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F5 Networks adds ARX2000 Nehalem-based midrange file virtualization switch

F5 Networks tries to fill a gap in its file virtualization switch portfolio with ARX2000 2U midrange switch and expanded Windows capabilities; looks to fill void left by Brocade's discontinuation of its StorageX product.

F5 Networks Inc. is extending its file virtualization platform with an ARX2000 midrange switch and a software upgrade that makes all of its ARX devices more Windows friendly.

The new addition, the ARX2000, is a 2U box with 12 Gigabit Ethernet ports built on Intel Nehalem processors. F5 Networks claims the ARX2000 has a maximum throughput of 4 Gbps. The ARX2000's list price of $90,000 is less than half of that of the next largest ARX switch, the ARX4000 enterprise switch. The ARX4000 is a 4U box with 12 GigE or two 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) ports that lists at $185,000. F5 Networks recommends the ARX2000 for 6,000 users and the ARX4000 for 12,000 users.

The ARX2000 is a substantial improvement over the ARX1000, a 2U device with six GigE ports that's targeted at 3,000 users with a claimed 3.2 Gbps throughput and a $70,250 list price.

ARX switches have traditionally been aimed at the enterprise, going back to their roots with Acopia Networks Inc. F5 Networks acquired Acopia for $210 million in 2007. But with network-attached storage (NAS) becoming more popular in the midrange, F5 Networks is looking to meet the demands of smaller companies.

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"The 4000 is the only 10 gig file virtualizer on the market today, but there was a clear gap and that's what we're filling with the 2000," said Chuck Wood, F5 Networks' director of product management. "There was a perception that we were enterprise class, and very expensive."

F5 Networks also updated its Data Management Operating System (DMOS) for ARX switches, adding support for the CIFS protocol used by Windows. DMOS 5.1 supports Windows 2008 Cluster, Windows 7 client systems, Windows 2008 Domain Controller and NTLMv2. F5 Networks is also adding support for BlueArc Corp. and Data Domain file storage to its previous support of EMC Corp. Celerra, NetApp Inc. FAS and Windows Storage Server 2008-based NAS.

F5 Networks is looking to spark interest in its file virtualization switches with a model that's lower priced and easier to manage than enterprise switches. ARX represents well under 10% of F5's product revenue, and ARX sales dropped over the last year according to F5 Networks' latest earnings report. Yet it's seeing competition waning among file virtualization products. Brocade Communications Systems Inc. recently discontinued its Brocade's StorageX file virtualization product that NetApp sold through an OEM deal. Attune Networks went under earlier this year, selling its IP to F5 Networks (Wood said none of that IP is in the products launched today).

That leaves F5 Networks, EMC Rainfinity and newcomer AutoVirt Inc. as file virtualization options. While file virtualization's original purpose was to pool storage across NAS boxes, Wood said organizations are using ARX switches to automate migrations across NAS systems, saving them from having to spend an entire weekend moving data from one box to another.

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group, said the file storage virtualization market has yet to materialize, prompting Brocade and Cisco Systems Inc. to discontinue their products while Attune failed to survive. He predicts that file virtualization still has a future, but compares it to the way the block storage virtualization market developed slowly.

"If you go back to the early 2000s, storage block virtualization was all the rage," he said. "It took eight or nine years, and it's still taking root. It hasn't taken off anywhere near to the degree to which it was hyped, but we're now seeing signs of it. For file virtualization, the issues are the exact same as they were for block. It's taken a little longer for people to realize they need a file-based virtualization solution. But it will happen as dependence on files and file systems grow more and more."


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