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Merrill Lynch: Network-based virtualization saves money

The financial services company checks out new technology from Acopia Networks to virtualize its storage and as a result expects to save significant costs

Merrill Lynch believes that implementing network-based virtualization internally will provide immediate cost savings for the company, and further out, that global namespace technology will save it millions of dollars in storage costs, an executive at the financial services firm said.


Network or switch-based storage virtualization is still somewhat of a taboo topic in storage circles. While everyone agrees that virtualization, or the ability to pool unlike storage arrays together from multiple vendors, is a great idea, they don't agree on where this functionality should reside. It's a tossup between the legacy hardware, the servers, or in the network.

Global namespace technology is more of a blue-sky idea today, but Merrill Lynch sees this as an even greater opportunity for cost reduction. Put simply, a global namespace creates a single virtual store of all your files and presents them as a single file no matter where they are physically located. Users get a simpler, more usable view of their storage than the usual mess of drives and volumes scattered all over the place.

Merrill Lynch, it turns out, is a firm believer in both of these ideas and is currently evaluating new switches from Acopia Networks Inc. to provide this functionality.

During an interview with, David Cohen, vice president of architecture at Merrill Lynch & Co., said that the ability to pool storage together from multiple vendors and then stream data to the appropriate storage according to business policies "would have huge repercussions for cost reduction."

Being able to stream current data versus week-old data versus archive data to the appropriate storage will result in a leaner operation in which high-cost storage capacity isn't being used unnecessarily, Cohen said.

Merrill Lynch has a diverse environment that includes equipment from many of the major storage vendors (it declined to name names), but to buy virtualization software from any one of these companies would defeat the purpose of virtualization, Cohen noted. "These devices are proprietary … Taking the switch approach gives you more flexibility than software that runs on the [storage] infrastructure itself."

When Merrill Lynch virtualizes its storage infrastructure, and Cohen didn't have a timeline for this, creating a global namespace for file data will be the next logical step. Although this idea is "somewhat out there," he said.

A global namespace would allow the company to have a single view of all its file data, irrespective of location or system, and make changes to it without disruption to the back-end storage or users. One caveat to this approach, according to Cohen, is that it's good for read-only content. For transactions-based data, the company would need a transactional database to manage the writes. "Otherwise how do you distinguish who gets the last write? It gets complicated," he said.

Merrill Lynch is also looking at global namespace technology for pushing application patches out to desktops. Right now, it packages these up and ships thousands of them around the company to be installed. "That could be a simple piece of content that could be pushed out over the network to desktops and remote branch offices," Cohen said, which would cut down on costly desktop re-configurations.

"The biggest question on the horizon for us is, what doesn't go through the IP network?" he said. Right now, upstart switch vendor Acopia Networks, which begins shipping its first products next week, has a good chance of winning some business with Merrill Lynch, according to Cohen. Merrill Lynch is working on an initial deployment around a single site, but hasn't bought the product yet and declined to give out specific details.

Acopia's ARX switches enable file-level virtualization and come in two models: the ARX6000 and the ARX1000. The ARX6000, which lists for $150,000, enables access to over 500 million files per switch, while the ARX1000, which lists for $45,000 serves 100 million files per switch -- roughly about four to five file systems, a company spokesman said.


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