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IBM wafts into WAFS

IBM is dipping its toes into the Wide Area File Services (WAFS) market via a reseller deal with Tacit Networks

IBM Corp. announced Wednesday that it will resell Tacit Networks Inc.'s Wide Area File Services (WAFS) appliances in Europe and other selected markets, hinting at the growing user interest in this technology.

Avnet Inc., an IBM reseller, will package Tacit's software on IBM's xSeries server and sell it as an appliance in Europe. The agreement can extend worldwide as other markets gain interest in the technology, according to John Ryan, a business development manager in IBM's Linux group.

The support of IBM no doubt brings some relief to the folks at Tacit, since one of its key competitors, Actona Technologies Inc., was snapped up by Cisco Systems Inc. earlier this month.

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The spurt of activity in the WAFS arena has interesting implications for storage managers, in particular the ability to enable companies with lots of branch offices to centrally manage backups. Edge boxes sit at remote offices and can send and receive files over the WAN in communication with a central server and its associated storage resources at the main data center. This central server then maintains responsibility for all permissions, access controls, data integrity, file management and data protection at the remote locations.

IBM and Tacit have several joint customers in the chemical and manufacturing verticals, but none they could name publicly.

  There's not enough bandwidth in the world to centralize our storage … it would be like sucking up a swimming pool through a straw

Bruce Bartlof
Principal and CTOGensler Corp

Riverbed Technologies Inc., a competitor of Tacit's, had more luck in getting its customers to come forward. Architecture firm Gensler Corp. apparently loves the technology. It has 26 locations worldwide with about 40 to 50 people in each office and close to a terabyte of data at every location.

"We had to chuckle at the idea of storage centralization. There's not enough bandwidth in the world to centralize our storage; we're sending giant CAD files and 3D rendering of digital images, and backing this up on LTO tape; trying to bring all this back to a central office was impossible, like sucking up a swimming pool through a straw," said Bruce Bartolf, principal and CTO of Gensler.

The secret incredient of Riverbed's software is its sequencing technology, according to Bartlof. All the WAFS products offer this capability in one form or another. The software looks for patterns in raw binary data and assigns them a name. Then it caches the pattern on the unit. When it sees a request with that pattern again, instead of calling up all the associated data, it replaces it with the assigned name. This name is orders of magnitude smaller than sending hundreds of packets over the wire and is able to recall all the data associated with that pattern. It combines this sequencing with protocol optimization and data compression techniques and the total effect is close to LAN-like file transfer speeds over the wide area network.

Gensler has stopped using Fed Ex to send 200 GB tapes around the country, which was previously the only affordable way to transfer its data. "WAFS is a real business-changing technology for us," Bartlof said. Other companies selling WAFS wares include Signiant Corp. and DiskSites Inc.

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