The next frontier in virtualisation is upon us; we have the technology, and there is a genuine need for it. So are you ready to deliver? We've already seen the absolute dominance of server virtualisation by VMware. We have seen companies like Compellent and 3PAR do what many thought was impossible -- carve out a share of the primary storage market through their storage virtualisation and thin provisioning capabilities. The next frontier in storage virtualisation is file virtualisation on network-attached storage (NAS) systems.
NAS-based file virtualisation promises to be useful, as it solves real file management problems, with immediate ROI.
In the 1990s, one of the more common conversations was how to protect databases. Oracle and other databases were experiencing a big ramp-up, and keeping them protected was critical. While database protection continues to be a productive market, organisations have begun focusing on managing unstructured data.
Unstructured data consists of common files, like office productivity reports, images or scans of documents that land on NAS or file servers without being part of a database. This proliferation of data files is problematic for customers because hard copies are becoming less common, but legal and regulatory standards require businesses to keep information on hand, forcing data to be stored electronically. Unstructured data is filling up expensive primary storage and increasing backup windows. If you have expertise managing this data, moving it to less expensive storage devices and decreasing backup resource requirements, you can create strong return on investment.
How can you manage and move that data to secondary tiers? A viable answer to this question is file virtualisation. There are several methods for file virtualisation, typically either doing it via software, by the operating system (like Microsoft DFS) or with a purpose-built appliance. Since much of this unstructured data is residing on NAS storage, I think appliances are the best bet. Most NAS storage is also appliance-based and as such can be difficult if not impossible to install software on. A file virtualisation appliance does not need to install software on the NAS units and sits inline between the users and the NAS. Think of the NAS virtualisation appliance as a DNS server for files. In the DNS world, most of us do not know the IP address for Yahoo.com; we just know that when we type "Yahoo.com" in the address bar, it appears in our Web browsers. The same mechanism is at work in file virtualisation; rather than needing to know where a file is located, a user simply requests the file to open it on their computer.