F5 Networks Inc. is rolling out Version 5.0 of its ARX file virtualization switch today, with more support for tiered storage data modeling, virtual snapshots for Windows file servers and a less disruptive deployment process.
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F5 is rolling out two new software features – File Tracking in the ARX management console and a tiered storage ROI tool for its Data Manager storage resource management (SRM) software. File Tracking allows a backup administrator to track where files have been moved by the ARX switch over time.
A new Seamless Import feature resulting from changes to the way ARX lays out its routing tables will let end users access files while the ARX switch is scanning and virtualizing file systems in the environment. "Prior to 5.0, we were able to import files very fast, but there was still cut-in downtime, on average 20 minutes," said Chuck Wood, F5's director of product management.
The ARX switch has been able to perform virtual snapshots across heterogeneous storage arrays from EMC Corp. and NetApp since before its inventor, Acopia Networks Inc., was acquired by F5 Networks. This is the first release to add support for more types of devices to virtual snapshots – this time Windows 2003 or Windows 2008 Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) snapshots. "Today, most customers want to snap across all tiers," Wood said.
Better tiering could cut costs
Tiered storage has been one of the easier IT projects to justify during the economic downturn that began last year. Storage administrators have told SearchStorage.com they plan to defer tier 1 storage purchases and cut costs by moving data onto lower data storage tiers this year rather than making capital purchases. F5 Networks is trying to attract cost-conscious customers by offering a pair of ARX switches for $25,000, which is normally the price of one switch.
"F5 has been getting traction for ARX lately," said Terri McClure, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). "They're not breaking out [ARX revenue], but they had a pretty decent first quarter."
McClure said one reason for the success is that "operational savings are the No. 1 priority for users looking to justify IT spend."
She said the non-disruptive cut-in feature will broaden the product's appeal. "Files are the lifeblood of a lot of businesses," said McClure. "Being able to deploy something like this, without downtime, takes away one of the market inhibitors for adoption."
Tracking files for quick restores
One ARX customer, Bill Montgomery, manager of information systems for Lulu.com, said File Tracking will solve "a major problem for backup and recovery that's introduced when you do file virtualization," which is the ability to restore files to their original file shares. "If you're looking to restore last Wednesday's file but don't necessarily know which back-end filer share it was on last Wednesday, that's a complication," Montgomery said.
The ARX Data Manager tool originally reported on basic file metadata – name, size, type and last access. The new tool will take into account tiered data storage processes and calculate the ROI of moving data from tier 1 to tier 2.
ESG's McClure said the software products would probably get wider adoption if they weren't separate from ARX. "They've brought the look and feel of the two closer together [with this release], and that's typically how these things evolve," she said.
Lulu.com's Montgomery said he would like to see F5 Networks boost the performance of the scan process it uses to determine what files should be moved. He said this process takes place weekly at Lulu.com and can take more than a full day.