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With a focus on data mobility and storage tiering, F5's ARX comes with strong data mobility and automated storage tiering features. Orchestrated by a policy engine, it performs bidirectional data movements between different tiers of heterogeneous storage in real-time and transparently to users. Similar to AutoVirt, policies are based on file metadata, such as last-accessed date, creation date, file size and file type.

The fact that F5 ARX is an appliance allows it to provide a performance- optimized product that's hard to match by a software-only solution. Built on a split-path architecture, it has both a data path that passes data straight through the device for tasks that don't involve policies, and a control path for anything that requires policies. "We are a DFS on steroids," said Renny Shen, product marketing manager at F5. "While DFS gives you share-level virtualization, we give you file-level virtualization."

Microsoft DFS: Microsoft DFS is a set of client and server services that allow an organization using Microsoft Windows servers to organize distributed CIFS file shares into a distributed file system. DFS provides location transparency and redundancy to improve data availability in case of failure or heavy load by allowing shares in multiple locations to be logically grouped under a single DFS root.

DFS supports the replication of data between servers using File Replication Service (FRS) in server versions up to Windows Server 2003,

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and DFS Replication (DFSR) in Server 2003 R2, Server 2008 and later versions.

Microsoft DFS supports only Windows CIFS shares and has no provision for bringing NFS or NAS shares into the DFS global namespace. Furthermore, it lacks a policy engine that would enable intelligent data movements. As part of Windows Server, it's free and a good option for companies whose file stores reside mainly on Windows servers.

Open source NAS virtualization

NAS virtualization products are also available as open source software. For instance, the Apache Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) handles distribution and redundancy of files, and enables logical files that far exceed the size of any one data storage device. HDFS is designed for commodity hardware and supports anywhere from a few nodes to thousands of nodes. Another example of an open source file system is the Gluster clustered file system for building a scalable NAS with a single global namespace.

Instead of spending a lot of money for traditional NAS systems, an open source file system running on inexpensive hardware components seems like a good alternative. But open source file systems are usually not a good choice for the enterprise. They require significant tuning and maintenance efforts, as well as experts intimately familiar with the intricacies of the chosen software, and they don't come with the support that traditional NAS vendors offer. Availability, reliability, performance and support come first for enterprise storage, and these attributes are difficult to achieve with open source software. Open source file systems are a great choice for cloud storage providers and companies that have to make money on storage, as well as for the research and educational sector, but they're usually not the product of choice in the enterprise.

This was first published in September 2010

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