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Dispelling myths: WAFS and remote backup

What will you learn from this tip: Vendors often tout WAFS as an "all or nothing" product. In reality, WAFS can reduce data needs and speed up remote backup processes.

When IT professionals discuss remote backup, the issue of wide area file services (or WAFS)

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will invariably come up. Simply put, WAFS technology allows a remote office to interact with a corporate data center as if it were local -- allowing file access and data transfers in almost real time. As interest in WAFS grows, industry buzz often results in confusion and misinformation. This leads many prospective adopters to question the relationship between WAFS and remote backup.

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The short answer is that WAFS is not a prerequisite for remote office backup products. Remote backup is a specific IT function that can be handled effectively using any number of remote backup products currently in the marketplace. Remote backup typically requires few (if any) changes to the existing IT infrastructure of remote offices (e.g., remote offices maintain their own servers and local storage devices). By comparison, WAFS allows an enterprise to eliminate remote servers, effectively consolidating IT in a central location. "You can use WAFS to remove your data so that you don't have any remote data," says Greg Schulz, senior analyst at Evaluator Group. "If you don't have remote data, then there's no need to backup remotely."

While this may seem mutually exclusive, Schulz is quick to note that WAFS technology is also exceedingly good at moving data between a data center and remote office, positioning WAFS a powerful complement to remote backup needs. "WAFS can be used to facilitate the backup of remote data," he says. According to Schulz, much of the blame for this confusion is squarely on the shoulders of product vendors. "Some of the WAFS vendors position it as an 'either/or' [proposition]. That is, 'Put WAFS in and eliminate remote backup.' I think they're selling themselves short," he says.

WAFS eases backup demands

WAFS technologies can reduce the overall volume of moving data, resulting in time and bandwidth savings for the enterprise. "WAFS can be used to position more data closer to the data center," Schulz says. Demanding remote backup implementations often require hardware assistance to compress and accelerate data for transfer across the WAN (using WAN acceleration products such as Riverbed Technology Inc.'s Steelhead appliance). "The other approach is: If you don't want to move the data quicker, then reduce the amount of data to be moved. That's where WAFS comes in. " Schulz explains that WAFS reduces the amount of data that needs to be moved, while WAN acceleration moves that data faster. Large enterprises may leverage both technologies. "The two [WAFS and WAN acceleration] often get lumped together," Schulz says.

WAFS complements NAS

Beyond remote backup, it's also important to highlight some confusion between WAFS and network attached storage (or NAS) devices. "There are those that see WAFS as being competitive with NAS appliances," Schulz says. Indeed, WAFS technology makes it possible to reduce the amount of NAS storage that is required at remote locations. "But they're also very complementary in that WAFS doesn't have to totally eliminate the need for NAS." Schulz explains that WAFS brings centralization and management to NAS, which actually helps to address the growing problem of NAS management. NAS devices are easy to deploy and use, but can ultimately result in a hodgepodge of storage devices that each require management. "WAFS allows centralization and management, and facilitates the backup and data protection of all those pockets and islands of NAS data," he says.

For more information:

Pros and cons of remote backup for DR


About the author: Stephen Bigelow is a features writer for SearchStorage.com.

This was first published in October 2005

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