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DAFS protocol to hit the street, waits for technology to catch up

A DAFS specification developed by a NetApp and Intel collaborative is about to become a reality. But, what will it take to become a standard?

One year after Network Appliance Inc, and Intel Corp., formed the DAFS Collaborative, an industry group established to specify and promote the Direct Access File System (DAFS) protocol, the specification is about to become a reality.

DAFS is a file access protocol specification designed to take advantage of next-generation system interconnects like InfiniBand. NetApp and other NAS vendors can extend their product lines using the DAFS protocol, giving them a competitive advantage against SAN technology -- and giving users more choices when building their storage infrastructures.

In less than two weeks the DAFS specification will be handed off from the DAFS Collaborative to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) -- the body that defines standard Internet operating protocols -- where Dave Dale, co-chair of the DAFS Collaborative, expects it will become a standard.

But whether DAFS will gain industry acceptance remains to be seen.

File systems like the Network File System (NFS) and the Common Internet File System (CIFS) are well established and already supported by Unix, Windows, and NAS servers -- so why do we need another file system? "For run-of-the-mill file sharing,we don't," said Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst and IT advisor for Illuminata Inc., Nashua, N.H. However, he explained, DAFS is a perfect fit for the needs and demands of the high-end data center.

DAFS is a network file system, similar to NFS and CIFS that has been optimized for high-bandwidth, low-latency networks like InfiniBand. According to Eunice, DAFS does not specifically require InfiniBand since it can be run atop any interconnect that supports the Virtual Interface (VI) architecture. This means DAFS will work over Myrinet, Fibre Channel and Ethernet connections.

"By going over a more efficient cluster network, like InfiniBand, the inefficiencies [of TCP/IP-based network storage access] can be stripped out, and file-based storage networking can be done at SAN speeds," said Eunice.

The promise of DAFS is that it will combine the high speeds and security of SANs with the low cost and simplicity of NAS -- an attractive proposition to some NAS vendors -- an ultimately users. "NAS vendors are looking hard at DAFS to extend their product lines," said Dale.

Many companies have been demonstrating DAFS-based products in the past several weeks, but Dale said fully functional storage devices that incorporate DAFS will not hit the streets until early 2002.

Once the industry gains awareness of DAFS, Dale hopes it will win over businesses looking to boost the performance of their NAS devices. Dale expects the adoption of DAFS to gain speed once the anticipated InfiniBand interconnect technology makes its debut next year.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor


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