The ARX switches create a single file system across multiple CIFS or NFS systems, allowing storage administrators to shift files from one NAS box to another without disrupting the end user's access to data.
"It depends entirely on what your goals are," said Cliff Dutton, chief technology officer of Ibis Consulting, an electronic records discovery firm. "But if you can get benefit in any area tied to the growth of your business model, it might be worth the disruption."
Dutton said his shop was managing 200 terabytes of NAS storage on BlueArc Corp.'s Titan and 8900 boxes directly before deciding to investigate virtualization early this year. He said he evaluated "several software and hardware virtualization solutions," but declined to name the products and said the Acopia product was the only one he tested in his production environment. He tested the switch for three weeks before putting it into permanent use this past January.
In testing the switch, Dutton said he had three main priorities in mind: cost reduction, distributing I/O workload across his storage and implementing policies automatically. He said that in the Acopia, he got all three.
Automating some management of his storage, he said, saves him an estimated 20% to 30% in personnel costs each year -- two or three new hires. Distributing data across several boxes controlled by the ARX's global namespace means greater throughput, as his farm of 250 servers is no longer trying to access data on a single spindle at the same time -- something Dutton said was a common problem before using the ARX. And finally, Dutton said he "didn't see any [competing] hardware … that moved data at real time line speed but also included policy management" the way the Acopia switches can.
Of the three criteria for a product, Dutton said throughput was his highest priority: "We're very much a data factory," he said. "We are operating 24 hours a day. With better throughput we can put more data on our infrastructure, and the more data on our infrastructure, the more projects we can take on in a month. The more projects we take on in a month, the more revenue we make. It's directly tied to our revenue."
Dutton said he still wishes the Acopia product was interoperable across more platforms. "Like any vendor in the IT space, I think they need to work toward integrating themselves with other vendors' products," he said. "I don't think any one vendor has the whole solution for every environment. They need to integrate across platforms and realize they can't be alone on the value chain."
Archive Systems overcomes compatibility issues
Compatibility with some applications was also a challenge for Acopia user Yury Gutgarts, CIO of Archive Systems Inc., who implemented the ARX eight months ago. The Acopia box could only tolerate 32 open sessions on one IP address. Archive Systems, a document-imaging company, was using a custom-designed Web-based application that often involved up to 70 or 80 open sessions at a time. Gutgarts said Acopia had promised a firmware upgrade that would allow for up to 2,048 open sessions, but not before Archive Systems redesigned its Web application to accommodate the limitation.
Despite that headache, Gutgarts said, virtualization had offered him a way out of a SAN architecture that required his storage administrators to constantly monitor disks on EMC Corp.'s Clariion disk arrays.
"Let me put it this way," Gutgarts said. "We had several people managing just free space."
According to Gutgarts, backup windows in his shop were 38 hours. Just going through the more than 300 million files the company had stored online looking for backup mistakes was "almost impossible," he said.
Archive Systems remains an EMC shop, but Gutgarts said it replaced the SAN with a NAS system, and EMC's MirrorView synchronous replication tool it had been using with an asynchronous link between two Acopia boxes at each of its two data centers, which lie 45 miles apart.
A huge overhaul, but Gutgarts said so far he was happy with it. For one thing, he said, MirrorView required an active-passive configuration between the data centers, while the "nearly-synchronous" relationship between the Acopia boxes allows them both to be active.
"Now we have data available on both sides," he said. Like Dutton, Gutgarts said he estimated virtualization had saved him having to add two or three people to his 30-person shop each year.
Separately, Acopia maintains that the product is capable of migrating open files, despite criticism from some analysts that it will not perform this task. Neither of the users quoted in this story were able to confirm this feature as they have not needed this function.