by August 10, 2007 0 comments

Monsoon has already hit the Indian shores and so, who needs a fan now. This
is what I thought when I first came across File Area Network, or FAN for short.
I thought of it as yet another marketing-driven initiative; yet another bottle
to sell the same old wine. I kept on overlooking it for almost a year, but time
and again, it came back chasing me and as an even bigger lump of mass.
Therefore, I decided to bust it right here, before it comes to me again and
rolls over me. If you are also one of those who are being perplexed by this
jargon, please be a part of this busting. We’ll do it together.

Need for file management
There is so much of unstructured data, generated in any enterprise today,
that traditional approaches to managing, storing and retrieving them have
started hitting the wall. Ask any data center manager and he’ll say that file
management is one of the top priorities for him to look after and that it needs
an immediate panacea. On the other hand, we are also seeing concerted efforts by
storage vendors and innovators to drive innovations around management and
control of files.

In the recent past, we’ve heard about a wide range of new technologies coming
up in this area, including Wide Area File Services (WAFS), WAN optimization and
application acceleration, distributed and clustered file systems, file
virtualization, file or document management software, file classification
software and file data placement and movement controls. So, what all has changed
to make the storage managers look for file-level control over storage and where
and how FAN fits into the story?

Direct Hit!

Applies To: Storage
USP: Highly improved file services and
better control over unstructured data
Primary Link:
Google Keywords: File Area Networking

Quite simply, it’s the relative criticality of file data that has changed
with time. File-based data is increasingly becoming important, as nearly all
workflow processes today run through a file infrastructure. The growing
importance of data contained in files owes to behavioral changes that have taken
place with time, like we are now-a-days, closing deals on e-mails and minutes of
a Board meeting are being recorded in MP3 format, which are not structured, yet
we are required to keep them. Sometimes for regulatory reasons and on other
occasions for their potential value in future litigation.

Today in an organization, we have unstructured or semi-structured data stored
in these files, as a large portion of its total storage. This data has a
potential to grow at a much rapid rate than structured data. Besides, there is
growing complexity in terms of mixed vendors, platforms and file systems. The
application demands and availability requirements have also increased. This all
simply demands the deployment of advanced file management services.

Constitution of a FAN

Storage devices:
File-serving devices/interfaces:
NAS or a NAS gateway, in case of SANs
Ability to organize, present, and store file content for
authorized end clients
File management and control services: Software intelligence to
inter-operate with namespaces, for eg, file virtualization, classification,
de-duplication, WAFS, etc.
End clients: Any platform or computing device
Connectivity: To connect end clients with namespaces

Sense of déjà vu
With traditional storage, we see a tight coupling of applications with
storage, which has so far been preventing the evolution of storage management
solutions. A FAN unknots these tight bindings and enables advanced storage
management services. It is analogous to SAN, as both talk of a unified pool of
storage resources.

The difference lies only in the fact that it talks of abstracting and
extending the ‘area network’ concept to a higher layer of the infrastructure,
that is, a file system. SAN replaced physical block storage connections with
logical connections, while FAN replaces physical path names with logical path
names. That means FAN could turn out to be a similar revolution for files, or
may be objects, as SAN was for the block storage.

What’s a FAN?
The goal of a FAN is to provide an enterprise-wide intelligent platform for
cost-effective delivery of file information with a better level of file control.
FAN is an umbrella term which refers to an architectural model encompassing
storage devices, file-serving devices and interfaces, namespaces, file
management and control services, end clients and connectivity.

A FAN offers pervasive controls of all file-based information. For this, the
infrastructure maintains an inventory of metadata and content values. This in
turn helps in launching a process as ambitious as Information Lifecycle
Management (ILM), in a true manner.

Regardless of the physical device, it offers file visibility to the user
applications. Intelligent search on unstructured data is possible in case of
FANs. Then, non-disruptive migration, replication and de-duplication of data are
possible features which can be worked out on top of a FAN foundation. This will
result in measurable RoI for file management.

Finally, with all this consolidation, we will also have improved space
utilization and highly improved service levels.

The heart of a FAN
The way a file system object is kept and retrieved in a FAN framework is
referred to as the object’s namespace. This is the heart of a FAN. Today, we
find three kinds of namespaces in a FAN infrastructure. Most enterprises use a
combination of these to address the issues involved.

1. Non-shared namespaces: This is a user-level presentation of information
corresponding to a file system image belonging to a particular physical machine.
Sharing of information across multiple file system images is not possible in
this case.

2. Shared namespaces: These are platform-specific and not intended for
deployment across all end clients in an enterprise, rather they are targeted at
a subset of this volume. They result in file visibility, collaboration, and
performance issues for this subset of client devices/applications. Clustered NAS
environments and clustered or distributed file system deployments are an example
of such a kind of namespaces.

3. Global unified namespaces (GUN): They enable a true heterogeneous FAN.
They offer a complete abstraction of all file-level information present in an
enterprise. Once you have a unified namespaces well-defined, you can think of a
significantly improved management control over storage and also will be able to
leverage it in the best possible manner.

Area File Services (WAFS)

WAFS aims at consolidating the storage spread across an enterprise. It
simplifies branch office IT services (requiring lesser number of
less-skilled persons) and optimizes file traffic on WANs, which in turn
reduces operational costs and management hassles. It helps reduce hardware
and software requirements at branch offices, as well. It provides file
services and speedy read-write access to shared files across WANs, which
enables enterprises to have significant productivity gains with LAN-like
service levels.
Generally, WAFS is implemented in this way-the core appliance is placed at a
central site where the file server and remote sites are equipped with edge
appliances. This kind of architecture on one hand, results in a significant
improvement in the performance of applications, and on the other, enables
global file sharing for data residing at the central location. On top of
file management, print and network services, it offers Web caching services

speed up data fetching.

FAN services
These are some basic services which we expect a FAN to deliver, apart from
advanced services which it will provide with time. The basic set of services
includes: a global unified namespace to organize storage in an overlay
namespace; migration of files from one server to another; moving files via
policy to the right storage at a point in time (ILM), moving files to better
distribute load or capacity; and replicate files to support any kind of

A FAN supporting all of the above services is very useful. It supports the
day-to-day cause of a storage administrator in an enterprise. Apart from these,
a FAN can also enable a wide-range of advanced services that will take storage
management to new levels. These advanced services include data classification
and optimized placement of data, application acceleration, and access control
and auditing. The Information Classification and Management (ICM) software,
enables content-level indexing of all information contained in a file
infrastructure, which in turn supports policy-based controls, access and
retention. This optimizes the alignment between storage characteristics and
business needs. Optimal data placement ensures appropriate performance and
utilization levels for servers and storage. This can either be achieved through
some in-band network resident approach, like Network File Management (NFM) and
ICM, or through a distributed software approach.

Application acceleration is another advanced service which is designed to
optimize the performance of critical applications. As FAN extends through
geographies, it’s necessary for it to support wide-area connectivity into its
namespaces. There should not only be a connection, but a connection as fast as a
LAN. Various WAN optimization technologies along with WAFS are making this a

State of the art
The concept of File Area Networks is still in its infancy and will continue
to evolve in coming times. It took SANs almost seven years to settle down and
become as effective and common, as they were initially planned to be. Similar is
the case for FANs, though they may take a little less time to become popular.
For the time being, IT managers, who are seriously viewing at investing in a
file networking based solution, need to seriously weigh the options available
and study their pros and cons. Thankfully, today there are a bunch of solutions
available and the good news is that tier one vendors such as Brocade, EMC, HP,
Microsoft and NetApp are all lined up with FAN-based solutions. It seems as if
the FAN has well and truly started to spin.

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