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Food service firm gives file server virtualization another chance

After Brocade's StorageX was discontinued, a Canadian company signed on with AutoVirt for global namespace and to manage Windows file server data migration and tiered storage.

After Brocade Communications Systems Inc. discontinued its StorageX file server virtualization product last year, A&W Food Services of Canada turned to AutoVirt Inc. to handle data migration for an upcoming Windows server upgrade.

Network systems manager Bruce Jamieson said the Vancouver, BC-based A&W deployed Brocade's StorageX to clean up what had become a disorganized Windows file server environment. StorageX gave A&W a global namespace, but Jamieson said the product produced more disruption and required more manual interventions in his file server environment than he was expecting.

For example, Jamieson said, StorageX didn't preserve Windows Server 2003 R2's Access-based Enumeration, which hides shared files and folders from users who are not authorized to access them. When new users are added to Active Directory's access control lists, Windows automatically creates a home directory for the user's personal files, but this didn't translate into the StorageX global namespace, Jamieson said.

"Every new person that came in, I had to copy the rights manually from the file server," he said. "StorageX was supposed to eliminate this kind of manual work. We had to redo access rules specifically for home directories, and change drive maps manually."

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The initial install of the StorageX namespace also required a disruption in access to the file server, Jamieson said.

Having spent nearly $8,000 on the project, which Jamieson said is no trivial sum for his company, A&W was prepared to stick with StorageX and pushed Brocade to develop the product further. But Jamieson says he found out through tech support last May that the product had been discontinued. He said he got the news "four months after I bought it and two days after they asked me to sign on for two more years' maintenance on it." A Brocade spokesperson said the vendor accepted orders for additional licenses and support contract renewals for StorageX through Nov. 1, 2009, and continues to honor those support contracts. "The end of support date for all file management products is expected to be November 2012," the spokesperson wrote in an email to

Brocade has since made things right, Jamieson said, with credits toward licenses on his Fibre Channel switches and training. But he still found himself without a tool to migrate approximately 500 GB of his users' files from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008.

Jamieson said he heard about AutoVirt when the vendor ran a program offering a discount to former StorageX customers. "They seemed to have a way to pull me out of my hole and continue my project," he said.

AutoVirt.'s self-titled software uses Microsoft APIs to integrate a proprietary global namespace with Microsoft's Domain Name System (DNS) server. 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.

Jamieson said he's still testing the AutoVirt software and waiting for approval to purchase more disk before doing the final migration. Once the Windows 2008 server is up and running, Jamieson said he also plans to use AutoVirt's automated tiering capabilities.

The file storage market has faded from the prominence it enjoyed about three years ago, but a new generation of products is emerging with different approaches to file system and cloud data storage management. The advent of clustered or scale-out network-attached storage (NAS) systems with native global namespaces could also solve many file server virtualization issues, but such devices tend to be beyond the reach of a company the size of A&W, Jamieson said.

"We're pretty small, with about half a terabyte of files, which is pretty tiny in the grand scheme of things," he said. "[Scale-out NAS] appliances tend to be for the enterprise and very expensive. "

Working with another small company such as AutoVirt also appeals to Jamieson because he's able to offer advice on features, he said. For example, in testing automated migration features, Jamieson said he's suggested that AutoVirt add a "what if" option or an "oops" button if data migrations have unintended consequences.

The only other thing that concerns Jamieson at the moment is price. He was happy to get a discount, but "I thought the discount price should be the real price," he said. For up to 500 NAS users, AutoVirt has estimated its average sale price at about $10,000.


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