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Brocade moves file virtualization in-band

A new appliance from Brocade automates data migration and manages NAS systems at the file level.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. has added a new in-band product to its file virtualization portfolio with the goal of providing more granular, automated data migration features.

The Brocade File Management Engine (FME) is based on Brocade's StorageX file virtualization software, which it acquired with NuView Systems Inc. in 2006. FME uses the same Windows distributed file system (DFS) as StorageX to abstract file storage from end users. However, while StorageX sits out-of-band, FME resides in-band at least part of the time. FME can also be moved in-band and out-of-band depending on what it's doing, similar to the way that EMC's Rainfinity file virtualization product works.

Also unlike the StorageX software, FME comes on a hardware appliance. Brocade senior director of product marketing Truls Myklebust said that gives it the throughput to sit in the network and automate migrations according to policy, including migrations of locked and open files. While the StorageX software can manage files down to the folder level, FME can manage individual files, because it sits in the data path.

Customers do not need StorageX to run FME, but FME's namespace can plug into the StorageX global namespace for StorageX customers. File links must be moved to FME's namespace and managed with a separate console to have automated migration policies executed against them, but they remain visible to the StorageX administrator, according to Myklebust.

If FME contains features found in both products and can move both in-band and out-of-band, why not combine the two? "We have some users who have been asking for FME's unique capabilities," Myklebust said. "But we also have many users who don't necessarily want those features."

FME also offers a "toe in the water" approach to putting file virtualization in-band. Customers can select which files FME should manage within NAS shares and let StorageX manage the others out-of-band. If customers are comfortable putting the device permanently in the data path, they can use it as a tiered storage migration or data archival engine with enough horsepower to support up to 5,000 active users. Customers can also feed file lists from indexing and data classification products for e-discovery into the system.

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Organizations may go slow at first with FME. "This market is still in the early stages, and it's a big commitment to put an in-band appliance in front of your entire infrastructure," said Jeff Boles, a Taneja Group analyst.

FME's flexibility only applies within the Windows operating system. Network file system (NFS) support is still a ways out, according to Myklebust. "With Windows you have DFS, which allows Windows systems to be managed by products like StorageX," Boles said. "With NFS, it's a lot harder to reach across file shares in a big environment without sitting right in front of the box, since NFS is a lot more server-centric."

NFS version 4 could help to change that later this year. Myklebust said Brocade plans NFS support within the next 12 months.

FME will be available in April, starting at $100,000 for each high-availability pair of nodes.


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