. This allows storage administrators to establish a single drive mapping for every client in the enterprise, regardless of the location. Changes can be made to the composition or location of storage resources in the pool without changing client configurations.
The ARX switches deliver policy-based file management, allowing for the placement of unstructured file data on any device transparently to the user. For example, administrators can set up policies on the ARX that deliver files to certain primary storage devices initially, and later migrate older files to less-costly secondary ATA storage. And the ARX can automatically adjust to client access or network conditions. For example, when some users are consistently accessing certain files across a WAN link, a policy could be set to move these files to a location closer to the users to minimize WAN link traffic and improve access times.
One advantage of implementing storage management within the network is that no software installation is necessary on any client computers or storage devices. Security poses no problem for the switches as all client permissions are passed through to the particular device where the files reside. The switch is capable of increasing performance for file access as it adapts to network performance conditions. Based on file access demand by clients, the switch can manage the location of files in the background for load balancing, thereby leveraging the resources of multiple storage systems.
It would be nice if the ARX switches could support JBOD or block-level storage, but Brendon Howe, Acopia's vice president of marketing and business development, sees little demand for that. Acopia should consider adding iSCSI support in order to enable block-level access. The only other drawbacks are the taxing jobs of implementing switch policies, the classification of unstructured data and configuring the back-end storage devices.
Warner Music Group in Burbank, CA, has 20TB of data on file servers distributed across its network. Mike Streb, VP of IT services, says his storage environment was doubling every year and Acopia's products have helped "to gain a higher utilization of the infrastructure and eliminate the growing burden of manually managing data migration."
Indeed, once you factor in the additional cost savings of implementing tiered storage and information lifecycle management at the network layer, Acopia's switches can bring some much-needed smarts to your NAS storage environment.
This was first published in September 2004