Recently named by analyst firm Illuminata as one of the more intriguing startups making waves these days is Z-Force, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based company launched in 1999. Its approach to storage is an entirely new product category called a "file switch" that may -- if its proponents are right -- knock the socks off of other NAS players by rewriting the rules.

Z-force claims its file switch will enable the world's first "NAS Array," in which an unlimited number of NAS appliances, will be combined and managed as a single entity -- perhaps even with performance improvements, to boot. It's a grandiose vision that might seem worthy of considerable skepticism but for the legion of favorable reviews given Z-Force by industry veterans. In a statement Aberdeen Group senior analyst, Dan Tanner, noted, "Currently, storage administrators must struggle to manage a large number of NAS devices."

"It will take a comprehensive NAS aggregation solution to overcome the complexities of having multiple NAS devices truly act as one inside the enterprise storage infrastructure," said Tanner. "Z-force's file switch promises to bring complete and balanced NAS aggregation."

Z-force claims that management schemes such as clustering aren't up to the demands enterprise clients will place on NAS systems. They say by applying a "switched" architecture to NAS, similar to the approach that was successfully used in the rest of the network, the limitations of today's clustering can be

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overcome. With a switched network, enterprises can successfully scale NAS without limits, achieving dramatic performance and manageability improvements.

Michael Karp, analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, based in Boulder, Colorado, says he has been impressed with the concepts Z-Force champion. "What they are looking to create is a single name space for all storage data," he says. Conceptually, he compares it to putting NAS devices on their own LAN "with switches that go between that LAN and the regular communication LAN."

"That takes you back to the idea of transmitting a lot of data over Ethernet, which has some limits until Ethernet scales again," he adds.

Despite liking the technology, though, Karp says he is not yet convinced Z-Force will be able to have the business capability to make it in the crowded marketplace.

Still, according to Z-Force, advanced customer trials are slated to begin shortly and customer tests will throughout the rest of the year with controlled availability by year's end and formal announcement in first part of 2003.

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  • Alan Earls often writes about things NAS and SAN in his weekly "SAN/NAS Update: Trends" column. View the latest
  • About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.


    This was first published in September 2002

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