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AutoVirt challenges Windows DFS with software-based file virtualization

AutoVirt comes out of stealth with global namespace and file migration software it claims is a simpler alternative to DFS for smaller organizations.

AutoVirt Inc. is coming out of stealth with software-based file virtualization, claiming that software-based file virtualization is a cheaper alternative to current file virtualization products and is easier to administer than Microsoft's Windows Distributed File System (DFS).

However, the AutoVirt product is currently intended for data migration. AutoVirt.'s self-titled software uses Microsoft APIs to integrate a proprietary global namespace with Microsoft's Domain Name System (DNS) server. "We populate the DNS server with our address substituted for file names," said founder and chief technology officer Klavs Landberg.

When a user accesses a file through a shortcut, the DNS server references AutoVirt's global namespace to direct them to that file's location on the network. The global namespace abstraction between the user and the file server means files can be moved to back-end storage without requiring links or shortcuts to be updated.

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AutoVirt also supports policy-based file migration. The administrator selects shares or devices to migrate and a destination device or volume, called a container, and then schedules the migration for off-peak hours using AutoVirt's GUI.

The AutoVirt file virtualization product is similar to Brocade's StorageX, which uses Windows DFS as a global namespace and layers management functionality over it, including policy-based, automated migration of files, multisite replication of files, multisite business continuity failover and integration with Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) for snapshot backups.

AutoVirt is focused solely on data migration for now. According to Landberg, the company's current strategy is to offer a file virtualization product with fewer advanced features at a lower price than StorageX and other enterprise-targeted products, such as EMC's Rainfinity and F5 Networks' ARX switches. "Nobody is talking about file virtualization," he said. "They're looking for data migration."

Attune Systems is another company offering a Windows-based file virtualization product. Attune's File Maestro product is aimed at the midrange, where it will compete with AutoVirt. Landberg said the difference between the two products is that Attune appliances do their virtualizing in-band, while AutoVirt software runs on standard Windows servers.

AutoVirt has set list pricing for its product at three levels. For up to 500 NAS users, it estimates its average sale price at $10,000. Above 500 NAS shares, it estimates a midrange average sale price of $25,000 and an enterprise average sale price of $100,000.

F5's ARX pricing starts at a list price of $29,000 for its smallest model. StorageX pricing, according to Brocade, is done per filer or file server based on tiers. The list price for a sample configuration of a Tier 3 NAS filer plus five remote Windows file servers is $31,300. Brocade File Management Engine (FME) is priced per node, and the list price is $50,000 per node. Attune's File Maestro starts at around $35,000 for one appliance and around $95,000 for a high-availability configuration.

AutoVirt is less competitive on price with native Windows DFS, which is built into the Windows Server operating system. But Taneja Group analyst Jeff Boles said that AutoVirt will probably be simpler to set up than a typical DFS environment. "For the midmarket, DFS is a challenge," he said. "Part of StorageX's value-add is also making the DFS product easier to deal with." Boles said that setting up native DFS requires users to partition the namespace correctly, set up replication between sites and correctly synchronize Active Directory controllers.

Boles also pointed out that Brocade has a file management engine (FME) that can migrate files individually and wondered why, with its own global namespace, AutoVirt wasn't doing the same. Landberg responded by saying that working at the individual file level with Windows machines requires that the file virtualization device operate in-band, something AutoVirt wants to stay away from.

"We want to be as low-touch and simple as possible," Landberg said. "We're just looking to automate what systems admins have already been doing manually for years." Sales and support for the new company will be kept lean with an emphasis on online resources. Features like business continuity and continual automated file migration among tiers will be addressed in later versions of the product.

The product is not yet certified by Microsoft, but AutoVirt has a technology partnership with them. "We're working our way up the food chain," Landberg said. The company has received a $4.5 million round of Series A financing so far.


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