Should you trim your file servers?

Moving seldom-used files away from prime storage can save big on management and upgrade costs

If you like cooking, you may have played the same game that I sometimes play while waiting in line at the grocery store: Checking out what other shoppers have in their baskets and trying to guess what meals they have in mind.

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Silly? Perhaps, but it's better than reading the tabloids.

Watching storage vendors often triggers in me the same type of curiosity to figure out what’s cooking -- that is, in terms of their acquisitions.

The latest vendor to get me guessing is Cisco with its recent one-two punch of NeoPath and WebEx. Those two acquisitions both suggest an expansion of Cisco's menu beyond the traditional data transport focus.

I won't speculate on what Cisco plans to do with WebEx because Ephraim Schwartz has already posted some good thoughts on that, but looking at NeoPath, I see a more elaborate dish in the making than just file virtualization. The "secret ingredient" that NeoPath brings to the table is policy-driven file administration, a powerful feature that can save money and add superb flexibility to storage management.

Here's why: You may have millions of files parked on expensive first-tier storage that is getting full. Using policy-driven file migration, you can move those files to a less expensive storage tier using criteria based on, say, size, age, and content, and postpone (or avoid altogether) purchasing additional, more expensive arrays.

Will users be affected by that move? Not if you are using solutions such as NeoPath’s SMARTtouch, which provides seamless redirection from the old file location to the new one. Your users may not even notice that their files have been moved.

If you think that policy-driven file management is just nice to have but not a critical feature, consider that EMC made it a priority to add a similar capability to its newly acquired file virtualization technology from Rainfinity.

I'll wait to see how Cisco plays the NeoPath card, but to get the data migration features of EMC Rainfinity, you need to purchase that solution and comply with all its hardware requirements.

If buying more expensive hardware is not in your plans, be aware that an Australian startup, Moonwalk, made its U.S. debut this week with a software-only solution that enables policy-driven file management without adding more hardware to your datacenter.

In fact, Moonwalk 6.0 is based on lightweight, small-footprint agents that, driven by a centralized schedule and a set of rules, identify files that should be moved elsewhere using typical metadata attributes. 

Moonwalk uses an HTTP-based management console, where you define your source and target directories. From the same GUI, you create rules to select files according to criteria such as how old they are, how recently they were accessed, the filename, or the file type.

You can make a policy by applying one or more rules to selected source and destination directories. Moreover, by creating tasks, you can finally put those policies to work according to a schedule. After that, just sit back and watch your primary storage slim down as those files fly automatically to their new home.

Moving files from Novell Netware and Windows servers creates placeholders (also called "stubs") that make the change seamless to end-users. According to Moonwalk, a similar feature should shortly become available for Linux and Unix.

The purpose of leaving a stub when moving a file is twofold. First of all, it's a reminder that your file was once there and has moved elsewhere. Perhaps more important, the stub also acts as a teleport station: click it, and the system will immediately open the destination directory and provide access to the original file.

I also find it interesting that Moonwalk can use specialized connectors (called "plug-ins") to write files to nonconventional architectures, such as the EMC Centera, which creates an easy migration path for archiving files to more secure platforms.

Moonwalk starts at about $4,000 per node, a cost that can be easily justified with the savings you'll have from putting your storage on a diet. I'd say it's worth checking out this new startup (the company provides a free trial, too) before purchasing more storage.

Join me on The Storage Network with questions or comments.

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