Nasuni Filer offers cloud storage gateway for NAS

Nasuni Filer virtual appliance automatically caches files at a user's local site, while bulk of user's NAS capacity is maintained by a cloud storage service provider.

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Startup Nasuni Corp. is putting its Nasuni Filer into public beta today, a product the company says will allow network-attached storage (NAS) customers to get the best of both cloud storage and on-premise data storage by automatically caching active data while bulk data stays with a service provider.

Nasuni is emerging from stealth with founder and CEO Andres Rodriguez (formerly chief technology officer at Archivas, which was bought by Hitachi Data Systems in Feb. 2007) at the helm. Its first product, the Nasuni Filer, is a virtual appliance that runs on VMware. It can be downloaded from the Web and resides in a server at an end user's data center. It offers an interface to cloud data storage services using the CIFS standard file network protocol, rather than requiring customers to provide their own application integration into a Web services-based cloud data storage service.

Meanwhile, the customer can either manage a relationship with one of Nasuni's cloud storage service partners – Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3), the Rackspace Cloud, Iron Mountain's cloud data storage services, and Nirvanix Inc.'s Storage Delivery Network – or have its relationship managed by a channel partner.

Rodriguez said Nasuni can offer customers the option of a fixed $250 per month fee for unlimited capacity with one of the cloud service providers if the customer has either Nasuni or one of its channel partners handle the provider relationship, in addition to Nasuni's licensing costs (the company has not publicly disclosed pricing for the product yet).

Once data goes to the Nasuni Filer, the appliance handles the transfer of data to and from the cloud service provider. "There's a natural bridge between the NAS and cloud archiving worlds," Rodriguez said. "Snapshots are that bridge."

The Nasuni Filer treats the cloud as if it's raw disk. It sends it chunks of data based on incremental snapshots of the local file system, which are compressed and encrypted for transfer over the Internet. A copy of the overall file system structure, along with the files and metadata, is also stored in the cloud in case the primary appliance fails. The snapshots are made as soon as hourly or as far apart as 12 hours.

The original files also remain in the local repository for awhile, but files that haven't been recently used will move off to the cloud to make room for active data.

The appliance isn't meant for large enterprises or high-performance data sets, as there's some latency involved in bringing files down from the cloud should there be a "cache miss." Rodriguez said Nasuni is targeting customers with at least 500 GB of total data (at least 100 GB of it file based), with between 200 and 2,000 employees.

Nasuni plans to make the Nasuni Filer generally available this spring, with Version 2.0 coming in the second half of the year. In future releases, Rodriguez said Nasuni will offer the ability to mirror data between cloud data storage back ends at different service providers. An encryption key escrow option with a third party will also be added to later versions of the product. The first version of the Nasuni Filer supports Windows files only, while support for other operating systems remains a roadmap item.

Cost concerns have one user going to the cloud

Nasuni doesn't offer service-level agreements (SLAs) for the back-end storage capacity managed by cloud data storage providers. Still, one alpha tester said he plans to deploy the Nasuni Filer in production to avoid rising storage costs.

"It's always a concern, but the value provided by applications and storage in the cloud is so significant for an organization of our size and technical reach that we're willing to take our chances," said John De Souza, director of IT and systems at South Bend, Ind.-based Cressy & Everett Real Estate. "Even if there's an outage, at 2 or 3 a.m. on a Sunday, I'd rather have a couple thousand engineers working on it than me and my flashing cell phone."

Cressy & Everett has approximately 4 TB of total data and about 150 employees. During alpha testing, De Souza said he put about 30 GB of data on the Nasuni Filer and attached five users to the Nasuni filer instead of the company's existing local NAS storage. "The users aren't aware of the NAS storage to begin with, and from their point of view it's the same experience," he said.

In future releases, De Souza said he's hoping to see more detailed billing and consumption reports so he can rationalize the cost of cloud storage space and keep track of who's using what. "We back up using Jungle Disk," he said. "And we'll sometimes get a $20 or $30 bill from Amazon and be saying, 'Really? Why?' I want to be able to sit down and look at what's going on."

One channel partner that has already signed on, Fred Nix, CTO at Syscom Technologies, said he heard about the company through industry colleagues and has been involved since "the whiteboard architecture stage" of the product in getting it to market. Nix said he's excited about Nasuni's roadmap, but admits the cloud storage market hasn't really taken off at this point. "There's been a lot of buzz, but there hasn't been a whole lot of cloud activity – that's the biggest challenge right now," he said. "Everyone's kind of waiting to see who goes first."

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